Narrator: Damn, this house is creepy. *checks out reflection of the house in a pond* Yep, still creepy. I...more**spoiler alert** Here's my abridged version:
Narrator: Damn, this house is creepy. *checks out reflection of the house in a pond* Yep, still creepy. I'm here to see a school friend, Roderick Usher. He's rich and aristocratic. Here he is. Oh dear, he's a bit weird looking at the best of times but now he looks like shit. He's probably an alcoholic or an opium fiend.
Usher: I am sick. I suffer from a morbid acuteness of the senses. I'm gonna DIE. I also believe that the house is sentient. My twin sister Madeline is sick too. She's wasting away and has bouts of catalepsy and there are rumours that we are lovers. Here she is gliding past like a ghost. *bursts into tears*
Narrator and Usher: *spend several days painting, reading and playing guitar.*
Narrator: That dude seriously needs to cheer up.
Usher: *sings "Haunted Palace* Yo, my sister is dead. But because I know she has catalepsy which could mean she is alive after all, I am going to put her in a vault for two weeks, instead of burying her straight away.
Narrator and Usher: *put Madeline in a vault, making sure to screw the coffin lid down and secure the metal gates*
Several days later...
Narrator: Usher is not taking this at all well and I am starting to get creeped out. It's a dark and stormy night and I can't sleep, so I'm going to go for a wander. *bumps into Usher* Dude, it's too creepy for you to be wandering around in your mental state. I'm going to read a book to you instead. *reads "Mad Trist"*
*weird noises* *screaming*
Usher: *mutters like a maniac* She is alive. I've been hearing her for days.
Madeline: *appears, bloody and emaciated, and falls on top of Usher with a cry*
After I finished this book I kind of just sat there for a while. Stunned and reeling. To say that this book is disturbing would be an understatement....moreAfter I finished this book I kind of just sat there for a while. Stunned and reeling. To say that this book is disturbing would be an understatement. It is disturbing in a very obvious big way because of the subject matter but also in a very subtle and understated way because there is very little actual violence or gore on the pages.
A repressed, lonely, unstable young man, Frederick Clegg wins the lottery. Clegg has been fascinated and secretly "in love" with Miranda, a beautiful art student for quite some time. So when his aunt and cousin (who are his entire family) very conveniently depart for Australia to never return, he gradually starts putting a plan together to kidnap Miranda and keep her captive. It's a bit of a contrived set up but an easy one to swallow in the context of the book.
Clegg is a butterfly collector and classic sociopath, completely unconcerned for and unable to empathise with the feelings of others, even the object of his devotion, and with a very strong tendency to rationalise and blame others for his behaviour. Miranda is simply an object to be put on a pedestal.
"I am one in a row of specimens. It’s when I try to flutter out of line that he hates me. I’m meant to be dead, pinned, always the same, always beautiful."
Miranda's feelings and desires are as irrelevant to Clegg as those of a postage stamp to a philatelist. We are told of the preparations he makes to kidnap Miranda in a cold emotionless voice and as though most of them happened by accident without any real intent on his part.
"The van was the one really big luxury I gave myself. It had a special fitting in the back compartment, a camp bed you could let down and sleep in; I bought it to carry all my equipment for when I moved round the country, and also I thought if I got a van I wouldn’t always have to be taking Aunt Annie and Mabel around when they came back. I didn’t buy it for the reason I did use it for. The whole idea was sudden, like a stroke of genius almost."
"In one of the Sunday papers I saw an advert in capitals in a page of houses for sale. I wasn’t looking for them, this just seemed to catch my eye as I was turning the page."
"All this time I never thought it was serious. I know that must sound very strange, but it was so. I used to say, of course, I’ll never do it, this is only pretending."
Yes, I was tidying in the nude, tripped over a hoover and my penis just got stuck in the nozzle, honest.
Yet all the time the reader can see Clegg going through very thorough and meticulous preparations for what he is about to do, buying a van, a house, outfitting and securing the cellar, cutting himself off from all outside contact, trying to foresee every eventually and all of this in a remarkably detached and unfeeling way, except for some flickers of pride, a sense of achievement and satisfaction at his own work and cleverness.
Many readers appear to have felt a lot of sympathy for Clegg, yet I have to confess I never did. He does not appear able to see that what he is doing is morally objectionable and there are clearly some abandonment issues from his childhood (his father died when he was two and his mother left him to be brought up by a strict and emotionally vacuous aunt) but there is nothing particularly horrific lurking in his past, no particular trauma that might explain how he became what he is. Here's what happened but I never meant it to turn out the way it did, it's not my fault, there is nothing wrong with me is the leitmotif of Clegg's narration.
"I thought, I can't get to know her in the ordinary way, but if she's with me, she'll see my good points, she'll understand. There was always the idea she would understand. I only wanted to do the best for her, make her happy and love me a bit."
Yet this is interspersed with such obvious meaningless little lies and self-delusions that he almost reads as pathetic. Despicable as well as horrifying.
The middle portion of the book is narrated from Miranda's point of view in a form of a diary she secretly keeps. While this does cover the same time period as Clegg's narration so we effectively get two versions of the same event, I thought it was quite powerful and necessary in terms of showing Miranda as a person, with her own feelings, hopes desires and flaws.
This was a very unsettling and uncomfortable read but one that I think will stay with me for a long time. It painted a vivid and complex picture of the power dynamic between captive and captor and, though it feeds on that basic fear of evil things lurking in the dark and being powerless, unable to escape that evil, it never felt emotionally manipulative. (less)
I read this book mainly because I went to see the play at the Fortune Theatre in London a few weeks ago. The play was really good. It wasn't the scari...moreI read this book mainly because I went to see the play at the Fortune Theatre in London a few weeks ago. The play was really good. It wasn't the scariest thing I have ever experienced, as some reviews claim, but it did make me jump and it was a fantastic performance carried entirely by two actors, with most of the fear factor delivered through good old fashioned darkness, sudden noises, closeness of the atmosphere (it was the smallest theatre I have ever been in) and the audience interaction (there were very frequent shrieks), rather than any advanced technology or complicated props. The play has been performed in London for the last 23 years and remains hugely popular, so I would thouroughly recommended it if you are ever in London and are theatrically inclined.
The Woman in Black is a short novella written by Susan Hill in the 1980s which tells the story of a young solicitor Arthur Kipps and his terrifying encounter with a ghost in a small market town on the East coast of England where he is sent to settle the affairs of Alice Drablow, an old lady recently deceased. The novella is a pastiche on the Victorian gothic literature and it certainly read very authentic with its languorous pace, isolated gloomy manorhouse setting and extensive descriptions of fog and other kinds of dreary weather. But therein also lies the main problem I had with this book. I can well understand the need to set the mood and the scene with some description of nature and the surroundings, but when I am faced with paragraph after paragraph describing the colour of mud and the dripping sky, my eyes soon start to glaze over. The intro and the build-up to the actual story were also far too long, given the overall length of the book (it is 30-odd pages before the hero even gets to the place in a book that's only 138 pages long) and the ending was too rushed and abrupt in comparison. Also, the comic relief, which was very well done in the play, was sadly missing from the book.
Overall, however, this was an interesting story and a quick read and I look forward to seeing what they have done with it in the film.(less)
Viy is a story written by Nikolai Gogol which is most often classified as horror. I'm not sure I necessarily agree with that classification, although...moreViy is a story written by Nikolai Gogol which is most often classified as horror. I'm not sure I necessarily agree with that classification, although it does feature a bumbling main character who comes to a sticky end at the hands of a bloodsucking witch and a horde of other demonic creatures. Gogol himself styled it as a folk tale re-telling.
The titular Viy is a creture of Ukrainian folklore, a demon in the form of an old man with his eyelids and brows reaching down to the ground. If the eyelids are lifted, nothing can hide from Viy's gaze and he is able to kill and destroy villages and whole towns with his eyes.
At the start of the story, three seminary students from Kyiv's Bratsky Monastery set off for home on their summer vacation. They veer off the main road to try to find shelter and something to eat for the night. They come across a remote farmstead where an old woman reluctantly lets them in but separates them to spend the night each in a different place. Khoma Brut, our main hero is put into an empty sheep pen and is just about to drop into a dead sleep when the old woman enters and all the fun begins.
Gogol's language is very rich and colourful and he has a particular gift for treating his characters with so much humour that even though most of the story happens in a dark church at night with the hero under attack by a dead body and other unpleasant things, it reads as a comedy.
I really enjoyed the story overall and would recommend it to anyone interested in the Ukrainian/Russian folklore, as well as any fan of Gogol. There is also a fantastic Russian film made in 1967 which is based on it, available on youtube with English subtitles. You can see the first part here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pjiB6a...(less)
Woo hoo. Finally, we have a book that proves conclusively that freaky goth boys can be hot too and totally datable. I'm kidding. I was quite surprised...more
Woo hoo. Finally, we have a book that proves conclusively that freaky goth boys can be hot too and totally datable. I'm kidding. I was quite surprised by this book, actually. In a good way. Because I inhaled it, gulped it down and loved every minute of it.
Isobel is a blond and pretty walking cliche. She is a cheerleader, she doesn't read much, she goes out with an extremely hot football player called Brad and is part of a "crew" consisting of other cheerleaders and football players. Her boyfriend and friends are fake and mean and one wonders how she managed to never realise this before the events of the book unfold. Isobel is paired up for a school lit project with Varen Nethers, who may as well have lived in a galaxy far far away for how much he was on Isobel's radar prior to that point, because he looks a bit different and likes to wear black (translation: he is a goth weirdo who talks to himself, practices witchcraft, has an evil eye tattooed on his left shoulder blade, lives in the basement of an abandoned church, sleeps in a coffin and drinks blood, or so the school rumour mill has it).
Isobel is not best pleased about being paired up with the school freak, but when her hot boyfriend reacts in a completely irrational hormonal way to the news, she starts noticing things that she hasn't before. Like the fact that her boyfriend is a bit of a prick, that her friends are a bunch of stuck-up nasty brats and that the freak boy is actually surprisingly attractive. The last part in particular was pretty well done. I mean, I am well past the age of finding teenage goth boys attractive, but hats off to Ms. Creagh, she did manage to make me catch my breath in a few places. The chemistry between Isobel and Varen was amazing and the relationship developed in a realistic believable way, no lame cop outs like the fated to be together instalove crap that seems to be so pervasive in PNR literature.
What really made this book for me though, is the incorporation of Poe's life and works into the story. I have read a lot of Poe as a teenager but I have not known anything about his life, so it managed to educate me. Poe died in very mysterious circumstances. Here's what Wikipedia has to say on the subject:
"On October 3, 1849, Poe was found on the streets of Baltimore delirious, "in great distress, and... in need of immediate assistance", according to the man who found him, Joseph W. Walker. He was taken to the Washington College Hospital, where he died on Sunday, October 7, 1849, at 5:00 in the morning. Poe was never coherent long enough to explain how he came to be in his dire condition, and, oddly, was wearing clothes that were not his own. Poe is said to have repeatedly called out the name "Reynolds" on the night before his death, though it is unclear to whom he was referring. Some sources say Poe's final words were "Lord help my poor soul." All medical records, including his death certificate, have been lost. Newspapers at the time reported Poe's death as "congestion of the brain" or "cerebral inflammation", common euphemisms for deaths from disreputable causes such as alcoholism. The actual cause of death remains a mystery; from as early as 1872, cooping was commonly believed to have been the cause, and speculation has included delirium tremens, heart disease, epilepsy, syphilis, meningeal inflammation, cholera and rabies."
It is amazing how well this and other details of Poe's life are interwoven into the story (like the fact that he married his 13 year old cousin). In fact, the whole book can probably be described as one big speculation on what happened to Poe. A very imaginative and absorbing speculation.
Other things that I loved include the part where Isobel essentially wonders through Poe's Masque of the Red Death. Gwen is one of the best BFF side-kicks ever. And it looks like the remainder of the series is going to be a story of a princess rescuing her prince from the "ivory tower". How kick-ass is that?!
I do have a couple of criticisms, hence the four stars. I felt the writing was bumpy in a few places. For example, if I am told that a boy looks at the heroine like a complacent cat, that really doesn't scream hot love interest to me. He also glares "past the ridge of his levelled brow" at one point. I don't know about you, but my mind immediately supplies an image of a pithecanthropean or frankensteinesque overhanging monobrow, when faced with that description. On the whole, however, the prose was pretty good. Evocative and haunting without being over-written.
My only other problem is the massive cliffhanger at the end. It was unavoidable, I suppose, but it really doesn't make me feel any better. I can't believe I now have to wait until 2012 to read the next instalment. (less)
Ten strangers arrive on a private island just off the coast of Devon invited by a mysterious host, a dark secret is revealed about each of the guests...moreTen strangers arrive on a private island just off the coast of Devon invited by a mysterious host, a dark secret is revealed about each of the guests at the first dinner and one by one each is killed off following a children's rhyme about ten little indian boys which starts with "Ten little Indian boys went out to dine; One choked his little self and then there were nine..." and ends with "...and then there were none" of the title.
This was a little too murder by numbers for my taste. I couldn't believe in the story because life is never so neat. I did enjoy trying to guess who the murderer was but at no point could I imagine this as a real situation and, as a result, I could never fully invest myself in the story. It felt more like a puzzle than a book. (less)
This is a short story about a woman's descent into madness and I have just the t-shirt slogan for the protagonist:
EXCUSE ME. I HAVE TO GO AND MAKE A S...moreThis is a short story about a woman's descent into madness and I have just the t-shirt slogan for the protagonist:
EXCUSE ME. I HAVE TO GO AND MAKE A SCENE.
Because that's what I wanted her to do throughout, but we cannot really expect that from a genteel 19th century lady and that is when the story was written. So does that mean that it is now outdated and irrelevant to us emancipated 21st century women?
Personally, I have gone through a period in my life when I took some pretty heavy drugs, stayed up all night staring at the walls (fortunately, not covered in hideous yellow paper) and writing random quotes and poetry on them and indulged in a spot of self-mutilation. I also went through a mild form of "baby blues" after my daughter was born, mainly just bursting into tears whenever anyone said boo to me. I don't know whether I was technically depressed (is there such a thing? I feel there must be, as opposed to just a naturally sad and gloomy person with a tendency for weirdness who is feeling down, which may, I feel, be my particular diagnosis or, maybe, the term I am looking for is medically?) but, in any case, I was expecting to relate.
And do you know what, I actually did. What I think worked brilliantly in this story, frighteningly so, is the description of how the protagonist loses her mind by concentrating on the wallpaper, following its patterns, imbuing them with meaning and projecting and externalising her own problems through it. As I said, I used to have a bit of a thing for walls myself (though, clearly, nowhere near to the extent of the heroine, as I am still a sane and functioning member of society, trust me) and I found this aspect of the story, extremely creepy, recognisable and accurate.
I could even relate to the submissiveness and the apathy, because I can clearly remember feeling exactly that in my lower moments. That feeling of being completely separate from the whole world and honestly not caring one way or the other, of wanting to just sit there and being too tired to really do or feel anything. The heroine here seems to recognise what is happening, that what her physician husband prescribes as the cure is really not good for her but doesn't really have the energy or the strength of will to stage any sort of opposition other than her little rebellion in writing the journal entries. And, as much as I wanted her to scream and rant and rave, what Gilman writes is actually a much more accurate description of my own experience of the apathy of depression.
I also admired the disjointed haunted way in which the story is constructed leaving the reader with multiple questions to ponder. Is she really going mad? Would she still be going mad if she were not confined to a room and lacking any physical and intellectual stimulation? Is her husband a sinister jailer or a loving spouse earnestly trying to help her? Is he even really her husband? And what happens at the end is anyone's guess. (view spoiler)[Some believe that she hangs herself but I'm not so sure as she talks about walking around the room with her shoulder to the wall, making the fade marks she mentions earlier, and having to step over the husband who is lying on the floor supposedly in a faint. Maybe, she kills him? (hide spoiler)]
P.S. While I thoroughly enjoyed this particular story and generally enjoy books and movies about descents into madness, I also find the proliferation of mad women in film and literature somewhat disquieting. I have not done any sort of comprehensive analysis but I have personally come across many more insane female characters than male. And the women never seem to go mad in quite the same way men do either because they are so clever (as in A Beautiful Mind)or so brave (as in the case of shell shock (which is, I think, a form of male hysteria, but hysteria was, clearly, a term that was too female to be applied to soldiers) in e.g. Catch-22) or because they actually think that they are turning into a woman (as in Memoirs of My Nervous Illness). The Yellow Paper made me want to read something academic on the subject of women and madness. If anyone is able to recommend anything good on this topic, I am open to suggestions.
P.P.S. I only read the title story, so this review and rating only relate to that. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
This book is fantastic. It has that rare combination of gorgeously rich language and a complex engaging plot full to the brim of diabolical schemes, v...moreThis book is fantastic. It has that rare combination of gorgeously rich language and a complex engaging plot full to the brim of diabolical schemes, villains, thieves, madhouses, violence, lesbians, murder, love, betrayal and the kind of twists that will make your head spin.
It is a story of two girls, Sue and Maud, whose destinies are indelibly linked, though layer upon layer upon layer of deceit will need to be stripped away before it is revealed exactly what that link is.
Sue has been brought up among thieves, though she has been largely sheltered from the harsh realities of life in the poor part of Victorian London by the kind care of Mrs Sucksby, who earns her living by "farming" infants. Sue's life changes when she is drawn into a plot by Gentleman, Richard Rivers, to help him convice Maud Lilly, a rich but simple-minded heiress living in a gloomy country manor with her "scholar" uncle, to run away with him to marry, whereupon Maud would be stripped of her inheritance and deposited in a madhouse for safekeeping.
So the story begins but before too long you find out that practically nothing that you see in the first part is what it seems and there are lots of layers to peel away before we get to the root of it all.
The characters, including the secondary ones like John Vroom and Dainty, the servants at Briar, the nurses and other inhabitants of the madhouse and so on are vividly drawn and fascinating. Really, I do not have enough words to praise this book highly enough, suffice to say that all the glowing reviews (on this site and elsewhere) and accolades that this book has received are richly deserved and if you have not yet read this, you are in for a treat. (less)
- there are vicious killer rabbits out there, so watch out;
- you can make a bomb out of pretty much anything, even a f...moreThings I learned from this book:
- there are vicious killer rabbits out there, so watch out;
- you can make a bomb out of pretty much anything, even a five year old can do it;
- if you let a psychotic hippy with a penchant for psychological experiments bring up kids on an isolated island, the kids will invariably turn out to be looneys (well, duh).
This was good overall. I enjoy Banks' writing style and the characterisation was superb. The demented world of a teenage psychopath is delightfully realistic and logical and the book is full of black humour, the telephone conversations with the brother who is on the run from a mental institution were particularly hilarious.
"Porteneil 531." Pips sounded.
"Fuck it, Frank, I've got luna maria callouses on me feet. How the hell are ye, me young bucko?"
I looked at the handset, then up at my father, who was leaning over the rail from the floor above, tucking his pyjama top into his trousers. I spoke into the phone: "Hello there, Jamie, what are you doing calling me this late?"
"Wha-? Oh, the old man's there, is he?" Eric said. "T-ell him he's a bag of effervescent pus, from me."
"Jamie sends his regards," I called up to my father..."
"And how are you keeping?" I said quickly. "I mean, you must be sleeping rough. Aren't you catching cold or something?"
"I'm not sleeping."
"You're not sleeping?"
"Of course not. You don't have to sleep. That's just something they tell you to keep control over you. Nobody has to sleep; you're taught to sleep when you're a kid. If you're really determined, you can get over it. I've got over the need to sleep. I never sleep now. That way it's a lot easier to keep watch and make sure they don't creep up on you, and you can keep going as well. Nothing like keeping going. You become like a ship."
"Yeah? What did you forget?"
"Forget? I didn't forget anything! I remember everything! Everything!" screamed a familiar voice at the other end of the line.
I froze, then gulped, said: "Er-"
"Why are you accusing me of forgetting things? What are you accusing me of forgetting? What? I haven't forgotten anything!" Eric gasped and spluttered.
"Eric, I'm sorry! I thought you were somebody else!"
"I'm me!" he yelled. "I'm not anybody else! I'm me! Me!"
"I thought you were Jamie!" I wailed, closing my eyes.
"That dwarf? You bastard!"
"I'm sorry, I-" Then I broke off and thought. "What do you mean, 'that dwarf', in that tone? He's my friend. It isn't his fault he's small," I told him.
"Oh, yeah?" came the reply. "How do you know?"
"What do you mean how do I know? It wasn't his fault he was born like that!" I said, getting quite angry.
"You only have his word for that."
"I only have his word for what?" I said.
"That he's a dwarf!" Eric spat.
"What?" I shouted, scarcely able to believe my ears. "I can see he's a dwarf, you idiot!"
"That's what he wants you to think! Maybe he's really an alien! Maybe the rest of them are even smaller than he is! How do you know he isn't really a giant alien from a very small race of aliens? Eh?"
"Don't be stupid!" I screamed into the phone, gripping it sorely with my burned hand.
"Well, don't say I didn't warn you!" Eric shouted.
"Don't worry!" I shouted back.
"Anyway," Eric said in a suddenly calm voice, so that for a second or two I thought somebody else had come on the line, and I was left somewhat nonplussed as he went on in level, ordinary speech: "How are you?"
The ending was really disappointing though, and not the big reveal either, but the protagonists' musings afterwards. I was kind of enjoying the fact that Frank is a sociopath, misogynist and generally bat-shit crazy, so to have all of that rationalised, wiped clean and brushed under the carpet at the end (a) was a complete betrayal of the rest of the book and (b) just didn't make any logical, metaphysical or any other kind of sense. Oh yeah, I killed all those kids because I believed the ability to procreate had been taken away from me by cruel fate and they represented that very promise which I was forever denied. What? Frank was 5 at the time of the first kill, supposedly. I'm sorry but a 5 year old feeling seriously bereaved by the fact that he cannot have sex or kids to the point of homicide is ridiculous.
P.S. When I was very young (maybe 4 or 5 but the memory is very vague so I cannot be sure) and visiting my grandparents for the summer, one of my cousins (there were three of us in attendance) suggested we play concentration camp with catepillars. None of us thought this was in any way objectionable and we got as far as collecting a load of them in a jar, which we then put in the fridge for safekeeping. The story ended rather badly for us as we didn't bother putting a lid on the jar and the caterpillars went literally everywhere. Let's just say our grandmother was not best pleased. I'm not sure what my point is here, really. Both my cousins and I grew up to be reasonably well-adjusted adults despite our early sadistic tendencies so, maybe, it is that there is a little bit of a psycho in all of us and, given the right set of circumstances, it is totallly possible that I could now be checking sacrifice poles, fighting killer rabbits and collecting belly button fluff for ritual use. (less)
Short and sweet. A self-proclaimed "erotic lace-paper valentine in a prologue and three scenes". The story of a young bride who marries for money, che...moreShort and sweet. A self-proclaimed "erotic lace-paper valentine in a prologue and three scenes". The story of a young bride who marries for money, cheats on her elderly husband with five different men on their wedding night and ends up falling for him as he kills himself in some sort of bizarre role play scheme pretending to be his own rival for her heart. It was just a tad too strange and, for me, did not have the magic and poetry of Lorca's later work. Yet I do have a certain fascination with the absurd (Ionesco is great) and would be intrigued to see this performed.(less)
Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk is a short novella set in Russian province in the second half of 19th century. The subject matter is pretty powerful: passion,...moreLady Macbeth of Mtsensk is a short novella set in Russian province in the second half of 19th century. The subject matter is pretty powerful: passion, adultery, murder and betrayal. Yet, for all that, the book is very unsentimental and true to life. It is full of dark humour and the characters are very real and believable. It is a shame that it does not seem particularly well-known in the West, for it is, in my opinion, one of the best works in Russian literature.(less)
This is, by light years, the darkest and most depressing book I have ever read. The dread heavy feeling in my chest remained for quite some time after...moreThis is, by light years, the darkest and most depressing book I have ever read. The dread heavy feeling in my chest remained for quite some time after I have finished it. Yet for all that, it is brilliant. The stark and bare quality of the writing haunting in its simplicity. It's not light or fluffy or entertaining but it made me feel and and it is everything that a great book should be, disturbing and thought provoking. For me, one of the best books of all time.(less)