Guest post (Sam Vann): The Dunwich Horror

This week I’ve been crazy busy, travelling all over the country – yesterday I went from Dorset to Bristol, and now I’m back in Swansea for a few days. Luckily for me, then, that Sam finished Lovecraft’s The Dunwich Horror yesterday and felt compelled to write a review for me. Hope you enjoy! Business as usual this weekend.

dunwich horrorAs part of my attempt to try to become a little more well-read I started to read some Lovecraft. Something about the stylised monsters and crazy cultists has always attracted me but I have never found the time to pick up anything. So I’m starting small with a 63-page short story called The Dunwich Horror. Be gentle with me – I am not a literature student so it’s been a while since I had to write any long passages.

Synopsis (contains spoilers!)

Welcome to the inbred town of Dunwich (the author takes great lengths to remind you of just how arse-backwards the town is at every opportunity by describing the level of inbredness of each character). In 1913, a Wilber Wately is born to an unwed mother who lives with her crazy father. The boy grows exceptionally fast, and strange occurrences begin to happen centred on his grandfather’s house – occurences such as the occasional missing person, their herd of cows disappearing at the same rate as they buy them. No one seems too fussed about these occurrences and we learn that the boy and his grandfather have been studying occult texts. As Wilbur grows and his grandfather dies he begins to contact scholars over a Latin copy of the necronomicon. Unfortunately for him one of the scholars gets creeped out and tells people to not lend him a copy. Wilbur breaks in to one institution and is attacked and killed by dogs. This is where we first have an experience with one of the Old Ones (to the surprise of no one familiar with Lovecraftian lore) as we discover that other than his face and hands, Wilbur is hideous but his body melts before the police show up, and so we don’t get a good picture of what he actually looks like. The story then moves on to follow a Dr. Armitage who saw him die and his struggles with translating Wilbur’s diary. With Wilbur now dead no one is left to attend to the monster in the attic. This monster now finds its way loose and terrorises the village killing many before Armitage arrives and is able chant the spell required to banish the monster, at which point we learn that it was in fact Wilbur’s twin.

Things I liked

I really enjoyed the pacing of the book. Despite being only 63 pages it didn’t feel rushed, nor did it feel there was much that warranted further explanation.

The way the book is written is also something I enjoyed. The narration is complex. There is no single narrator, however the perspective is that of a documentation of the peculiar events of Dunwich written some time into the future. Because of this, the authorial presence manages to sound informed, while still withholding information and retaining mystery. I found it quite disconcerting, but compelling.

The regional accents also came across well. Despite being occasionally difficult to decipher, I ended up clearly hearing how the characters were talking.

Things I didn’t like

Some of the less-than-believable plot holes. Wilbur was described as being black, and while my knowledge of 1920s rural America is pretty limited, I feel that the arse-backwards, superstitious villagers of Dunwich would have immediately turned on him at the first instance of the ‘strange occurrences’. Nor do I think Wilbur and his grandfather would have been able to speak many of the spells that they did as they were all spoken in the strange language of the Old Ones as their heavy regional dialects may have gotten in the way of the correct pronunciation.

The book is described as horror, yet I have read creepier Goosebumps books. Maybe a better description would be a monster story, in which case it’s very compelling.

Lovecraft gave himself a problem by trying to describe what is by his own definition indescribable. The Old Ones cannot exist in our world, and their features are not things for which we have words. In this story, it is clearest when Wilbur’s shirt is removed after his death, and Lovecraft attempts to describe what he has said is indescribable.

Should I read this?

Despite my cynicism I highly recommend especially if you want to read some Lovecraft I think The Dunwich Horror is a good place to start.

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The Book Depository

You can buy the book here: http://www.bookdepository.com/Dunwich-Horror-Lovecraft/9780141038766/?a_aid=SpidersLibrary

Because I am trying not to use Amazon in my own half-arsed protest-y way, I’d like to recommend to people that they check out The Book Depository, which is a great, user-friendly site with affordable books ranging from brand new releases to classics, and in many different editions at less-than brand new prices. As I am now officially an affiliate of The Book Depository, I gain a small commission if you use my affiliate link to buy books! Please do check it out, even if you don’t buy anything right now.

http://www.bookdepository.com/?a_aid=SpidersLibrary

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The Shock Of The Fall

Bad blogger. Very bad blogger. This is my first post in two weeks. Terrible blogging.

In my defence I’ve just left uni and moved back home. These last two weeks have been spent firstly enjoying my last few days as an undergrad, moving house, looking for temp work, and now, being on holiday with my family. It’s all been a bit full-on, really, but I’m having a great time getting sunburned (despite all efforts to the contrary) in Dorset.

shock of the fallBetween all that, however, I did manage to read a couple of books this week. The book I’m going to talk about is quite interesting, as I had to cram read it – something I’m well-practiced at, thank you English Lit degree – before going to see the author give a talk on Thursday evening. So I’ll talk a little about that throughout.

Nathan Filer’s debut novel, The Shock Of The Fall was the winner of the Costa book prize, and is set in Bristol – so how could I not read it?

Synopsis

This is a book with several complex themes and events and characters and things. It deals quite intensely with themes of mental illness. Our narrator, Matthew, who blames himself for the death of his older brother when they were young, is nineteen when he decides to write his story. At the time he is suffering from something that is heavily suggested to be schizophrenia, and Filer has confirmed that this was his intention. His mother became over-protective, hypochondriacal and anxious following the death of his brother Simon, who was born with Down’s syndrome and had ‘a face like the moon’ (or something like that. A lovely line I can’t quite remember, because I don’t have the book handy. My bad!). It is not necessarily, however, a book about mental illness, or a book about grief. Filer captures the sense of a young man, or boy even, struggling through his family problems and growing up. It is a growing-up story, a story about closer, and yes, it talks about mental illness, but in such a way as to highlight and in some ways dismiss the stigma surrounding it. I’ll talk more about that below.

Things I liked

I’ll go straight into the stuff about mental illness, since I just talked about it above. Before his debut novel, Filer worked as a mental health nurse (I believe). As such, his ideas about how people, and particularly those in the mental health profession, treat others with mental health issues. For example, there is a moment quite early on in the book where this is made clear. Matthew is writing and asks one of the people helping at the centre, a young woman, if he can look something up (I think, in a dictionary? Sorry, very tired writing this). She isn’t sure if that’s allowed, so she asks a colleague, Steve, if it’s ok. Steve sort of laughs and tosses Matthew the book in a cool and off-hand way, with a heavy-handed wink with a tongue click that Matthew remembers and identifies him by (‘Click-click-wink’). Matthew talks about how yeah, so cool how he made that girl look stupid, yeah, we’re buddies, it’s no big deal – except by doing that you made it a fucking big deal, didn’t you Steve (obviously this is all paraphrased). In the talk we saw, Filer discussed a moment after he’d written the book, where he was working and found himself doing a similarly ‘twatty’ (his word) gesture to hand a patient a pen, and stopped and reflected for so long, thinking how, even though he knew about this, had written about it, he still felt a need to show that everything is no big deal, and in doing so made it a big deal. It’s observations like this, as well as his quiet jabs at the industry (mocking terms such as ‘service user’), that make this a worthy read, just in terms of the profession itself.

Next I want to talk about the narrative structure. It’s an interesting read in terms of chronology, but that’s just the kind of thing I like a lot of the time. Not everything is revealed to the reader, you know something bad has happened – you know Simon dies within the first chapter – and you know that our narrator had something to do with it. You know that it was not only what happened to Simon but how it happened that so deeply affected the family. It has a lot of cross-cutting and you will not always know exactly what is significant or important until it comes back, so it’s worth paying close attention.

Then there’s the actual format. The book itself is written almost entirely in first person, although there are two narrative strands to that first person narrative – one in normal font and another in a typeset made to look like that of a typewriter, to differentiate between Matthew’s monologue and the story he is actually typing up on the typewriter. As well as that there are selections of letters, some to Matthew and some from him to others.

The narrative voice is wonderful and captures this authentic, troubled, unreliable yet honest (even honest about being dishonest) boy, telling us his story exactly as he wants it to be told. Aside from just capturing the right tone of voice of a young man, this feeling of him telling us his story just the right way comes from little moments where he directly addresses the reader with phrases like ‘You’ve probably never met my dad’ and ‘I just realised you don’t even know what I look like’ (sic). In most other books this would annoy me, as it takes you out of the world of the book and reinstates you as an outsider looking in rather than someone just as involved as those it’s happening to.

The setting. It’s in Bristol. It’s got location namedropping, and I love that.

Things I didn’t like

If I hadn’t just read We Were Liarsin which there is a similar tactic of not revealing exactly what has happened to the reader, even though you know it’s something awful, you don’t know exactly what it is, and you know the narrator is in some way responsible for it, it might have been more hard hitting. But that’s not exactly Filer’s fault.

I wish we knew a little more about the mother’s illness.

Should I read this?

It definitely gets my recommendation. It’s not a difficult or long read, if you have a few hours to spare – according to Filer it’s only about 65,000 words (300 pages with a big font). The Shock Of The Fall has had reviews from critics that say things like ‘so good it’ll make you feel like a better person for reading it’, and I sort of agree. It’s enlightening, emotionally convincing and satisfying. Give it a read, it’ll make you think.


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The Book Depository

You can buy the book here: http://www.bookdepository.com/Shock-Fall-Nathan-Filer/9780007491452/?a_aid=SpidersLibrary

Because I am trying not to use Amazon in my own half-arsed protest-y way, I’d like to recommend to people that they check out The Book Depository, which is a great, user-friendly site with affordable books ranging from brand new releases to classics, and in many different editions at less-than brand new prices. As I am now officially an affiliate of The Book Depository, I gain a small commission if you use my affiliate link to buy books! Please do check it out, even if you don’t buy anything right now.

http://www.bookdepository.com/?a_aid=SpidersLibrary

Some books to read before you go to uni

So between having friends to stay, hopping between cities and going out at night, I haven’t had a chance to read a complete book this week. Shocking, I know. Instead of a normal blog post, then, I thought I’d bestow some hard-earned wisdom of the last three years, on those about to go to uni. There are some books I think most people need to have read anyway, some that I would have been left out of many conversations if I hadn’t read them, and some about growing up or university that I think are key to the experience of moving away from home. There are so many more I think I ought to recommend than the ten listed below for general reading, but many of those I never got around to reading, whereas all of the above I can recommend with certainty. Please comment below any you think should be added!

harry potter cover1. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

…as if you haven’t already.

 

 

 

The-Fall-of-the-Hous-of-Usher2. The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe

You probably need to have read some Poe, at some point. Read The Raven, or read this short story, and you pretty much have everything you need to survive a conversation about Poe. It’s about a brother and sister who are the last of the aristocratic Usher family, being visited by the brother’s childhood friend, a nameless narrator. It covers themes of incest, dying aristocracy, modernity, and cool gothic stuff.

 

secret history cover3. The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Narrator goes to mysterious elite American university, makes friends with a strange culty group of friends and mysterious, murderous shenanigans ensue. Great book. Like The Great Gatsby (which should probably also be on this list – I remembered to slip it in here though, because I read it the same summer as The Secret History), it is written from the point of view of a less protagonist-y narrator, very much about the other characters rather than the narrator himself. Intense reading.

 

catcher in the rye cover

4. The Catcher In The Rye by J.D. Salinger

A book about the trials and troubles of growing up. Strong narrative voice. Important book.

 

 

 

hobbit cover5. The Hobbit and/or The Lord Of The Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

I’m not going to push the Silmarillion on anyone, but it will pay to have read at least The Hobbit, if not The Lord Of The Rings. The trilogy can be pretty daunting because it is so densely written, but the summer before you go to uni is probably the right time to give it a try. If not, I believe anyone can read The Hobbit. That way you get to talk about everything that is wrong with the current films (hurray!)

 

adams cover6. The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams

So enjoyable. If you need a helping hand into sci-fi, this is it. And if you go to uni not knowing a) that the meaning of life is 42, b) that you always need a towel or c) why the only thought of a bowl of petunias as it falls through the air before crashing to the ground is ‘oh no, not again’, you might miss out on a lot of in-jokes.

 

1984 cover7. Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

Obvious reasons. If you don’t know the BIG BROTHER IS ALWAYS WATCHING then you might miss out on some political conversation.

 

 

brave new world cover8. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Preceding Orwell’s novel by sixteen years, this novel is perhaps more relevant than  Nineteen-Eighty Four, despite not having quite as enormous a reputation. Orwell’s world is run by fear, in Huxley’s imagined world the human race is controlled by pleasure – there is no need to ban books because no one reads them, the news is boring and people would much rather look at pretty or amusing things elsewhere than pay attention to bad things that happen in the world.

Sound familiar?

If you can make connections like that in a debate, you’ll look like you know your shit.

good omens cover9. Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

This is on here to kill two birds with one stone and make this part of the list a nice even ten. I wanted to recommend that you read at least one work by Neil Gaiman and one by Pratchett – this one they collaborated on, and it’s fantastic anyway. I’ve only read a couple of the Discworld novels but there’s a reason they’ve become a fantasy staple. I can personally recommend Mort as my favourite of the few of I’ve read. For Neil Gaiman, I would absolutely recommend Neverwhere, but I will also push the book of Stardust (nothing like the film but worth the read), American Gods (which I will admit to not having finished) and the Sandman comics – which brings me onto my last recommendation…

 

killing joke10. At least one graphic novel

My particular recommendations: Watchmen (for full review, click here), V For Vendetta (because people will always be complaining about the difference between the film and the comic book – likewise Watchmen), and The Killing Joke (so you can get back into the DC franchise in the best way, just as it’s about to take off again)

 

Now for the pragmatic side:

To survive student life:

  1. A budget cookbook (preferably by A Girl Called Jack)
  2. Acquaint yourself with as many extremest manifestos as you can stomach – particularly communism. It will probably be talked about a lot.
  3. Acquaint yourself with some gender theory (Simone de Beauvoir), some philosophical theory and some mathematical theory ( An Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy by Bertrand Russell), and some LGBT theory. Also some Freud, as much as you can stand.
  4. Have some knowledge of a current major TV show – most likely to come up: Game Of Thrones, Breaking Bad, Dexter, House Of Cards, Attack On Titan (and one to watch out for over the next few years I think, Penny Dreadful)

For English students in particular:

  1. Theory again: Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex for gender, some Freud (probably The Uncanny), and some Colin McCabe if you’re doing Realism or Modernism
  2. As much Shakespeare as possible. You will almost definitely need to know Hamlet, Macbeth, The Tempest, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and one of the histories (we did Henry V). If you don’t know where quotes such as ‘Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow’, ‘We are such stuff as dreams are made on’, or ‘Once more unto the breach, dear friends’ come from, it’s time to brush up your Shakespeare.
  3. Get to know some of your Romantic poets.
  4. Even though I’m not a huge fan, some Angela Carter. Or any other important feminist/female writer: Germaine Greer, Margaret Atwood, Virginia Woolf, Jane Austen, Emily Brontë, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot. It’s just important to know some of their stuff.
  5. Dracula and Frankenstein

So that’s it – done in a bit of a rush, and I’ll be back to posting plain old book reviews next week. Hope you enjoy my collection of books to read before you go to uni!

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The Book Depository

Because I am trying not to use Amazon in my own half-arsed protest-y way, I’d like to recommend to people that they check out The Book Depository, which is a great, user-friendly site with affordable books ranging from brand new releases to classics, and in many different editions at less-than brand new prices. As I am now officially an affiliate of The Book Depository, I gain a small commission if you use my affiliate link to buy books! Please do check it out, even if you don’t buy anything right now.

http://www.bookdepository.com/?a_aid=SpidersLibrary

 

Midweek Memory: [A] Modern Tale of Faerie series

titheThis strange trilogy by Holly Black consists of Tithe (pictured), Ironside, and a standalone but incorporative book written between, Valiant. When I read these I was about 15 I imagine, since I had Ironside in hardback and it apparently came out in 2007. Even though the publisher has recommended this series for ‘ages 12 and up’, these books are, in my opinion, what young adult novels are all about. They take fantasy themes from your younger and tweenage years – in this case, fairies (faeries) – and give them darker overtones. You recognise the fun and innocent sides of them, and then are shown the darker, more sinister aspects. Immediately after these I read the Wicked Lovely series by Melissa Marr (another dark fae series), and while I enjoyed those on a different level, I infinitely preferred these

Synopsis

Defined as ‘surburban fantasy’ rather than the more well-known ‘urban fantasy’, Tithe and Ironside follow sixteen-year-old Kaye, a nomad touring with her mother’s rock band. She has always been able to see and communicate with the Fae, who she had thought were her imaginary friends when she was growing up. She meets a Fae knight, Roiben, and saves his life by removing an iron-tipped arrow from his chest (iron is poisonous to the Fae). In return he grants her three truthfully answered questions.

Valiant follows teenager Valerie Russell, who discovers her mother is having an affair with her boyfriend, and so shaves her head and runs away from home, joining with a group of teenage squatters and earning herself the nickname Prince Valiant for helping a drag queen find her shoe. Valiant is recommended for ages 14 and up, most likely because it deals with themes of drug addiction. It is a strange beauty and the beast story.

There are some crossovers between these two stories.

Things I liked

The main characters. I never expected to like Kaye, but she grew one me. Val impressed me because of her strength, and her weaknesses. Roiben and Ravus, the love interests, were incredible, if I remember correctly – even though Roiben is a murderer and Ravus is a troll. But you know, still sexy, somehow. Also, the minor characters.

The dark world of the Fae. It was probably these books that got me interested in the workings of faerie worlds. I started learned about the Unseelie and Seelie courts, about ambiguous morality, about glamour spells. There was a moment in Ironside where Kaye, who can see through glamours, watches her friends eat cakes, which she can see are actually mushrooms. As with most of my favourite books growing up, this series prompted me to write my own version.

The romances. They didn’t go as I expected – particularly in Valiant. That is always a plus with romance.

The dingy suburban lifestyles. Very warts and all. Deliberately dark and grimy. Very atmospheric.

Things I didn’t like

I don’t remember there being any. It’s been a while guys, I’m sorry. Although apparently they got a fair amount of bad reviews, so I’ll check those out.

According to Goodreads, there is quite a marmite split on this series. Some people disliked the series (specifically Tithe) because Kaye ‘has super-special protagonist syndrome’ which I can understand. Some people disliked it because it was too weird (there’s a skin-peeling-off-to-reveal-green-skin-underneath scene for which they had particular hatred), or because there was too much swearing. Those who liked it professed to enjoy gritty real-life/fantasy stories, that Kaye’s difficult childhood could have been gimmicky but was handled well enough and with enough depth to make her likeable (although they never felt intimately connected with her as a character – which I agree with, although I always thought that was because she was blonde and I’ve always had dark hair, which was a big part of which characters I liked and which I didn’t when I was growing up, whoops!).

Should I read this?

Having now read the Goodreads reviews, I would say if you are easily weirded-out, confused or made squeamish by fantasy, it might not be for you. However before that, my recommendation would have been this: if you like fantasy-realism and want to see it done a bit differently, this might be a good choice. If you want strong female leads who are out of the generic norm, this might be for you. If you’re looking to go back and read some young adult fiction that you missed and you want books that deal with adult themes in a gritty, stylish way, these might be a good way to spend your reading hours. If you aren’t convinced by any of these ideas, then maybe don’t bother.

Holly-Back-Tithe-Valiant-Ironside

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The Book Depository

You can buy the book here: http://www.bookdepository.com/Tithe-Holly-Black/9780689867040/?a_aid=SpidersLibrary

Because I am trying not to use Amazon in my own half-arsed protest-y way, I’d like to recommend to people that they check out The Book Depository, which is a great, user-friendly site with affordable books ranging from brand new releases to classics, and in many different editions at less-than brand new prices. As I am now officially an affiliate of The Book Depository, I gain a small commission if you use my affiliate link to buy books! Please do check it out, even if you don’t buy anything right now.

http://www.bookdepository.com/?a_aid=SpidersLibrary

The Road

I’m definitely late to tthe_road.largehis party, but that’s the point of this blog. I bought The Road by Cormac McCarthy in Fopp for £3 years ago, with every intention of reading it as soon as possible. The more I heard about it, the more I heard about the dark, bleak, harrowing tale, the beauty of the writing, the further I felt from wanting to read it. I don’t think I ever thought I was going to be ready to read it. This weekend, I finally got around to it.

Synopsis

A man and his son travel south through a desolate, post-apocalyptic America, aiming for the coast.

 There is no God and we are his prophets

Things I liked

There’s not much I can say about this that has not already been said. It was incredibly well-received when it came out, to warrant such quotes on the back of my copy that suggest McCarthy be nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature, for this novel, and others emphasising the long-term impact it will have on its readers, and literature to come. I have to say I agree. It has been eight years since The Road was released, five years since the film. To me it is interesting that, in the years following this adult post-apocalyptic novel, there has been a surge of popular teen fiction of the same theme. I’m not suggesting that novels such as the Hunger Games series, the Divergent Trilogy or the Maze Runner books are direct descendants of this, it just strikes me that teen fiction sometimes mirrors grown-up books – maybe to make sure the teens are up to date by the time they become adults, I don’t know.

Right. Here’s the real ‘Things I liked’ section. No more disclaimers.

The prose. It’s been said constantly about this book – hauntingly beautiful, simple, prose. It holds the characters apart from us by never fully letting us into their heads, and universalises them by leaving them unnamed. There were so many phrases I wish I had bookmarked to include here, just to show you how intense and observant McCarthy’s writing is. As a pedant I found it remarkably easy to let go of my inner editor and grammar persnicketer (yeah I’m neologising now) when McCarthy misses out apostrophes in words such as ‘won’t’ and ‘don’t’. It’s part of the style. Allow it. Move on.

The relationship between the boy and his father. I thought for a while there would be a huge twist where the boy had been dead the whole time, but realised I was projecting other recent reads onto everything I’m reading at the moment. Spoiler alert, that’s not what happens. The relationship between these two is so dependent. The boy relies on his father to get their food, keep them going. The father relies on the son to give him a reason to stay alive. The son was born after whatever mystery event occurred that covered the world in ash, and so does not understand a) what the world was like before and sometimes, b) why they should bother staying alive.

The moral issues. The dilemmas the father faces when it comes to the few people they meet on the road, and how he has to explain them to his son.

The dialogue. There are no speech marks in this book. You have to keep an eye out as to when there is speech and who is saying what. It is bleak, pragmatic dialogue. It fits with the greyness of the story.

It took me some time to decide which section this would be in, but it’s going here. The fact that you have to cannot skim read any of this book. If you don’t pay attention to what you’re reading, there’s a chance you won’t have a full appreciation of it. This is likely the case with most books, but it struck me particularly when reading this, probably because the prose is so sparse and there are no chapters, only sections.

Things I didn’t like

Umm….

Uhhhhh….

Ummm….

It…was pretty depressing?

But seriously, it’s quite a harrowing story. Dead babies and the like. Cannibals. Pretty rough. As mentioned above, it’s pretty bleak.

Should I read this?

Yes. Many of you will be reading this because you’ve already read it. For those of you who haven’t, go out and read it, ASAP.

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The Book Depository

You can buy the book here: http://www.bookdepository.com/Road-Cormac-McCarthy/9780330513005/?a_aid=SpidersLibrary

Because I am trying not to use Amazon in my own half-arsed protest-y way, I’d like to recommend to people that they check out The Book Depository, which is a great, user-friendly site with affordable books ranging from brand new releases to classics, and in many different editions at less-than brand new prices. As I am now officially an affiliate of The Book Depository, I gain a small commission if you use my affiliate link to buy books! Please do check it out, even if you don’t buy anything right now.

http://www.bookdepository.com/?a_aid=SpidersLibrary