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18374017What’s it all about?

The Mistletoe Bride and Other Haunting Tales is a collection of ghostly and supernatural stories by Kate Mosse, set mostly in France or Sussex, area of the world that she knows very well and which have featured in her other works.

Why did I want to read it?

Creepy stories are ideal for this time of year. Plus I have a number of her books (not read) and had previously picked up and enjoyed The Winter Ghosts.

What did I think of it?

I really enjoyed this collection of quite gentle stories. They aren’t particularly gruesome and not really frightening, but they are very traditional, often about premonitions or the settling of old scores before a departed person can find peace or slippage into the past when visiting a historical setting (as in the title story). My favourite is probably The Revenant, set in the Fishbourne Marshes in 1955; a mysterious female figure appears to our heroine in the marshes seeking a form of justice for a crime which took place during the war. Very atmospheric.

I particularly enjoyed the stories set in Sussex as that’s the county where the Book God was born and I know enough of it for some of the places to be recognisable. One of the particular pleasures of the book is the author’s note for each story, giving some background on place or inspiration, especially interesting for those stories based on folklore.

I had planned to read a story a day and pace the book out over the run up to Christmas but got through them much more quickly than that, which should say something about the pleasures of reading these well-written tales.

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Scan 8This is a short review of what is a short, terrible and nasty book. Nasty not because of how it is written but because of the subject matter, a fictionalised version of what is unbelievably a true story.

The events of Eat Him If You Like by Jean Teule take place in France at the height of the Franco-Prussian War. France is not faring well in the conflict, its high summer and the Perigord countryside is suffering from an appalling drought. In the middle of this a young nobleman, Alain de Moneys, sets off for the local fair, one of his last outings before he joins his regiment. By the end of the day this by all accounts pleasant young man will be dead, brutalised, beaten and murdered by his neighbours.

This is a powerful example of how a misheard remark can lead to otherwise ordinary people turning into a bloody-thirsty mob hell-bent on violence. Alain’s death is truly dreadful, but what is just as terrible is how otherwise decent people can do terrible things when they are part of a crowd, and how powerless Alain’s friends are to help him.

Strong stomachs needed for this one.

Scan 9About Gilles & Jeanne:

Gilles & Jeanne studies, clinically and voluptuously, the progress of the French ogre, Gilles de Rais, the original Bluebeard, who was burned in 1440 for sorcery, sodomy and the slow slaughter of scores of innocent children… [AS Byatt, Sunday Times]

When did I first read this? 1989

What age was I? 27

How may times since then? Once again I’m surprised to find that this is the first time I’ve reread this novella

Thoughts about the book:

I was only vaguely aware of Gilles de Rais before reading this novella. My interest grew out of a fascination with Joan of Arc which peaked in the mid 1980s, and through Joan I inevitably came to Gilles, her companion in arms and a man who seems to have believed in her implicitly. And although much of the focus of this novella is the story of Gilles (by the very nature of his survival and his crimes), it also tells Joan’s remarkable and tragic story in some detail. In particular it paints a picture of Gilles as a changed man after witnessing Joan being burned at the stake, implying perhaps that this is what triggered his depravity.

Tournier’s view is that Joan’s arrival to persuade the King of France to fight had an immediate impact on Gilles and that he saw something significant in her:

Yet there was one man who recognised Jeanne at first glance, as soon as she entered the throne room. This was Gilles. Yes, he immediately recognised in her everything he loved, everything he had waited for for so long.

This is a short book but it in its brevity it gets straight to the point; Gilles himself hardly figures in the later sections but the people around him paint a picture of a man driven by obsession and desire, egged on by a misguided (at best) adviser who seems to believe that by aiding his master’s descent into hell he can bring him back redeemed from his sin.

And his crimes, if true are shocking in the extreme, and fed into the legend that became Bluebeard.

One of the things I hadn’t realised until fairly recently is that there is a view that Gilles, despite being found guilty of murdering many children, mostly but not exclusively boys, through his own confessions, the accounts of his confederates and the testimony of the parents of his victims, may have been the subject of a plot by the Church or other noblemen who desired his lands and wealth. We will probably never know, after all this time.

I can’t really explain why this version of the story  has had such a grip on me; I have read quite a few books about Gilles over the years but this is the one that had the most emotional resonance. The puzzle of Gilles, his descent from a great soldier and Marshal of France to serial killer, is compelling and as told here shows that even the most dreadful deeds can be turned into art.

This is the fourth book in my Big Re-Read project.

Only finished one book this week, though have started a couple of others. The one I did finish was  Blueeyedboy by Joanne Harris which was really compelling as I said in my post last week. I have continued to read and love The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters and have started one of my big re-reads.

New books arriving chez Bride this week are:

  • Immortal Queen by Elizabeth Byrd – Mary Queen of Scots in a 1970s style
  • Eat Him If You Like by Jean Teule – “A true story. Tuesday 16 August 1870, Alain de Money, makes his way to the village fair. He arrives at two o’clock. Two hours later, the crowd has gone crazy; they have lynched, tortured, burned and eaten him”. A short but apparently powerful story.
  • The Suicide Shop by Jean Teule – “Has your life been a failure? Let’s make your death a success”
  • Unwritten Secrets by Ronald Frame -“Mariel Baxter, a famous American soprano, has suddenly cancelled all her recitals and flown to Vienna. In the 1980s she came to the city to study the art of lieder singing with the reclusive Ursule Kroll, one of the brightest stars of the Nazi era and a favourite of the Fuhrer himself. The two haven’t communicated since Mariel’s unexpected departure over twenty-five years ago. So why has Mariel come back?”

I have loved Ronald Frame for a very long time and may write a post just about him in the near future. He pops up again because on a long trip back home from Manchester  I played about on the Amazon app on my iPhone and downloaded some of his stories for the Kindle app on my iPad (which I don’t talk about very much because although I have quite a few books on there I haven’t actually read any). But this week I’ve bought quite a few, namely:

This week I have alot of travelling (Manchester and Glasgow) and some time off so I’m hoping to get a bit of reading done.

Bride of the Book God

Follow brideofthebook on Twitter

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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