You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘Gothic’ tag.

Scan 44What’s it all about?

The sins of the fathers. The souls of the innocent. The Accursed is a Gothic tale which tells the story of a curse which has apparently fallen on the town of Princeton between 1905 and 1906, featuring a mixture of real and fictitious characters and some quite grotesque events.

Why did I want to read it?

Joyce Carol Oates is one of my favourite authors and this looked to be an unusual addition to her remarkably large body of work.

What did I think of it?

Well. This is without a doubt one of the oddest books I have ever read. I don’t actually have the words to describe it (and I’m not alone in finding writing about the novel difficult because Stephen King reviewed it for  the NYTimes and had a similar issue but handled it significantly better as you would expect).

There is a kidnapping at a wedding, a mysterious stranger with an unnatural influence over the townsfolk, a series of murders (all very unpleasant), cover-ups, political intrigue and a fantasy world of cruelty and despair. And a secret which looms large over one particular family. All about as Gothic as it’s possible to get.

Conclusion

Astonishing. Difficult. Lengthy. Purple. Cover implies vampires but if they’re there they aren’t your usual suspects. Did I mention it’s astonishing? Took many hours of my life. Not entirely successful as a novel but blimey, quite an experience.

Scan 39What’s it all about?

Nocturnes is a set of short stories book-ended by two chunky novellas, one featuring Connolly’s PI Charlie Parker. The blurb talks about “chilling tales of the supernatural” and “our darkest fears” and references MR James and Stephen King so I’m there.

Why did I want to read it?

As well as the stuff mentioned above I read The Book of Lost Things (reviewed here) and wanted to investigate more of his work.

What did I think of it?

I really enjoyed this collection and the comparisons to James were deserved. I particularly enjoyed Miss Froom Vampire and The Wakeford Abyss, but the standout for me was The Reflecting Eye, the Charlie Parker story which I found compelling and unsettling and moving all at once.

Conclusion

Glad that my gut feeling I would enjoy Connolly’s books proved sound and I’m looking forward to reading more of the Parker stories in particular.

This was a read for RIP VIII

Scan 38What’s it all about?

Mayhem is set in the height of the Jack the Ripper murders, but body parts found at New Scotland Yard are definitely the work of a different killer, no matter how much the authorities wish it wasn’t. Thomas Bond is the police surgeon working on both cases, and as he delves into the murders he begins to suspect that something more supernatural than a rampaging serial killer is at work in London.

Why did I want to read it?

Serial killers, Jack the Ripper, Victorian London, what’s not to like? Plus although I had a couple of her e-books I hadn’t read any of Sarah Pinborough’s books and wanted to give her a try, partly due to the subject matter and partly because she is great fun to follow on Twitter (there’s that word again).

What did I think of it?

I liked it a great deal. It was a very interesting experience reading it so soon after Drood (reviewed earlier) as there are some similarities in the use of the supernatural, the main character’s tendency to dabble in drugs, the mix of real and fictional characters and events. I thought this was much more successful; I liked Thomas Bond very much and found his struggle with opium and the effect it had on him much more sympathetic, as were the domestic elements in the story contrasting with the grimness of the crimes being investigated. But I don’t want to dwell too much on comparisons with someone else’s work, this is a really good novel.

Conclusion

Recommended. I’m going to be searching out more of Sarah Pinborough’s work, although disappointed that the next volume in this series won’t be published until 2015.

This was a read for RIP VIII

Scan 37What’s it all about?

Let’s use the words of the narrator, one Wilkie Collins, to describe what we’re talking about here:

This story shall be about my friend (or at least about the man who was once my friend) Charles Dickens and about the accident that took away his piece of mind, his health, and some might whisper, his sanity

The story kicks off with the Staplehurst railway accident that Dickens was involved in while travelling home from Paris with his mistress Ellen Ternan. While trying to assist those injured in the accident Dickens comes across a mysterious and rather ghoulish figure who becomes known to him as Drood. Dickens then drags Collins into his obsession, which leads them to investigate the underworld of London, with all the crime, squalor and danger that involved. And not a little madness. And quite a lot of death.

Why did I want to read it?

I’ve had mixed fortunes with the works of Dan Simmons. I read The Song of Kali in 2009 and really struggled with it, finding it a little too grim for my tastes. But I had also read The Terror the year before and absolutely loved it. The combination of real literary figures and a Gothic sensibility promised by Drood was very attractive.

What did I think of it?

Well. I finished reading this in the middle of September and I’m still not sure what I think. I was drawn in by the early part of the book and cracked on with the story which promised a great deal, but somewhere around the middle, when the focus shifts almost entirely to Collins and his problems I began to get a bit bogged down and actually stopped reading it for a bit. But I was determined to finish it and it did pick up again in the last third. It is completely mad. Although I have to say that it seems pretty authentic in its representation of both the central characters and all levels of society at that time.

Conclusion

There is a quote towards the end of the book where Collins says:

You never cared about my part of this memoir. It was always Dickens and Drood, or Drood and Dickens, which kept you reading

And maybe that is the problem for me, insufficient Drood. So fair to say that my response to the novel is ambivalent; glad I read it but not a favourite and *whispers* too long.

It has made me want to finally read Armadale though.

For a more positive review you should visit Roxploration who discusses the book here.

This was a read for RIP VIII.

RIP8main200So it’s September tomorrow and that means the start of one of my favourite blogging event’s, Carl’s RIP VIII and the opportunity to read scary and thrilling stuff along with lots of other members of the book blogging community.

As is traditional I have pulled together a book list out of which I hope to be able to meet Peril the Second, where I need to read four books that fit the description of perilous. I’d love to be able to read them all, but we’ll see how that goes.

My list is (in no particular order):rip8peril2nd

A pretty good selection I think, and I’m looking forward to all of them.

rip8perilonscreenI may also take part in Peril on the Screen but no real plans on what that might involve, though it is really about time I re-watched one of my Desert Island Films, Son of Frankenstein with *sigh* Basil Rathbone.

Scan 2The Love Curse of the Rumbaughs by Jack Gantos is one of those books that I didn’t know existed until I saw a review of it on someone’s blog (and this is where I kick myself because I didn’t make a note of where I saw it so can’t properly the credit the person concerned) and was just so intrigued by the premise that I had to get a copy.

It is the tale of Ivy who at the age of seven, spending an Easter Sunday with her mother whom she adores if not downright worships along with the elderly Rumbaugh twins Dolph and Ab in their pharmacy where her mother worked as a young woman, finds out something rather astonishing – the twins have apparently “preserved” their deceased mother (stuffed her to be accurate). This is the latest manifestation of the love curse of the Rumbaughs – obsessional mother love beyond the understanding of most people.

Coupled with a talent for taxidermy.

As Ivy tells us at the beginning of the novel (out of concern that we might think she was being unnecessarily Gothic or exaggerating her story for effect):

I am simply going to tell you a plain and true small-town story about a family love curse that is so passionate and so genuinely expressed that it transcends everything commonly accepted about how love reveals itself – or conceals itself.

For it becomes clear as the tale unfolds between Ivy at seven and at sixteen when the identity of her father is more or less confirmed, that she is also a victim of this curse, and she starts experimenting with taxidermy in preparation for the inevitable day when her mother dies.

This is a wonderfully odd, macabre little book which I thoroughly enjoyed. Ivy is a wonderful character, obsessional yes but it’s not entirely her fault after all. The background to the love curse is told with great verve, all the characters are vivid and I read it in a couple of sittings, wondering what was going to happen (though having a pretty good guess).

One of the delights of my copy is the notes at the end, where the author talks about his inspiration for the story and there is some material on  Oedipus, taxidermy and Psycho, all for obvious reasons.

A real gem.

Scan 7So, this is another one of those books that’s been on Mount TBR for what seems like forever. It’s been on and off various challenge book lists from RIP to 24-Hour-Readathon and back again but poor thing never got read. And that’s despite a strong recommendation from the Book God to whom it actually belongs.

The Portrait of Mrs Charbuque by Jeffrey Ford has a tantalising premise. Imagine that you are a tremendously successful portrait painter at the end of the nineteenth century, do famous and feted that you have become a bit jaded. Imagine that you are accosted outside your home in New York and offered and enormous sum of money to paint the portrait of a woman known only as Mrs Charbuque. But of course there is a catch; you have to paint her portrait without ever seeing her, based only on the sound of her voice and the answers to the questions you put to her and the conversations you may have. Would you do it?

Our hero Piero Piambo decides that he has nothing to lose, and the that the additional money he will be given if the final portrait looks like her will allow him to step back from the world of high society and paint only for himself.

In the background are his relationships with friends and lovers, the world of turn-of-the-century New York and a growing obsession with finding out more about the mysterious Mrs C, all the while dodging her deranged and jealous husband while a series of rather nasty murders is being carried to. Are all these things connected?

Well, of course they are, don’t be silly.

I really liked this book, largely because I took a shine to Piero himself, rather a decent cove who gets dragged into something even stranger than it at first appeared.  It has a lovely atmosphere and there is a nicely realistic love story in the mix, it’s creepy in a cosy way, and I don’t mean that as a criticism. It was one of those enjoyably comfortably satisfying books to read. For some reason it made me think a bit of Kings of Eternity though I have no idea why as they seem to have little in common; perhaps it was tone or something, not sure.

Saw the likely end coming before I got there but didn’t mind that at all as it was delivered in a nicely over the top manner.

But this is a good read for a rainy afternoon. I liked it so much I made Silvery Dude buy a copy.

Scan 6The world (including me) mostly knows George RR Martin for the Song of Ice and Fire sequence that is the basis of the Game of Thrones TV series. I will admit to  being a fan of the series but I’ve never read any of the cycle that underpins it, though the Book God and a couple of friends keep on telling me that I should. And I may very well do in the future but for now, and as my last read for Once Upon a Time VII, I decided to pick up an earlier volume that the Book God also recommended.

Fevre Dream is fairly high concept: vampires on riverboats. It tells the story of Abner Marsh, a steamboat captain who has fallen on hard times and is approached my a very distinctive person in the form of Joshua York who funds the building of the boat that will be known as the Fevre Dream, one of the finest of its kind ever to be built. But it becomes clear that Joshua is not only not what he appears but that he has a mission which brings them both face to face with others of Joshua’s kind who do not share his views, and a mighty struggle is inevitable.

I enjoyed this very much, and not just because vampires are my supernatural monster of choice. There is a verve and swagger and romance in the telling of the story which makes this more than vampires on a boat. A love of the ships and the lifestyle and the river really shines through, and the growing respect and friendship between two men who couldn’t be further apart adds a great deal to what could have been, in other hands, a bit of a potboiler. It also has a quite wonderfully aristocratic villain who makes a worthy opponent.

This would have been a brilliant Hammer film.

The conclusion was rather lovely and very satisfying, and I’m glad that my participation in this year’s challenge ended on such a high note.

Scan 4I don’t always remember exactly when I bought most of the books in my collection but that’s not the case with When Nights Were Cold by Susanna Jones. The cover caught my eye as I ambled my way out of Waterstones in Piccadilly after an evening with Ben Aaronovitch when I got my copy of his book signed. Didn’t know anything about the novel but after reading the inner cover flap (is that what its called?) I was keen to read it. And it’s only taken some seven months to do so, which isn’t bad for me (I have unread books that are decades in the waiting – yes Stanley Weintraub’s Queen Victoria, I am looking at you).

So , this is the story of Grace Farringdon and her (not giving much away here) rather dysfunctional family and obsession with Antarctic exploration. Which would be interesting at any time but Grace is an Edwardian woman, so the idea of trotting off to the Antarctic (actually, the idea of doing anything other than getting married or, if that can’t be arranged, staying at home to look after her parents) is ludicrous to almost everyone. But with the help of a relative she manages to get off to college against her parents’ wishes where she meets Cicely Parr, Leonora Locke and Winifred Hooper, and all four of them form the Antarctic Exploration Society. Parr (they all address each other by their surnames) is already a reasonably experienced mountaineer and that’s the interest they all take up, eventually climbing without a guide in the Alps. This is where the tragedy that defines them all, but Grace in particular, takes place.

This is all told in the first person many years later (on the cusp of WWII), so of course the tale unwinds slowly as Grace, now a recluse after being hounded by the press, unpicks her memories and tries to tell her story. And of course there is a final revelation which doesn’t really come across as much of a surprise if you have been paying attention.

I don’t mind first person narration as long as I don’t think about it too much (and its interesting that as I was reading this Jenny posted on similar issues); and I enjoyed this novel very much, although the ending would have made more sense in a more traditional narrative I think. I also think it’s a shame that the blurb and cover quotes give the impression that this is a thriller with “unexplained menace”. Instead, I thought this was a psychological study of a woman who had been thwarted in life, surrounded by tragedy and trying to explain herself, though clearly her view of events us unreliable at best. I thought in many respects that it was all rather sad, in a slightly Gothic way.

Sufficiently compelling that I sat up until the early hours of the morning to finish it. Well worth a look.

Scan 1So my first new read of 2013 is actually a hangover from last year, but that’s not something I worry about too much as long as I am enjoying the story. And I really did enjoy this, even if it turned out to be something quite different from what I had expected, especially having read the synopsis on the back cover. Bit of an aside here, but I’m beginning to think I should stop  reading the stuff publishers put on the back covers of books as they either tell you absolutely nothing (just quotes from others who have enjoyed the book), give away (almost) the entire plot or are pretty misleading (which in my view is the case here).

The Keep starts off with Danny who, in his desire to get away from trouble in New York, takes up an offer from his cousin Howard to work for him in setting up a hotel in an old castle somewhere in eastern Europe. There is history between the two cousins; when they were younger Danny and others left Howard underground in a cave which led to him having significant problems as an adult (as you would expect) but he is now a very successful millionaire planning this vanity project.

But there is another story also being told, that of a prisoner, Ray, in the States taking part in a writing class. How do the two intersect, if at all? What’s real and what’s imagined? Why is Ray in prison?

This is a clever book, and I mean that as a compliment. I enjoyed reading it and trying to work out what was going on. The gothic elements in Danny’s part of the novel are well done and his building paranoia deftly handled, and the prison story is also well told. How these two come together is nicely satisfying, but brings us to a point picked up by a number of other reviewers of this book.

The novel is split into parts, the first two divided by a particular event. There is a case to be made that if the novel had finished at the end of the second section that it would have been more effective. But the author has written a third section which picks up the story from the point of view of a third character, Holly, who taught the prison writing class. I can see both sides of the argument, but must admit that I rather liked Holly so felt that the last part didn’t really detract from the main story, but YMMV.

If you have read this I would love to know what your view is.

This is the third Jennifer Egan novel I have read, and I was introduced to her by Silvery Dude who was positively evangelical about A Visit from the Goon Squad. I have already posted my thoughts on that and on Look At Me on the blog, if you are interested. I will definitely be seeking out more of her work.

Bride of the Book God

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Scottish, in my fifties, love books but not always able to find the time to read them as much as I would like. I’m based in London and happily married to the Book God.

I also blog at Bride of the Screen God (all about movies and TV) and The Dowager Bride, if you are interested in ramblings about stuff of little consequence

If you would like to get in touch you can contact me at brideofthebookgod (at) btinternet (dot) com.

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