Full disclosure: I spent Halloween 2006 in Doolin, and all that happened was that I got a fabulous meal (a giant bowl of mussels in wine and garlic buFull disclosure: I spent Halloween 2006 in Doolin, and all that happened was that I got a fabulous meal (a giant bowl of mussels in wine and garlic butter, so big I couldn't finish it), a festive night at the pub* and a hideous hangover which pretty much prevented me from appreciating the stunning Cliffs of Moher at all the following day.
Largely as a result of the traditional music scene, today's Doolin is more of a destination (though there are still only three pubs) than when Ryan wrote Cast a Cold Eye. However, its position on the myth- and history-haunted west coast of Ireland makes for a superbly atmospheric setting, and Alan Ryan captures the paradoxical, uncanny attraction of the region as well as any Irish writer, barring Yeats. It's a classic romantic landscape, a land of "terrible beauty," as the great poet once wrote; the alien stretches of the Burren, the sweeping Atlantic vistas, the kindly but aloof locals, relentless sea and punishing weather combine to cast a compelling melancholy, not unlike the sound of uilleann pipes. The romantic shadow of Yeats hovers over the book's title as well, as it's taken from the great poet's "Under Ben Bulben," and reads in full "Cast a cold Eye / On Life, on Death. / Horseman, pass by." Also of note, these words are Yeats' self-chosen epitaph, etched into a headstone in a tiny, ancient Sligo churchyard.
Which brings us, fittingly, back to the grave, as Cast a Cold Eye opens on a damp, chilly night in an ancient burial ground, and it closes there as well. The tale in between concerns Jack Quinlan, a popular Irish-American writer who decides that a stay in the remote west of Ireland will be a boon to both his writing and his research on a book about the Great Famine. He obtains a house in Doolin for three months, and settles in to a pleasant routine of writing in the mornings and spending convivial evenings at the local pubs listening to traditional music. But before long, Jack begins experiencing visions of piteous, gaunt phantoms -- collapsed at the roadside, wandering the Burren, and even pacing his car in the dark Irish night. Are the isolation and research into the region's tragic past playing tricks on him, or is something darker afoot? The answer lies in a silence kept by four old men and the local priest, who tries to befriend Jack, in his way.
I'll say no more, except this secret, when it comes out, may not be at all what you think. In a way Cast a Cold Eye reminds me a bit of Thomas Tryon's very scary Harvest Home, in that the story's tension arises from newcomers engaging with ancient local traditions, whether purposely or not. Compared to today's extreme horror, it likely won't shock you too much, but it packs a deeply resonant mythic punch, especially stark and pagan when set against its very Catholic milieu. Hibernophile that I am, I adored this book, entrenched as it is in the very blood of Ireland's tragic past, and filled with the uncanny magic of its singular landscape.
Five well-earned stars. And I wish I could get a poster of that awesome new Valancourt edition. Anybody know the artist?
Way better than you might think with a title like that. Aokigahara is such a creepy setting that the story almost writes itself. Bates does a great joWay better than you might think with a title like that. Aokigahara is such a creepy setting that the story almost writes itself. Bates does a great job of bringing that visceral fear to the page; however his characters will insist on making any number of stupid decisions to generate plot twists. Still, I'm curious enough I might read the second installment. 3.5 stars - great atmosphere, but readers, prepare for the idiot ball to be passed repeatedly....more
I have officially become a raving David Mitchell enthusiast. Slade House is a neatly plotted offshoot of the world of The Bone Clocks, a story about aI have officially become a raving David Mitchell enthusiast. Slade House is a neatly plotted offshoot of the world of The Bone Clocks, a story about a house not so much haunted as honeytrap, and a set of twins not exactly ghostly, but definitely ghastly. Here Mitchell introduces an inventive new view of the the traditional haunted house, unveiling just enough of the mystery in each chapter to keep a reader up all night pursuing answers. I can't say much more without taking the fun out of it, so I'll stop there. 5 stars.
PS: If you have not read The Bone Clocks, the climax of Slade House will lose much of its resonance. It's definitely a companion-piece. I say read both! ...more
An amusing, twisty little tale, but not without flaws. I know it was tailored to a specific anthology (Rogues), but I feel like Flynn's not quite at hAn amusing, twisty little tale, but not without flaws. I know it was tailored to a specific anthology (Rogues), but I feel like Flynn's not quite at her best on such a small canvas. The climax seemed rushed and kind of overstuffed. Still, a better way to kill an hour than most . . . 3.5 stars....more
The Uninvited is compelling, beautifully written historical fiction spiced with just a touch of the gruesome and the ghostly. I see no reason to giveThe Uninvited is compelling, beautifully written historical fiction spiced with just a touch of the gruesome and the ghostly. I see no reason to give this memorable novel less than 5 stars. Recommended!...more
I had a long review about how wonderful it is when horror and humor can play nice together. About how the uncanny IKGiddy and grody, silly and scary.
I had a long review about how wonderful it is when horror and humor can play nice together. About how the uncanny IKEA universe is ripe for skewering with tales of institutionalized horror. (Who hasn't been lost in IKEA and felt the pasteboard walls closing in? Hendrix calls it "scripted disorientation.") How the faux "ORSK" product names and diagrams are works of art in themselves. About the struggle for individuality in a big-box world, about the relationships between conformity and surveillance and fear, and how the novel's major threat deftly dovetailed with the setting.
But the internets ate it, so this is what you get. Grady Hendrix is a smart, clever writer, with just a touch of the demonic. Nicely done. ...more
Kate Maruyama's Harrowgate came out of left field late in the year to rock my top ten of 2013. Harrowing (pun intended) yet can't-put-it-down compelliKate Maruyama's Harrowgate came out of left field late in the year to rock my top ten of 2013. Harrowing (pun intended) yet can't-put-it-down compelling, Maruyama's debut defies genre, a unique family romance that both spooked me and pulled at my heartstrings, romantic and repellent at the same time. I'd love to say more, but you'll be glad I didn't. Harrowgate winks at some familiar tropes -- happy couple in spooky New York apartment? Check. Meddling older woman with special teas? Check. However, it unfolds in a truly unique fashion. An excellent and memorable debut novel. I look forward to much more from Maruyama!
(Edited to note that although I purchased a Kindle copy, and reviewed from that, I was also the lucky recipient of a signed First-Reads copy from the author through a Goodreads giveaway. It's one I'm happy to make room on an actual shelf for. Thanks!)...more
Odd, quirky, curious, not at all what you'd expect -- these are all ways one might describe The Uninvited Guests. "If you like 'Downton Abbey' then thOdd, quirky, curious, not at all what you'd expect -- these are all ways one might describe The Uninvited Guests. "If you like 'Downton Abbey' then this book is for you" is not. There are surface similarities in a likeable family living in genteel Edwardian near-poverty in a manor house called Sterne, which is too big for its own upkeep -- but it's just really not . . . that. At all.
What it is, is more difficult to say. Is it a comedy of manners? (Yes.) Is it a love story? (Of course it is.) Is it a ghost story? (You decide.) The Uninvited Guests is a whirlwind of all-of-the-above that unfolds over the course of one afternoon, and a dark and stormy night, in 1912. We meet the Torringtons as the Sterne household readies for a feast on eldest daughter Emerald's twentieth birthday; unfortunately, the carefully laid plans are interrupted by news of a terrible train derailment nearby. Instead of a party, the Torringtons wind up with a houseful of displaced, disgruntled, and mysteriously multiplying third-class passengers awaiting rescue. In the course of the night, entanglements are made and broken and made once again, an unwelcome visitor cruelly unveils unspeakable family secrets, class issues rear their ugly heads, a pony named Lady gets into some trouble, a wall is knocked down, and everyone's lives are changed forever.
Shortcomings? There are some. The Torrington family already seems a bit too like a "type," as if borrowed wholesale from an E.M. Forster novel. That's not an inherently bad thing (I adore Forster), but does make for some rather predictable plot-turns when Jones' characters behave, by and large, as expected . . . even in the midst of the unexpected. Also, the villain, a cad in a blood-red waistcoat, actually has a handlebar mustache and actually twirls it. Perhaps that's a postmodern-meta-wink-wink thing, but it feels a bit cheap.
The generic characterizations are somewhat ameliorated by the presence of the youngest Torrington child, Imogen. Smudge, as they call her, is a small free spirit happily engaged in her own (ridiculously messy) "Great Work" as the grownups swirl around chaotically, ignoring her amid the ruckus. Smudge's character and narrative are the most entertaining and well-developed in the novel, and I suspect her story will stick with me a long while after I've forgotten about the elder Torringtons.
All in all, I'll give The Uninvited Guests a full four stars. Ms. Jones has a lovely, dry prose style, and the intermingling of genres is charming in its offbeat way. Unfortunately the characters are pleasant but somewhat indistinct types, the crisis never poses any truly meaningful danger, and the denoument is just a bit pat and predictable. Still, I enjoyed it as an offbeat, fun summer read . . . beware though, it's oodles odder than the book blurbs might imply.
Not at all what I expected, given the "pulp crime" vibe of the imprint and the cover, but emotionally compelling nonetheless. Joyland is King exertingNot at all what I expected, given the "pulp crime" vibe of the imprint and the cover, but emotionally compelling nonetheless. Joyland is King exerting his magical powers to create a sweeping sense of nostalgia for a time -- in the world, in a life -- long past. There's a nifty little ghost story/murder mystery (which I had figured out, BTW), but this novel is foremost about a coming-of-age summer, about how a job at a gem of an amusement park cures heartbreak, creates deep and far-reaching bonds, and turns Devin Jones into a man.
I suspect King can cough this kind of quasi-elegiac stuff up in his sleep by now, but his craftsmanship still wins the day, showing on every page. Yes, this is lightweight compared to, oh, say 11/22/63, but Joyland is still pretty great summer reading, and that's good enough for me.
Elsewhere is an eerie little haunted-house story strong on atmospherics and clever dialogue, but it's one which ultimately disappoints with a pretty stock plot.
Ambitious real estate agent Joan Freeboard is offered a huge fee if she can sell a notoriously haunted mansion on an island in the Hudson river. Known as the scene of a particularly gruesome murder-suicide, even the family heirs refuse to live in it, decamping to Italy and putting it on the market.
Joan knows she has to do something to dispel the ridiculous rumors, so in order to clear the house's reputation she hatches a clever PR plan: she retains the services of a psychic, an occult expert from NYU, and her closest friend, writer Terence Dare, to spend five days with her at Elsewhere. If all goes well, they can debunk the ghost stories, and Terence can write an account of the experiment for a high-profile magazine -- which will also serve as excellent publicity for the house's sale.
Needless to say, things don't go as planned. But I'll bet you expected that. (At least you do if you've ever read The Haunting of Hill House.)
And that's the real problem with Elsewhere: it's just a bit too predictable to actually be scary. Perhaps that's unfair, since the novella was originally published in 1999 -- earlier than some of the works it ultimately feels derivative of. But if you're up on your contemporary horror, you can see the end coming from miles away. This is especially irritating because, a) we all know Blatty is fully capable of scaring the crap out of readers; and b) because the story's setup seems so obvious you're sure the twist simply can't be what you think it is. And yet.
Elsewhere was a perfectly fine way to while away a Sunday afternoon, and I'm not sorry I read it; I just wish I'd read it before subsequent works made it essentially redundant.