This book is possibly one of the most intelligent novels out there written about witchcraft in England in the 17th century, and it's just downright exThis book is possibly one of the most intelligent novels out there written about witchcraft in England in the 17th century, and it's just downright excellent. More later, but yes, recommended -- for those who appreciate and enjoy more quality, literary horror fiction. ...more
I was considering reading this author's Butcher's Road (which grabbed me because of the synopsis), but decided that first I'd try some of the author'sI was considering reading this author's Butcher's Road (which grabbed me because of the synopsis), but decided that first I'd try some of the author's short fiction. To my surprise and delight, Like Light for Flies turned out to be a nearly-perfect collection of short stories, both in terms of the stories themselves, and in the lives reflected within which are just not pretty. There is a bleak mix of pain, loneliness and suffering embedded within these tales; as Sarah Langan most astutely notes in her introduction,
"Thomas' characters aren't refreshingly happy gay men. They don't share fancy condos and egg/sperm donors. We're not invited to witness their normalcy, and the kids are definitely not all right. No, these guys are veterans of a hate war. They're haunted; afflicted by their place in society, as represented by monstrous machines and devils at the door. What's worse, in Thomas' world, we're all fucked up. The heteros, the kids, the little old ladies, and even the family pet. We're flawed creatures, molded from a flawed God."
How very right she is -- and Thomas sublimely captures this point of view through his writing.
Twelve stories make up this collection (** denotes my favorites):
"Comfortable in Her Skin" -- not one of my favorites, but it did thoroughly whet my appetite for more "The Butcher's Block" ** "Testify" ** "The Dodd Contrivance" "Flicker" "Inside Where It's Warm" ** [sidebar]-- I hate zombie-ish stories but I loved this one. Absolutely. "Nothing Forgiven" ** "Fine in the Fire" ** -- After starting this incredibly sad story, I realized that I'd read it before; it's even better and more intensely disturbing the second time through. "The House in the Park" ** "Turtle" ** -- for me, one of the best in the book "Landfall '35: A Prequel to Parish Damned " ** "Tuesday"
Langan also mentions the darkness in "the world beneath this one," and that is exactly what the author reveals here. She also notes a "duality" present in Thomas' writing, saying
"...he wants to corrupt us, but also wants us to become richer people for it." He's a soul preacher."
If Like Light for Flies is representative of his longer work, I'll soon be making space for more books by Lee Thomas on my shelves. It is just superbly stunning. He can preach to me any time....more
And he does it again! I have yet to read a novel by Adam Nevill I didn't absolutely love.
It's nighttime and it's very quiet. I'm sitting at4.5 stars
And he does it again! I have yet to read a novel by Adam Nevill I didn't absolutely love.
It's nighttime and it's very quiet. I'm sitting at the table in the breakfast room and all I can hear is the tick tick tick of my neon pink pig barbeque clock (don't ask) coming from the pantry room off my kitchen. I'm in the middle of page 400 something of this book and suddenly the phone rings and I actually felt myself jump out of my chair. I'd say that's a pretty good indicator of the book's intensity -- it grabbed hold of me and just wouldn't let me go.
82 Edgehill Road, London is an older Victorian home where a young woman named Stephanie has taken a room. The rent is dirt cheap, which is good, since Stephanie works temping when the agency actually has any jobs for her. Stephanie lost her mom at an early age, and that was bad enough, but her father remarried and stepmom turned out to be something of a lunatic who has it in for Stephanie for no good reason. After Stephanie's father dies, she stays with her stepmother, but things got so bad that she had to leave. Now she's on her own, having left her boyfriend, and finds herself at the point of poverty. The price of the room is unbelievably low, so 82 Edgehill Road becomes her new home. Right away she notices something is wrong -- from under the bed she hears the sound of plastic crinkling, she hears women crying, a voice coming through the fireplace, and when someone unseen joins her in her bed, she decides she can't spend another day in the house. Sadly, she's forked over what little money she has for the room and the landlord refuses to refund her deposit; soon we discover that he's doing everything he can to keep her from leaving. She tries to get help from friends, but everyone's been hit hard economically and no one has enough cash to help her out. Her situation gets increasingly worse, but when she meets the landlord's disgusting psychopath of a cousin, living in the house turns into something akin to a nightmare. So Stephanie is stuck while the strange occurrences continue and escalate, and as time passes the situation gets beyond bad to the point where for Stephanie, death just might be preferable.
The supernatural terrors of this novel are creepy enough, but Nevill adds in some very real-life horrors that intensify Stephanie's experiences. The media (and some social media-ites as well) and its relentless attacks on her character point to the tabloid-ish tendencies to blame the victim:
"It was the media that had driven her into what two doctors had called 'emotional breakdowns', not the house... Her best defence had been the screaming of her own story straight into the maelstrom of competing voices; the opinionated and ill-informed voices that always knew better.. But she would never forgive the world for what it had done, nor trust it again. Because of how it had interpreted her without restraint or remorse, for the purposes of its own entertainment."
There were times in the first half of the novel where I found myself wondering whether this house was actually haunted or whether Stephanie's own mental state brought on her terrors; it's to Nevill's credit that he can keep his readers guessing at every turn. What I really loved about this novel is that this story is just downright scary in a very "old-school" kind of way, while staying very much grounded in modern times. So if you need splatter, gore and sick pornography to get your horror jollies, you just won't get it here. Part one was definitely the best of the book, although obviously it remains creepy enough for me to jump out of my chair while reading part two.
Super super super book -- any novel that can make me jump from the ringing of a telephone is one well worth reading. Huzzah. Keep them coming!...more
Burn Witch Burn does have a certain similarity to the movie that stoleYou can find a more fleshed-out look at this book at my online reading journal.
Burn Witch Burn does have a certain similarity to the movie that stole its title (except for the addition of the commas) -- at the heart of the matter is a man who is forced to reassess his beliefs in the certainties of science when he comes head to head with the supernatural.
We first meet Doctor Lowell, "a medical man specializing in neurology and diseases of the brain," when he is called on by a "notorious underworld chieftain" Julian Ricori, "one of the finished products of the Prohibition Law." One of Ricori's crew is stricken with some very bizarre ailment, manifesting itself with strange symptoms. He eventually dies, but on examination, the doctor finds nothing that could have killed him. The case is so odd that he immediately reaches out to other doctors to see if any of their patients have manifested the same symptoms. When answers start coming in, Lowell is startled to see that a number of people have been in the same boat. After compiling a list of these patients, he (along with Ricori) starts his quest to track down the source of this horrific illness hoping to find even one factor they all had in common. Just as they're starting to make some progress the illness strikes again, this time hitting very close to home.
I won't divulge the meat of the story here, but let me just say that what happens in this book makes the Twilight Zone's Talky Tina look like a rank amateur (hint, hint). There's a lot of creepy stuff going on here -- looking at it from today's perspective, it's mild, even tame, but my guess is it had readers squirming in their armchairs back in the 1930s. It's a strange blending of mystery, pulp, and horror, and while I didn't care too much for it at first, as things progressed, I ended with up with an odd sort of appreciation for this book. First of all, looking past the silly horror parts, there are two main themes that develop out of this novel. One is the question of what it is that constitutes a human's soul; the second, as I've mentioned earlier, is what happens when science butts up against the supernatural. Second, since there are a number of mysteries that need to be solved here, the novel appeals to the part of me that loves these vintage books and just can't get enough.
But speaking of mysteries, we're left with one huge hole, and that is the motivation behind the work of the character Madame Mandilip (a name that cracks me up because she's described as having a visible mustache). We get a smidgen of her history, but we never fully quite understand why she does what she does here, and that's annoying. Seriously annoying.
Merritt is much better known for his "lost-race" novels and short stories which are just plain awful; at the same time one of my biggest guilty pleasures in life is my love for really crappy, really old pulp. Burn Witch Burn is much better than some of Merritt's other work so if you're at all interested you might want to give it a try. I'd say try not to judge it by modern standards if at all possible; just sit back, relax and enjoy. ...more
The Beetle may not be the greatest book in terms of literary value, but I will say that it is a hell of a lot of fun to read. To me it is the literaryThe Beetle may not be the greatest book in terms of literary value, but I will say that it is a hell of a lot of fun to read. To me it is the literary equivalent of comfort food, and its Egyptian flavor along with all of its over-the-top moments remind me a lot of the old pulpy horror/gothic books I devoured as a nerdy kid on rainy days.
It seems that no matter where I turn to find a literary review of this novel, everyone wants to compare it to Bram Stoker's Dracula. The two books were published in the same year, both stories are related through the use of journal entries from the principal players, both imagine an evil force coming into England from outside for its own wicked and abominable purposes, and in both books, the vile alien threat has to be neutralized to keep England from peril. Yet, while I see that between the two, in terms of "literary" value, most people prefer Stoker's book, to me Dracula wasn't nearly as entertaining. The Beetle is a lovely, unputdownable mix of supernatural horror, revenge tale, creepy gothic fiction and mystery all rolled into one, and bottom line, it's just plain fun. Sometimes the fun is what it's all about -- and that's definitely the case here.
There are four narrators in this novel; the first is Robert Holt whose bizarre story throws us right into the midst of the strange. Entering a deserted house to escape the rain after having been denied lodging at the modern equivalent of a homeless shelter, he is set upon by a "creature" that reminds him of a spider (the "Beetle" of the title). As he tries to make his escape back out the window, suddenly a light comes on in the house and Holt finds himself face to face with a deformed man whose eyes were his most "marked" feature. As Holt notes, "Escape them I could not, while, as I endeavored to meet them, it was as if I shrivelled into nothingness. They held me enchained, helpless, spell-bound. I felt that the could do with me as they would; and they did."
Holt discovers that he has no choice but to do what he is commanded by this horrific figure and he is ordered to break into the home of Paul Lessingham, member of Parliament. While carrying out his task, he is confronted by Lessingham who is stopped in his tracks when Holt screams out "THE BEETLE!" Holt's narrative sets the tone for the remainder of the story, which is revealed in turns from the points of view of Sydney Atherton, an inventor of weapons who just happens to be in love with Lessingham's love Marjorie Lindon, Miss Lindon herself, and the Honorable Augustus Champnell, Confidential Agent. It is during this last section that we discover exactly why this threat has appeared in England and why it is targeting Lessingham (and through him, Miss Lindon) specifically.
Barebones outline, for sure, but there's a LOT churning around in this novel. Under its surface, though, as Minna Vuohelainen explains in the introduction, Marsh also explores "constant, traumautic shifting of class, social, gendered, sexual, ethnic and national identities." How all of these thematic elements are manifested becomes pretty self evident without having to seek them out, especially in terms of sexuality. I would imagine that this was a pretty daring tale back in 1897 -- for one thing, we don't even leave the first section before Holt in his hypnotized state is set upon sexually by the Beetle in masculine form, although this creature can also manifest itself as a woman. For another, Lessingham's account, as given to Champnell, refers to a strange cult that kidnaps English victims, both male and female, holding them for prolonged periods to be used in strange rituals involving torture and sexual depravity. I suppose one could also read the novel as a story that plays on the fear of invasion by foreign elements or fear of those outsiders already living among the English, obviously with sinister intentions toward England's men and women.
Recommended, without any hesitation whatsoever. Even if it's a little silly sometimes, it is truly a delight. Once again, my thanks to Valancourt Books for publishing some of the finest old books ever....more