Books Read in 2015 50. The Invisible Man – H.G. Wells

Genre: Science Fiction, Horror, Madness

Narrative Style: Third person, reported with details from witnesses Unknown

Rating: 5/5

Published: 1897

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: A stranger arrives at a village pub and brings with him all manner of strangeness. At first, the visitor is merely surly and unfriendly but it soon becomes clear that all is not quite right with him and the chaos begins. 

It is one of those things that people are thought to wish for – to be invisible, even for just a day. It is always considered to be a fun concept, one which involves all the mischief you could possibly imagine. It is this idea that Wells explores in The Invisible Man. It quickly becomes apparent that not all of the consequences are pleasant.

The novel begins with the arrival of the Invisible Man at a pub where he means to lodge. He is wrapped up to the eyeballs with scarf, hat and coat hiding the truth of his state. For the reader, there is never any doubt about his identity. The audience is in a position of knowledge compared with the characters and they wonder how the truth will be revealed. Wells slowly peels back the layers from the character until his true state is understood. Chaos ensues and it quickly becomes apparent just how difficult it is to capture what you cannot actually see.

What follows is essentially an extended chase albeit with a pause for the Invisible Man – his name is Griffin, it transpires – to tell his tale. The science of the process is plausible enough and the pause heightens the tension as it begins to seem that being invisible is sending Griffin mad. Wanting to see what the consequences of this madness will be are what keep the reader’s interest.

As with all good horror and science fiction, this is actually a philosophical discussion of what it means to be human. When Griffin becomes invisible he begins to lose what grounds him and attached him to other humans. He descends into megalomania and no rules or laws can hold him. Wells asks the question how far would you go if you had such power and who is to say that we wouldn’t all react in the same way if we had the chance.

There is a moral aspect to this tale as well. Not only is there the idea of absolute power corrupting but also it becomes clear that Griffin was an albino before he became invisible. In becoming invisible, he escapes the unfriendly gaze of those who view him as different and becomes much more powerful than them. A sad story, then of the revenge of one who feels himself bullied.

I really enjoyed this. It is pacy and the narrative voice is like that of a friend passing on the latest urban myth. Did you hear about that invisible man…. This is easily as enjoyable as the excellent 1933 film version if not better.

Books Read in 2015 31. Ring – Koji Suzuki

Genre: Horror

Narrative Style: third person from various perspectives51BD0RBSMCL

Rating: 3/5

Published: 1991

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: Asakawa is a journalist who is intrigued by his niece’s strange death. When he discovers other young people have died suddenly and inexplicably, he begins to seriously investigate. In the course of his investigation, he discovers a videotape that is cursed – if you watch it, you will die within the week. There is a charm against the curse but that part is missing from the tape. Asakawa has a week to discover what it is in order to save not only his own life but that of his wife and child. 

I really enjoyed the start of this book. Asakawa’s discovery of the four deaths is compelling and I was keen to read on. He was an interesting character, not a straightforward hero and that was good too. I expected that I would be rating it highly.  However, the plot loses momentum in the last third. I think that the investigative process is too drawn out and considering how little time Asakawa has left by this point, is strangely lacking in tension. In the end, the deaths and then the discovery of how to break the curse seemed a little anti-climactic.

It seems ridiculous to claim that the ending was unrealistic. After all, this novel already involves a huge suspension of disbelief with the notion of psychics being able to imprint thoughts onto film or in this case, into wave forms so that images could be seen on a tv. In the end, I think that it all just fell apart for me. I just couldn’t keep believing.

It may be that Suzuki’s novel suffers in comparison to the excellent film 1998 film version. Wisely. the film doesn’t get bogged down in the more intellectual ideas about psychics and wooden conversations that add helpful details but seem unrealistic. But ultimately, I think it is the medium that is the problem. It is just so much more chilling to watch a film about a murderous film then it is to read about it.

Books Read in 2014 – 64. The Face That Must Die – Ramsey Campbell

Genre: Horror

Narrative Style: Third person from various points of viewUnknown

Rating: 3/5

Published: 1979

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: Horridge becomes obsessed with a face that he sees at a window. It haunts him and he comes to realise that it is the face of a killer. He knows what he has to do. that face must be destroyed. 

I used to read a lot of horror when I was first at university and I think if I had read this then I would have loved it. (I’m not sure how I managed not to read any Campbell at that time. I was obsessed with Stephen King and James Herbert.) I hesitate to say my tastes have matured because that sounds snobby. Maybe it’s better to just say they have changed. I’ve read a lot of literary fiction since then and maybe that has spoiled this sort of book for me. Okay, that still sounds really snobby. I suppose what I mean is that I wish I could have enjoyed it more.

Campbell certainly gets into the mind of Horridge who is paranoid, delusional and extremely bigoted. In fact, some of his thoughts are quite hard to deal with – he is sexist, racist and homophobic. All of which fit with his delusional state of mind and are believably written. Horridge has had a tough time and no control over his life. His delusions spring from this lack of control and the way he perceives the system as helping others that he feels don’t deserve it. All of that doesn’t make it any easier to read though.

The plot moves between Horridge’s view point and that of his victims, often switching during their encounters. A good idea, I admit but every encounter followed the same pattern and so it soon became boring and made the novel seem a little clunky.

Perhaps reading this novel in 1979 would have been a lot more shocking. I was expecting it to be more horrible, more gory than it was. I enjoyed (if that is the right word) Horridge’s development as his psychosis worsened but it didn’t particularly shock or surprise me. After all, that sort of thing is ten a penny now. That isn’t the fault of this novel, of course but it did make it seem a bit jaded.

 

Books Read in 2014 54. The Werewolf in Paris – Guy Endore

Genre: Horror, Historical FictionWerewolf of Paris

Narrative Style: First and third person

Rating 3/5

Published: 1933

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: An American student in Paris finds an old manuscript which details the story of Bertrand Caillet who is cursed with violent passions that make him change into a wolf. The story is set at the time of the Prussian-Franco war and the Paris Commune and Bertrand’s violence is intermingled with the violence of the time.

Although I love horror – both novels and films – the werewolf is a neglected area for me. I have never read any werewolf fiction and have seen few of the many films out there. As there were claims that this novel was of a similar standing to Dracula, this seemed a good place to start.

The story begins with an American student out late at night in Paris. He buys a mysterious manuscript from some trash-pickers and becomes fascinated with the story within. While he has issue with some of the supernatural elements, he decides to share the story along with some of the history of the times.

The story begins with the story of the rape of Bertrand’s mother by a monk who is a member of the cursed Pitamont clan. He is further cursed by the fact that he is born on Christmas Eve (a particularly unlucky event apparently). The signs of his strangeness quickly fall into place especially if you have any knowledge of werewolf lore. Bertrand has violent dreams where he is a wolf but which he believes are just dreams. His uncle – the author of the manuscript – quickly ascertains that this is not the case. To begin with, he locks Bertrand up and feeds him raw meat. And for a while it seems that he may be cured. However, it is not long before this is not enough.

Endore allows the reader to feel sympathy for Bertrand’s plight and he is never merely a monster. He wishes wholeheartedly not to be a werewolf. As the novel is set at a particularly violent moment in French history, this also allows Endore to compare Bertrand’s violence with that of supposedly normal humans. What is their excuse for the excesses of their behaviour?

However, I did feel that all the historical detail slowed the pace of the book, particularly towards the end of the novel. To be fair, I had very little knowledge of this era of history but I’m not sure it was necessary to have so much written that did not directly relate to the werewolf story. Ultimately, the point that much worse violence is committed during war could have been made with a lot less words being written.

In the end, I did enjoy this and it is a sub-genre I will probably investigate a bit more closely. Like Dracula, it was deeper than mere scares and used the theme of violence to make a greater point about society which, in my mind, is exactly what good horror should do.

Books Read in 2014 – 47. Let the Right One in – John Ajvide Lindqvist

2014tbrbutton

Genre: Horror, Vampires

Narrative Style: Third person chronological

Rating 5/5 

Published: 2009

Format: Paperbackdownload (14)

Synopsis: Oskar a loner, bullied at school and friendless, is over the moon when he meets Eli, the girl who moves into his apartment block. She seems a little strange but then so is Oskar. However, all is not as it seems and with Eli’s arrival comes a series of strange deaths and uncanny events. Oskar knows she has a secret but could not have imagined the full extent of her story.

Reading challenges: TBR challenge

Time of Shelf: I bought this not long after I watched the film which I really enjoyed. But then I was worried it wouldn’t live up to the film (whenever I read a book of a film, I seem to like it less than the film) so I started to avoid reading it. 

I was a bit nervous starting to read this. Not because I thought I might be scared – I rather hoped I would be – but because I had loved the film so much. (The Swedish original not the American remake.) I had high expectations. What if the book couldn’t live up to them? Well, I needed have worried. This book is amazing in its own right and while I enjoyed it more than the film, the film didn’t lose anything as a result. I could still watch it.

It is almost difficult to know where to start. As with all good horror, this is more than a story about vampires. It’s about good and evil and the very basis of what it means to be human. Eli – or Elias as it is later revealed – has to kill in order to survive ( if survive is really the right word) but is less monstrous than the man who helps her by killing young boys and bleeding them. He is eventually caught out by his own desire for young flesh and when  he becomes un-dead, it is this perversion that drives him to almost destroy Eli in one of the most disturbing encounters in the novel. As a vampire, he represents all of society’s great fears about the potential danger of the paedophile.

By contrast, Eli and Oskar’s relationship is almost innocent. They are both on the cusp of adolescence and their relationship slides between childish and adult. Oskar is more disturbed to discover that Eli is actually a boy (although one that has been castrated) than to discover he is a vampire. She gives him the confidence to stand up to the bullies at school and he gives her a much needed friend. They are both outsiders – the details of their difference are less important than the fact of it.

Where this novel really succeeds is the sense of place that  the reader is given. Like in the best of Stephen King’s work, Lindqvist shows the reader the smallness of his characters’ lives. The small town is suffocating, killing its inhabitants as surely as if it was the monster. And for the ones that are left alive at the end, there is no escape. Only back to the grey, dead landscape of their everyday life.

Having said that, the end of this story is not depressing and you can’t help feeling hopeful for Oskar and Eli. They are the ones that get away and even though one of them is hundred of years old and lives of the blood of others, you hope that they will be happy.

 

Books Read in 2014 – 31. The Stepford Wives – Ira Levin

Genre: Horror, Dystopia, Satire

Narrative Style: Third Person from the point of view of one characterdownload (8)

Rating 4/5

Format: Paperback

Published: 1972

Synopsis: Joanna moves to Stepford at the insistence of her husband, Walter and, at first, it seems to good to be true. She soon becomes irritated by the passiveness of the women and their housework obsession. Then the two friends she thought were different start to show the same obsessions and she starts to wonder what exactly is going on in Stepford. I can remember seeing the 1975 film version of this book when I was fifteen so I knew what the basic story was. You might think that this would spoil the story, making it less tense but this was not the case. Levin unfolds Joanna’s story masterfully and knowing what might happen to her only made me more anxious for her to escape the clutches of the men of Stepford. Joanna begins the novel an independent, strong woman who works as a photographer. She does housework when she has to and is used to having strong female friendships. She is sexual and attractive without the need for make-up. However, when she comes to Stepford she finds all the women are eerily similar and coldly distant. They are unable to find a place in their housework schedule to even meet for coffee. They are beautifully coiffed and clothed. She is rightly appalled by this and by her husband leaving every evening to go to the men’s association. Joanna does meet two other like-minded women – both of whom have not lived in Stepford for long – and they try desperately to get some sort of female movement going. However, when one of them suddenly becomes docile like the other women, they start to worry that they’ll be next. Eventually there is only Joanna left and she tries desperately to warn the one woman to move to Stepford after her before the men seal her fate. Levin cleverly does not tell the reader exactly what happens to Joanna. She merely loses narrative perspective. Ruthanne takes over the narrative point of view and she runs into Joanna in the supermarket, noting her coldness, her obsession with housework and how good she looks. As Ruthanne is a writer, it can be assumes that she will be the men’s next victim. The men in the novel respond specifically to their wives’ attempts at politicising themselves. Joanna discovers that the women were once activists or very successful professionals that held feminist meetings. The message that Levin is trying to get across is clear. Men will not just stand back and let women gain power from them. As Chuck Palahniuk notes in the introduction, perhaps more heed should have been taken. The whole beauty industry and the obsession with women’s appearance is one very successful way of keeping them in their place regardless of their professional position.

Books Read in 2014 – 29. Rabbits in the Garden by Jessica McHugh

Genre: Horror, Madness

Narrative Style: Third person chronological10504227

Rating 1/5

Format: Kindle

Published 2011

Synopsis: Life is perfect for Avery – she is in love with her best friend, Paul, and he loves her too. They have just shared a first kiss. However, trouble starts
when Avery’s mother finds out about the liaison and is determined to stop her daughter from taking the wrong path.

It’s not often that I give a book 1 star. Usually because if something is that bad, I don’t finish it. I’ve always hated doing that and even more so now that I add books on Goodreads. I feel obliged to get to the end. Even if, like this novel, it is a real struggle.

I picked this book because I liked the sound of the story and because it has a lot of good reviews. And it did start well with the appearance of Avery’s mother’s madness being quite well executed.

However, it went downhill fast. Events are easy to spot and there were little in the way of surprises. For example, when Natalie meets a handsome stranger, it is obvious that it is Paul. When she mentions that they did not use a condom, it obvious that she will be pregnant. When Avery’s mother appears the next morning, just in time to tell them of their real identities, it all just seems like a bit too big a coincidence. The whole novel is like that. events and characters are bent to the plot with no care as to whether that seems likely or not.

There are pages of unlikely dialogue which slow the action down. The characters often sound like they are spouting platitudes rather than having a conversation. it was like reading a bad made for TV film.

Even the ending was not that satisfying. There was never any doubt that Avery would win in the end. The lack of narrative tension was one reason why I struggled to finish this. Everything moves in Avery’s favour. The police do not find her. She manages to escape. She will live happily ever after. Even though she does suffer setbacks – like the loss of Paul – it never daunts Avery and the reader knows exactly how things will come to pass.

 

 

 

Books Read in 2014 – 15. Some of Your Blood – Theodore Sturgeon

Genre: Horror, Epistolary
narrative style: a variety of letters, third and first person narration, sturgeon-some-blood-tempsychiatric evaluations and interviews.

Rating:4/5

Format: Kindle

Published: 1961

Synopsis:A soldier who calls himself “George” is admitted to the army’s psychiatric ward after a vicious attack on the major of his company. The major was concerned about the contents of a letter “George” wrote home to his girl, Anna but the contents are not revealed to the reader until the very end.

Dr Phil Outerbridge is given the task of dealing with a soldier who is surrounded with some mystery. The army want the issue of his attack on the major dealt with quickly and sensitively. The novel opens with a series of letters between Phil and his superior Al, discussing the way in which this case could be dealt with and Phil’s initial impressions of the patient.

At the very beginning, before the story proper, there is a section describing the reader sneaking into Phil’s office (We are assured it is safe, after all it is only fiction) and opening this particularly curious file and working through it.  The different voices and styles that this requires are skillfully handled and the psychiatric reports and analysis are convincing and intelligent.

The soldier is tasked with writing his own story. He is advised that it might be easier in the third person and chooses the name “George” for himself.The third person narrative that follows gives a lot of detail about “George’s” early life, his time in a boys’ home and then in the army and details his love of hunting. Whenever it seems that there may be some sort of revelation, George moves on to the next event and the reader is left wondering exactly what has happened. As Phil later comments, there are a number of holes in his story.

After “George’s” narrative, there follows a number of psychiatric evaluations and interviews in which more details are slowly revealed about the exact nature of “George’s” sickness. The way the story slowly unfolds reminded me of the narrative structure of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde where witness accounts and letters hint at the horror that the reader eventually faces.

In the end, the contents of the letter is revealed and the story finishes with no absolute decision on whether “George” will stay in the hospital or not. Instead, there is a return to the authorial voice of the beginning offering us possible fictional outcomes and inviting us to decide. Then in the final chilling moments, we are warned to hurry in case Phil catches us and it isn’t fiction after all but real. Of course, such horror does exist in the real world and this could easily be a real case study. It is a clever and unnerving ending to what was a clever and unnerving story.

Books Read in 2014 – 6. The Doll’s House – Neil Gaiman

Sandman_Dolls_HouseGenre: Graphic Novel, Fantasy

Narrative Style: Mix of viewpoints. Generally linear.

Rating 4/5

Format: paperback

Published: 1989

Synopsis: Due to the absence of Dream from his realm, some of the dreams and nightmares have escaped. This leads to all sorts of bloody mayhem. Add in the presence of a Vortex that could wreck the dream world forever and you have the makings of an exciting story.

As I mentioned in my last post I was going straight on to read the next Sandman book The Doll’s House. I was glad to have been loaned the second one as well as otherwise I would have felt a little bereft. I’m pleased to say that I was not disappointed.

Having said that, this is much less a story about Dream – obviously he appears in it but he isn’t the centre as much as he was in the first book. Instead, Rose, granddaughter of Unity Kinkaid (a character from the first book) is the focus and her search for her younger brother supplies most of the narrative momentum.

One the way she meets a whole host of wacky and wicked characters. There seems to be no limits to Gaiman’s imagination in this respect. And while they are strange, they are never less than convincing. Such is the level of his talent.

There is plenty of gore, as well and the illustrations are just as impressive and vivid – in fact more so, as the story allows for an unleashing of the artists twisted imagination much more than in the first book.

I felt this book was more compact and self-contained than the first and I don’t feel such a compulsion to read on immediately. Having said that I am much more interested in reading the rest of them now.

Top Ten Tuesday – Top Ten Worlds We’d Never Want to Live In

Top ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week we are talking about fictional worlds we would not want to live in.

In no particular order:

1. The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood. This is one of the first dystopia that I read and still ranks as one of the scariest. The humiliations that the handmaid’s go through are almost beyond imagining. Atwood’s nightmare world is frighteningly convincing.

2. 1984 – George Orwell. I read this at school. I am sure that it is at least partly responsible for my own political convictions. It is a shame that things like room 101 and big brother have been stripped of most of their meaning by imbecilic television programmes.

3. Brave New World – Aldous Huxley. I often feel like the savage in this book when I look at modern culture. I feel a little lost and confused when I see the things that people do, watch, listen to, post on social media.

4. Mad Addam series – Margaret Atwood. I haven’t read the third book of this series yet but the first two were really disturbing. As with The Handmaid’s Tale, you could really see the roots of reality in this book. Take it as a warning, folks. This is where we could be headed.

5.  Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – Philip K. Dick / Bladerunner. It is particularly unsettling not to be able to tell if someone is human or not. Even more frightening is the idea that you might not even know yourself. This one eats at the very heart of the reader.

6. War of the Worlds – H. G. Wells. Oh, I know, the Martians get it in the end but up until that point, there really is no stopping them. I can’t help feeling this is what  it would be like if any aliens found us. Why travel across space and time, if you’ve not already conquered everything nearer at hand?

7. The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins. I’ve not read the rest of this series either. I liked the idea of the games and the different sectors more than I liked the way the story played out. You know everyone would watch it, that’s what makes it seem real.

8. Animal Farm – George Orwell. Another early influence on me politically. I imagine I’d be like poor old Boxer. Well-meaning but ultimately useless. I’d soon be carted off to the equivalent of the glue factory.

9. The Road – Cormac McCarthy. This is probably the bleakest book I have ever read. Some unnamed catastrophe has caused society to break down. McCarthy really captures the way that it would go once those rules were gone.

10. Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro. This is another book where I liked the idea better than the execution. Children being bred purely for their organs is a chilling – and not unlikely – idea that gets to the heart of the issues surrounding cloning.