The Temple of Death is billed as ghost stories (or "Tales of Mystery and the Supernatural") by A. C. And R. H. Benson. These are the lesser-known (forThe Temple of Death is billed as ghost stories (or "Tales of Mystery and the Supernatural") by A. C. And R. H. Benson. These are the lesser-known (for good reason, I think) brothers of E. F. Benson of Mapp and Lucia fame. The back of the book says that these weird and chilling ghost stories have been undeservedly neglected for too long. But I can't say that I think that's necessarily true. I probably could have gone on just as well without ever having read these. Oh, they're decent enough stories....particularly those by A. C. Benson. But they're not strictly ghost stories--religious ghost stories, perhaps. So, I guess "tales of the supernatural" would describe these best. All of the stories have a very religious, moral tone. In each, you have an element of good needing to triumph over evil--whether that be the evil of paganism and the Dark Arts or the evil doings of the human heart.
The stories of R. H. Benson have far less substance than those of his brother--fortunately, there are fewer of them. A. C. Benson's tales (synopses below) have more narrative and more depth. The former's tales range from the "killer instinct" of a man compelled to shoot a thrush ("The Watcher") to two boys lost on a road who encounter a gypsy ("Blood Eagle"). There isn't much haunting to be found and I can't say that R. H. does much for me in the story-telling line. Of A. C.'s stories, the best by far are "Out of the Sea," "Basil Netherby," and "The Uttermost Farthing." I don't say that you need to run out and find this collection, but if you do happen upon it then be sure to read these three if you read no others. Three stars. Just.
Stories by A. C. Benson: "The Temple of Death": Paullinus, a Roman follower of the Christian faith, gets lost on his travels and finds himself at the pagan "Temple of Death." Will his faith help him overcome the dreadful beast that is lord of the temple?
"The Closed Window": The evil Sir James de Nort died under mysterious circumstances in the turret room. Since that time, the window has never been opened. What will happen if his grandson and grand-nephew decide to do so? What odd vision of the world will be revealed?
"The Slype House": Anthony Purvis, owner of the Slype House, dabbles in the Dark Arts...and winds up in a battle for his very soul.
"The Red Camp": Walter Wyatt inherits the ancestral home. On his land, there is a dense wooded area known as the "Red Camp"--so-called because of the terrible battle that took place there. Wyatt must lay to rest the souls killed on this terrible spot.
"Out of the Sea": A ghastly beast comes out of the sea to haunt a wealthy fisherman and his son--a fate they must endure because of their actions towards a survivor of a shipwreck.
"The Grey Cat": A young boy is in a fight for his very soul....with of all things, a harmless-seeming grey cat.
"The Hill of Trouble": Gilbert is happy in his life as a scholar at Cambridge--he's close to finishing the book that has been his life's work. But then he goes visiting in the country, wanders onto the "Hill of Trouble" and has his future revealed to him by the spectre of the hill.
"Basil Netherby": Basil is a musician of some little talent. He takes up residence at a house with evil connections. His music changes--and so does he. Can his friend help rescue him from the evil influence of the house's former owner?
"The Uttermost Farthing": Three men race against the ghosts of two evil men to uncover hidden secrets. Are the secrets better revealed or destroyed?
Hmmm. I think I missed a memo. One titled The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. 'Cause, I was warned by several fellow-bloggers and friends oHmmm. I think I missed a memo. One titled The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. 'Cause, I was warned by several fellow-bloggers and friends on GoodReads that this book "scared the crap" out of them. "Super scary." "One of the all-time scariest books ever...." I kept refusing to read the book near bedtime because I'm a big weenie when it comes to horror and creepy stuff (and it's a testament to my love of Carl's R.I.P. Event each fall that I subject myself to this sort of thing come September & October). I didn't want to have nightmares. I kept thinking, "Okay, it's not scary yet. But it's coming. It's coming. It's coming." And then, "Oh wait. I'm done. So....where was the really scary part? I missed it." This was so seriously not scary that I may even try to watch the 1963 movie version The Haunting to add to the movie portion of the R.I.P. event. [Possible spoilers coming after the synopsis.]
So...here's the scoop: Dr. Montague is on a mission to find an authentic haunted house. When he comes upon Hill House, it would seem that he has found his prize. None of the local townspeople will stay at Hill House after dark. No one who has rented the house has stayed longer than a night or two. There is a dreadful past full of death and suicide. His next mission is to invite people who have experienced some sort of occult incidents in the past to join him at Hill House and see what kind of psychic phenomena they encounter. Those who accept his invitation include Eleanor, a lonely girl who lived in a house attacked by a rock-throwing poltergeist; Theodora, a more lively girl with psychic tendencies; and Luke, son of the family and heir to Hill House. Their days at Hill House are fairly ordinary--exploring the rooms and then the grounds. But the nights are filled with strange, banging-on-the-doors noises, intense cold (especially outside the nursery), and doors that close themselves (when not being banged on). Eleanor is sure that the house knows her name and is trying to make her its own. Is she right?
Possible spoilers ahead...
As I said, straight up horror-scary, this isn't. At least not to me. Psychologically interesting, yes. Because although one might think Dr. Montague is the central character, it soon becomes apparent that Eleanor is the main focus. The manifestations, such as they are, do seem to revolve around her--either happening to her or vaguely being blamed on her. When I reached the end of the story I was left wondering: Did these events really happen? Were they all part of Eleanor's imagination and fear? There was even a hint, from some of the comments from the other characters and thoughts running through Eleanor's mind [yes, we are given access to Eleanor's thoughts], that perhaps the other characters are creating some of the situations. Following Eleanor and her reactions to the house and events is the most interesting part of the story for me. It is really intriguing to see how her sense of loneliness and her urgency to belong to the group affect her experiences in the house.
Where I really lost all sense of scariness (what little there was) was when Mrs. Montague showed up with her planchette and her side-kick Arthur. She demands to know what her husband has done about contacting the departed and won't let him get a word in edgewise. She was pure comic relief to me and, quite honestly, I couldn't see that the story was tense enough to need any relief. It is also possible, now that I think it over, that her odd, no-nonsense approach to contacting the spirit world just threw a bucket of cold water over the atmosphere in the house and that was why the doctor's investigations came to an end.
Three and a half stars for a good, interesting story.
Adam McOmber's This New & Poisonous Air is my first installment in the R.I.P. Reading "Challenge" and he starts me out with a strong four-star outAdam McOmber's This New & Poisonous Air is my first installment in the R.I.P. Reading "Challenge" and he starts me out with a strong four-star outing. McOmber's stories are not strictly scary, but they do have a very unsettling, Gothic feel. The atmosphere ranges from the dark and unusual to the enigmatic and uncomfortable. McOmber takes us from the beginnings of Madame Toussauds wax museum to the days of the Black Plague. He also uses everyday settings--from a movie theater to the threshing floor of an old barn--to give us a case of shivers. The variety of these stories is delightful--and it is easy to see influences by Poe, Shirley Jackson, and Isak Dinesen in many of the tales.This is a thoroughly enjoyable collection--more atmospheric and psychological than down-right scary--and even the weakest stories are quite, quite good. My favorites are "The Automatic Garden," "Fall Orpheum," and "Beneath Us."
"The Automatic Garden" is about a man who creates a mechanical garden full of "automatic" animals, plants, and even people. Ostensibly, it has been designed to delight the public--but there behind this creation there is the love story between Francini, the creator, and a dancer named Cornazzano. The love affair is long over, but Francini invites his old love to see the tribute he has created--with unexpected results.
In "Fall Orpheum" we have a normal small town--normal except for the occasional missing person. When David and Kitty (brother & sister) visit the Orpheum movie theater, Kitty disappears through a door in the theater and David realizes that the Orpheum has been the source of all the disappearances.
"Beneath Us" follows the researches of a British woman who has been employed to map the forgotten graveyards of Britain--graveyards that have through fires or other means become disconnected from their sponsoring churches. The effect these researches have on her is quite....disturbing.
I was familiar with the realms of unnatural, for I myself was an unnatural. Not a monster in appearance; I looked like other young women, though perhaI was familiar with the realms of unnatural, for I myself was an unnatural. Not a monster in appearance; I looked like other young women, though perhaps not as primped and manicured. But I wasn't the same as other girls. My friends believed I was sick or gifted. Either way, I was unfortunate. Something entirely new upon the earth. (The White Forest by Adam McOmber)
I don't often do this, but... Run, don't walk, to your nearest bookshop (or whatever means you have for feeding your reading addiction) and get your hands on this book. Do it now.
Adam McOmber has written an amazing first novel. It's weird and Gothic and lyrical and Victorian and literary and mythic and compelling. If there hadn't been these things called work and sleep, I would have sat down and read it straight through. It is not, however, a comfortable book. The protagonist, Jane Silverlake, isn't a particularly likeable character. Actually, none of the main characters are particularly likeable.
Jane has this odd power--she can hear and see the souls of inanimate, man-made object. The objects around her moan and sing and babble in a cacophony of sound. They shine and glow with colors. And at times she sees a world that does not belong to ours--a white forest that seems almost to be made of paper. She has been isolated for much of her life and when she comes into contact with Madeline and Nathan she doesn't know how to interact with them. She longs to belong and somehow thinks that if she shares her power with Nathan, she'll become closer to him.
Nathan becomes obsessed with her power and wants to experiment with her and what she can do. He isn't really interested in Jane (which is what she wants); he's hoping she can open up the world of Empyrean (or Paradise) for him. His obsession with Empyrean leads him to join a cult led by Ariston Day--a charismatic man who had collected a following of the sons of London's elite. They are all searching for a way to recreate London...and the rest of the world...as a new Paradise.
Madeline is jealous of Jane. She's jealous and afraid of her power. She doesn't like the way Nathan wants to be with Jane to learn more. Her cruelty to Jane and her willingness to hurt and even sacrifice Jane and her powers to rescue Nathan don't exactly recommend her as a bosom friend. But through most of the book, as Jane and Maddie try to find out what happened to Nathan and Jane searches to find out who she is and exactly what her powers represent, Jane clings to what remnants of friendship as she can find.
What initially interested me about the book was the mention of Inspector Vidocq. Regular readers of my blog will know that I am a vintage mystery addict. It intrigued me that Adam was using the actual historical detective in his novel and I was eager to see how that played out. Vidocq is brought in to investigate by Nathan's father when his son disappears. Unfortunately, Vidocq is a rather peripheral character--making few appearances and giving little evidence of being much like what I would expect from "the father of criminal investigation."
It is proof of Adam's skill as a writer that he was able to completely hook me on his story even though I didn't much care for his main characters and his detective wasn't quite what I expected. The mythos behind Jane's powers and the mystery surrounding them were so compelling and intriguing that it really didn't matter that I didn't like her or her friends much. I had to know what was happening. I had to keep reading until the end.
A wonderfully compelling book that, despite it's other-worldly qualities manages to be entirely believable. And perhaps that's due in part to the nature of the main characters. We all know that the world is full of people who may not be likeable, but who have powerful stories and who affect the world in so many ways. Four and a half stars.
Read only Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde for the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Challenge (among others).
Thanks to Man of La Book's League of ExtraordinRead only Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde for the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Challenge (among others).
Thanks to Man of La Book's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Challenge, I have now read The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde three times in as many years. [Most of my previous thoughts on Jekyll & Hyde can found HERE and HERE.] I'm not complaining....I love this late Victorian Gothic morality play about the division of good and evil that lies in every person. It's just that I'm not sure I've got much that's fresh to say about this one on my third go round. That being the case, I may not be able to do this review without spoilers--so beware!
As I mention in a previous review (for another edition)--the story tells us all too well that if we are not very careful, then evil can overtake us. Once started down the road, lesser sins can soon lead to bigger until finally it becomes near impossible to turn back and become what we once were. It is particularly difficult for those with addictive personalities--one looks for bigger and better thrills and that is part of what leads one further down the road.
I think what strikes me most this time around is a very tiny moment in Jekyll's final days. It's a point that I didn't really take note of before. After the murder of Sir Danvers, he is determined not to let Hyde loose again. He spends a good two to three months suppressing the "child of Hell" and begins to feel very good about himself. He has used his time trying to repay good for the evil Hyde has done. He has been immersing himself in spiritual studies. He beings to compare himself to other men--"comparing [his] active good-will with the lazy cruelty of their neglect." And you know what they say about pride...it goeth before a fall. Jekyll is setting himself up for a doozy. In almost every list of the seven deadly sins pride is considered the most serious. It represents the primary fault that led to Lucifer's fall. The moment when Jekyll begins to feel prideful about how well he's done in suppressing Hyde and making reparations for his behavior is his point of no return. From that time on the potion no longer works as well--he finds himself turning into Hyde with very little effort and with no notice, right there in a public park.
The only other thoughts I have are in connection with the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. In the original story, Hyde is depicted as much smaller than Jekyll--a shrunken, "little" man; pale and dwarfish; "particularly small and evil-looking." And, yet, the League graphic novel (and movie, for that matter) portrays him an almost-giant, an Incedible Hulk type (less the green skin) with immense strength. If we allow that Jekyll/Hyde actually survived (rather than committing suicide as Stevenson's story relates), then, for Hyde to have become as large and strong as he is in League I see no way for him to ever appear as Jekyll. Hyde would have to have completely subdued his original persona to grow to such proportions. Stevenson mentions towards the end that Jekyll feels as though Hyde had grown--but even at that, Jekyll's clothes still hang on him, many sizes too big.
This review was first posted on my blog My Reader's Block. Please request permission before reposting any portion. Thanks. ...more
Amusing (to me anyway) anecdote before I begin my review: I recently went on a What's My Line (from the '50s and '60s) viewing binge and thoroughly enAmusing (to me anyway) anecdote before I begin my review: I recently went on a What's My Line (from the '50s and '60s) viewing binge and thoroughly enjoyed the regular panel members--including a certain Bennett Cerf, eminent editor of Random House. I had no idea that I had a collection of stories edited by Mr. Cerf sitting on my TBR stack just waiting to be read.
Mr. Cerf has given us an excellent selection of his favorite ghost stories, including a section of dinner-table anecdotes that he has collected during his various dining-out excursions. And the personable Bennett Cerf certainly had many of those. There were a couple of stories that I had encountered before ("The Monkey's Paw" and "The Willows"), but primarily a fresh collection of spooky tales. Four stars.
Run-down of stories:
"The Haunted & The Haunters" by Edward Bulwer-Lytton (1865): A man hears about a genuinely haunted house....and is determined to spend the night there. He's not afraid and neither is his servant. Or so they say.
"The Damned Thing" by Ambrose Bierce (1893): What if there are colors that the human eye can't see? And what if the most horrible things are colored in that shade?
"The Monkey's Paw" by W. W. Jacobs (1902): A classic, often reprinted story. At its heart, a warning to "be careful what you wish for....you just might get it."
"The Phantom 'Rickshaw" by Rudyard Kipling (1888): Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned....and she makes a pretty determined ghost as well.
"The Willows" by Algernon Blackwood (1907): Two friends are canoeing down the Danube. They run into more than they bargained for on an island covered by "willows."
"The Rival Ghosts" by Brander Matthews (1921): All is fair in love and war...and ghosts. What is a man in love to do with a couple of warring ghosts?
"The Man Who Went Too Far" by E. F. Benson (1904): A man searches for joy in nature and finds it and what seems to be eternal youth....and something more.
"The Mezzotint" by Montague Rhode (M. R.) James (1904): Mr. Williams is sent, on approval an engraving (the titular mezzotint) of a view of a manor-house. It comes highly recommended from trusted dealer. But it seems a very amateurish thing. Williams is of a mind to send it back. Then he realizes that scene is not static...it changes and a frightful story is acted out.
"The Open Window" by 'Saki' [H. H. Munro] (1930): 15 year-old Vera tells Mr. Framton Nuttel, in the country for a rest cure for his nerves, a tragic story while he waits to meet her aunt. Her uncle and two members of her aunt's family went shooting one day three years ago and never came back. Until today.
"The Beckoning Fair One" by Oliver Onions (1911): A classic haunted house story where an unsuccessful writer moves into rooms in an otherwise empty house, in the hope that isolation will help his failing creativity. Things get creative all right--but not in the way he anticipates.
"On the Brighton Road" by Richard Middleton (1912): A tramp on the Brighton Road meets up with an 18 year old boy...who has been running away from home for six years. The tramp tells him, "I dropped by the roadside last night and slept where I fell. It's a wonder I didn't die." The boy looks at him sharply. "How do you know you didn't?" How indeed?
"The Considerate Hosts" by Thorp McClusky (1939): Marvin is driving home on a beastly, stormy night. When he's forced to take a detour, his car dies and he's forced to seek shelter with a couple of ghosts out for revenge.
"August Heat" by W. F. Harvey (1910): Two men meet, as if by chance, on a hot August day but each has had a vision of sorts about the other's future. And the "heat is stifling. It is enough to send a man mad."
"The Return of Andrew Bentley" by August W. Derleth & Mark Schorer (1933): Uncle Amos calls on the narrator to guard his burial vault when he dies--for he is deathly afraid of the return of Andrew Bentley. It will take a great deal to keep Bentley from haunting Uncle Amos.
"The Supper at Elsinore" by Isak Dinesen (1934): A ghost story that tells the tale of a lost brother and the two sisters who essentially died when he did. The meeting of the three siblings is a very interesting take on the standard visit from the departed.
The Silence of Herondale by Joan Aiken is one of my rare forays into the world of gothic suspense mysteries. I don't do these often....and I suppose tThe Silence of Herondale by Joan Aiken is one of my rare forays into the world of gothic suspense mysteries. I don't do these often....and I suppose there's a reason. They're just not my thing anymore. I went through a nice little phase of them back when I was a pre-teen and teenager when thrilling to the mysteries of isolated damsels in distress and dreaming of the brooding, irritable lord of the manor who's really a romantic sweetie was just the ticket. I certainly read my share of Victoria Holts and Phyllis A. Whitneys....
This one as you can see has the obligatory dark, castle-like manor house and the misty moors and the damsel in distress--windblown and all--on the cover. And, of course, she takes on the job of governess/teacher to a thirteen-year-old play-writing prodigy who winds up being co-heir to the castle-like manor along with the brooding irritable lord of the land. There are evil doings afoot--attempted murder by pump-weight and faulty car brakes, escaped convicts roaming the moor, greedy relatives, and dour villagers galore.
Deborah Lindsay (said damsel in distress) has come to England from Canada to escape memories of a town where her parents died as well as memories of a love affair gone wrong. She had been a teacher and is now looking for work. She applies for the job of governess/teacher to Carreen Gilmartin, the aforementioned play-writing prodigy. Carreen has been under the care of her aunt Mrs. Morne. Deborah no sooner takes the job than Carreen disappears from the hotel where they are staying. She goes off in search of her Uncle John--who she hopes will help her force Mrs. Morne to allow her a break from play-writing. Deborah is sent to track her down. But Uncle John is dead and Herondale Hall (the family home) is empty. Carreen's cousin Jeremy arrives (the brooding lord of the manor) and Mrs. Morne and Carreen's entourage follow. The will is read--revealing that Uncle John has left Herondale Hall and most of the family fortune to Carreen and Jeremy. That's when all the evil doings begin.
As far as I'm concerned, it wasn't a great feat of deduction to figure out who was behind all the evil doings. No great mystery here. Fortunately, the characters of Deborah, Jeremy and Carreen, as well as some of the supporting villagers, are interesting enough to carry the story. Great atmosphere and the characterization make for a decent three-star read.
Well...that took much longer than anticipated to finish. John Harwood's debut novel, The Ghost Writer, started off really well. Gerard Freeman and hisWell...that took much longer than anticipated to finish. John Harwood's debut novel, The Ghost Writer, started off really well. Gerard Freeman and his family live in the fictional town of Mawson, Australia. When Gerard Freeman is young he sneaks into his mother's room to open a drawer that has been locked as long as he can remember. He's dying to know what's inside...but all he finds is a picture of a beautiful woman he has never seen before. His mother catches him red-handed and launches into a tirade and whirlwind of beating that he'll never forget. From that moment on the few stories she's told him of her childhood in far-away England stop. She refuses to discuss England or her childhood home of Staplefield or her grandmother Viola who raised her. Gerard has never been told much about his English heritage and now it seems he'll not find out more. His mother becomes more secretive than ever, telling her son that she is only trying to protect him. But from what? Or who?
Not long after this he begins a "penfriend" relationship with Alice Jessel through a penpal service advertised at his school. Alice is his age and has been crippled ever since an accident that killed her parents. She wants to know everything about Gerard and asks for pictures of him and his family, but won't send him pictures in return because she doesn't want him to think of her as crippled. The friendly letters turn romantic...from "penfriends" to "invisible lovers" and Gerard is determined to make his way to England to see Alice. She doesn't want to see him unless the doctors can find a way to cure her so she can walk again.
Interspersed in the narrative are ghost stories written by Gerard's great-grandmother. As he grows to adulthood, he finds more and more stories and pieces of stories that showcase Victorian ghosts and ghouls. But there seems to be more to these stories than just a peek at Viola's Victorian mind. When Gerard finally makes a trip to England, he starts investigating his past and the number of incidents in his family history and present life which mirror the events in Viola's ghost tales is disturbing. And what the stories seem to be telling him about his mother's past is very disturbing indeed. Gerard efforts to solve the mysteries of the past will involve him in a mysterious present.
I enjoyed the first few chapters of The Ghost Writer very much. It set a very convincing stage of a frightened woman doing her best to shelter her son from some unknown danger. It was also convincing that Gerard would be curious--both about his family history and about England. Alice provides a link to the land of his heritage. I also enjoyed Viola's ghost stories. In fact, I think I could have read a whole book of just those stories. But Harwood lost me at about the mid-point. Jumping back and forth between the stories and Gerard's present was confusing. The connections made at the end seemed far-fetched and conclusion did not make any sense to me at all. I don't want to give the ending away--but I cannot figure out how the person behind everything could have stage-managed it all. There's no way s/he could have known where Gerard was. No one knew his mother had gone to Australia. It just doesn't make sense.
I'm giving this three stars--for a good intro, good ghost stories, and the promise of a really good over-all plot that just didn't quite work for me. Others have rated this quite highly, so your mileage may vary.
I've been working steadily on the Robert Louis Stevenson collection. I had forgotten how much I loved The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. TI've been working steadily on the Robert Louis Stevenson collection. I had forgotten how much I loved The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. This is Stevenson's classic tale of man's inner struggle between his "evil" self and his "good" self. The description of Jekyll's last few days and hours...how he tried very hard to get his old self back and vanquish the evil Mr. Hyde was quite effective. It showed exactly how difficult it is sometimes for our better nature to win out.
And I had forgotten Stevenson's descriptive powers--particularly showcased in the short story "The Merry Men." I could feel the sea spray on my face and hear the howl of the wind and mad, chanting of the "merry" waves. "The Body Snatcher" (the most recently finished) is a tale worthy to be included in one of Hitchcock's spine tingling collections...perhaps it has been. It has one of the best surprise endings so far.
*Later* Now, I return to RLS...next story: "The Beach of Falesa." I don't think I've heard of this one before.
Okay, so "The Beach of Falesa" wound up being a tad long-winded for my tastes. I know I said I like RSL's descriptive powers--and I do, but only when they are well-employed. This story took way to long to get to the point and the descriptions did not set the mood as well as had been accomplished in the previous stories. However, the "Story of the Young Man with the Cream Tarts" was bang on. Terrific, mood-setting descriptions and the denouement was perfect. And I love this quote: "There is every reason why I should not tell you my story. Perhaps that is just the reason why I am going to do so." As well as: "My acquaintance with French was sufficient to enable me to squander money in Paris with almost the same facility as in London. In short, I am a person full of manly accomplishments." Going from cream tarts to a Suicide Club is a superb move on the part of Mr. Stevenson. Following on the heels of the cream tarts story was "Adventure of the Hansom Cab"--a bit of a sequel and every bit as delightful as its predecessor. I have fallen for Prince Florizel and Colonel Geraldine. I hope that there are more stories out there that feature them. The final story, "The Isle of Voices," was a bit of a let-down. Good premise, but there's something about his stories on the Hawaiian Islands (and close neighbors) that I just don't get into. The best of his stories that revolve around this area is "The Bottle Imp"--but that one focuses more on the the story itself and less on describing the islands and inhabitants. ...more
Seven Gothic Tales by Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen) has been a very difficult read for me. Gothic novels are not, by rights, my usual reading fare but ISeven Gothic Tales by Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen) has been a very difficult read for me. Gothic novels are not, by rights, my usual reading fare but I was drawn to this book by the very intriguing Introduction written by Dorothy Canfield. So, I grabbed it right up at the Friends of the Library Booksale. And then, when I gave into temptation and signed up for the Gothic Reading Challenge, it seemed only natural to add this one to the list. My goodness, I didn't know what I was letting myself in for.
The seven tales are very uneven. The first, "The Deluge at Norderney," is brilliant. The descriptions of the flood and the plight of the people along the coast are very striking. The tales told by the small group left to their fate in the old barn draw the reader in and hold her captive. I was completely taken in by the final twist.
"The Monkey" is one of the tales that I would say is more gothic than most. It reminds me of some of Poe's best work. And there is an element of the supernatural involved. More spine-tingling than the others.
And then there is "The Supper at Elsinore"--a true ghost story that tells the tale of a lost brother and the two sisters who essential died when he did. The meeting of the three siblings is a very interesting take on the standard visit from the departed.
The final story that held any interest for me was "The Dreamers." Following the storyline was a bit rough...it was almost, but not quite like stream of consciousness writing. Lincoln would just start telling his tale and then he'd insert little asides. A more straight-forward telling would have been more to my taste, but the central nugget--who the mysterious woman was and what finally happened to her was worth a bit of wading in the "stream."
Dinesen is a very descriptive author. Sometimes too much so. But in the stories mentioned, she does her best job and the descriptions serve the tales well. The descriptions did not, however, produce quite the gothic feel that I was expecting--and this was particularly true in the remaining stories from the collection. She also is at her best when telling the story straight rather than following little side-stories as happens more often than necessary. I would love to be able to say more about this one, but I have been reading it off and on for so long that I've lost some of my earliest thoughts (that'll teach me to take notes). Not quite my cup of tea...three stars overall, with most of that rating being due to the four stories highlighted. ...more
I did it...I went and visited Manderley again. I didn't just dream it. Re-reading books that one has read and loved over twenty years ago is somethingI did it...I went and visited Manderley again. I didn't just dream it. Re-reading books that one has read and loved over twenty years ago is something of a crap shoot. One never know how the older self will view the beloved story. Since I've started blogging and joining in on various reading challenges, I've done fair amount of rereading this year. The French Lieutenant's Woman? Re-reading that was a huge mistake. Jane Eyre? Loved it then and love it now. So, it was with some uncertainty I took up Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca again. Perhaps with the same timidity that the unnamed heroine feels when stepping into Rebecca's shoes at Manderley.
...And found that I still love it. But for different reasons. When I read it twenty years ago, I was all over the gothic romanticism. I enjoyed the plight of the unnamed second wife of Max de Winter--waiting to see what the real terror was that overshadowed that stately mansion. I drank in the evil undertones, the suggestion of Rebecca everywhere. This time I was more interested in du Maurier's writing. Having recently read The House on the Strand and Castle Dor, I was very taken with her descriptive powers. The opening chapter where she describes the Manderley of the dream is incredibly powerful. I absolutely love her descriptions of place and setting. She also sets the mood well...I still enjoy the gothic feel of the novel, but now I am appreciate her power to communicate that mood--I am not so wrapped up in it that I'm feeling the shivers along with the narrator.
I did find the narrator a bit taxing this time around. I understand the circumstances that led to her timid nature. After all, she has married above her and has never had the experiences necessary to allow her to fit securely into the place of lady of the manor. But I was definitely relieved when she finally stood up to Mrs. Danvers and began to show some backbone. More of that would have gone a long way with me.
Du Maurier's skill as a writer amazes me. Even knowing the ending, I still felt the thrill of the building pressure on de Winter. It still seemed that they would find out the facts behind Rebecca's death. The twist at the end is brilliant and I can understand why this book has won the Anthony Award for best novel of the century. I gave this novel four stars for my first reading. That rating still stands.
This review was first posted on my blog My Reader's Block. Please request permission before reposting any portion. Thanks....more
All children mythologize their birth. It is a universal trait. You want to know someone? Heart, mind and soul? Ask him to tell you about when he was bAll children mythologize their birth. It is a universal trait. You want to know someone? Heart, mind and soul? Ask him to tell you about when he was born. What you get won't be the truth; it will be a story. And nothing is more telling than a story.
Vida Winter in Tales of Change and Desperation
So we're told before we even begin Diane Setterfield's novel The Thirteenth Tale. The tale is a fairly intricate one. Vida Winter, a world-reknowned writer who has managed to keep her life story shrouded in mystery throughout her life, is very ill and decides to share that story with Margaret Leo, an amateur biographer. It's not that Miss Winter hasn't told her life story before....she has. Countless versions--all different. How can Margaret be sure that this time the story will be true. Each woman is hiding a secret pain, a pain that may be more similar than they know, and they strike a bargain for the story-telling. As Miss Winter begins unfolding the story, Margaret--and the reader--is mesmerized. There are gothic overtones strange and a legacy of strang behaviors in the Angelfield family, from Isabelle and charles to the wild twins Adeline and Emmeline. There is also a ghost, a determined governess, a topiary garden, and a horrible fire. There are hints of James' Turn of the Screw and Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle. [But I have to say that Setterfield does a much better job with her story than Jackson did with hers.] As the story becomes more and more gothic, Margaret continues to question Miss Winter's truthfulness. She soon finds that the story is unfolding as it should and together they confront the family ghosts that have haunted them.
This is an absolutely marvelous book. Just like Margaret in the story, I was mesmerized by the story-telling. The language and descriptions were perfect to set the stage for the gothic tale that Miss Winter has to tell. Setterfiled gives full, vivid pictures with no wasted words--but every bit as much as needed. She deftly handles the various characters involved in the story and, no matter how small a part they play, allows them their moment to shine. This good, oldfashioned story-telling at its best. At its heart, it is a book about identity and family and loss. It's about endings and new beginnings. And on top of all that, it's a book that should appeal to readers. Margaret is a bibliophile and it shows. She has many little tidbits about being a reader, reading, and stories that are bang on target:
A good story is always more dazzling than a broken piece of truth.
There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic.
For me to see is to read. It has always been that way.
All reading truths that should resonate with book bloggers. In the end, this is a lovely, well-written book that I am sure to recommend over and over. Four and a half stars....more