Monday, July 7, 2014

Dying Embers ~ M R Cosby

This is the first time that I have waited in anticipation for the release of a book by a home grown author. Knowing that the style was inspired by one of my favourite writers, Robert Aickman, I was very keen to read it.

Aickman has the ability to unsettle your nerves when writing about everyday events that at first appear normal then go slightly off kilter.  I can honestly say that I wasn’t disappointed. These short stories are very well constructed, and the unsettling nature of each varies in degrees as does the strangeness. 

Abraham’s Bosom was one of my favourite stories as it brought to mind how I felt on my recent visit to Rangitoto Island.  My partner and I had walked off the beaten track looking for lava caves and I became increasingly alarmed when I couldn't hear any of the other trekkers and was unable to orient myself to where we should be on our map.  This story of a jogger becoming separated from his running mate and experiencing a supernatural event reminded me not only of Robert Aickman but also of Alfred Noyes’ Midnight Express by the last passage.

Building Bridges I found to be a nice cloying story about a father wanting to reconnect with his family however forces move against him during a visit to a museum exhibit. 

The Next Terrace is the perfect opening story and lays the foundation to what can be expected within the following pages and Playing Tag I thought was a beautifully written story which really evoked the grounds of an English stately home.

La Tarasque was probably my least favourite of the collection but mainly because I couldn't identify with any part of it, and I’m still trying to work out the title of the last story (Fingerprinting) although I did really enjoy the story itself.  I’m staying in some obscure small towns at the end of the year on my first ever Aussie road trip, so I shall bear this story in mind!

This whole collection has been put together very nicely; Some of the stories are very subtle whilst others grab at you, but what I liked most about these stories is that they are very identifiable as being Australian (although you can’t take the P.O.M.E. out of the collection either – just like me!)

Maxine 

Monday, June 23, 2014

A Revelation

“……., it is because I am insane—quite insane: with my veins running fire,
and my heart beating faster than I can count its throbs.”      
 (Brontë, Jane Eyre, 1847)

Through the ages there have been plenty of stories about mad women. I have often wondered how come there were so many scapegoats during the witch hunts, (I had put it down to schizophrenia but surely there could not have been that many schizophrenics back then?).  I have also wondered why did seemingly well-to-do 19th Century women turn to Laudanum and in the process become opium addicts?  And there's recent times too, I'm sure we've all heard about a Mrs so and so back in the 60’s and 70’s who had just had 'a breakdown'?  

At the moment I’m reading Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, and in it he speaks of the previous nuns of the Petit-Picpus convent, two of whom went mad in their middle years.  It’s all a bit weird don’t you think?  Well, these past two months have been an eye opener for me and all I can say is thank goodness I am a 21st century woman and have been saved from the fate of these poor women.

It started quite insidiously really - I just noticed that I was sleeping less.  At the beginning of January I went from being an 8-10 hour sleeper to around 6 hours a night.  No big deal, I felt ok and it was good to get stuff done on the weekend as I had more time by getting up nice and early.

Then I started waking around 4am to go to the loo.  I put this down to getting older but as long as I could get back to sleep again I wasn't worried.  Only, I stopped being able to get back to sleep again, so I cut out my evening cup of tea but this barely made any difference.  Then I started steadily waking up earlier and earlier  by the half hour – 3.30am, 3.00am, 2.30am, 2.00am.  I was starting to feel a bit alarmed by what was happening by this time.  I tried counting back from 100,  I downloaded meditation apps (which I would listen to over and over again in one night but to no avail), and I even tried an astronomy course of lectures – but even they couldn't send me to sleep. 

Last month I went away for the weekend with my partner.  I wasn't feeling great, I was feeling totally strung out from lack of sleep, but I was hoping a change of bedroom for a couple of nights would take away the fear I was beginning to feel every time I got ready for bed.  On the first day we had a big day of walking and eating and didn’t end up going to bed until midnight – I woke up at 1am.  The next night I couldn’t even fall asleep, by the morning I was quite distraught.  What was happening to me?  Had I ruined my ability to sleep because I'd been sleeping elevated due to my BPPV?  Or was it due to my dieting habits? I had been under a bit of pressure at work but I wasn't worrying about it at night.  I obviously couldn't go another night without sleeping so I called my doctor’s but my usual doctor was on holiday. ......I had a specialist appointment that afternoon so I decided to ask if I could have a script for sleeping pills to get me through the week until I could see my doctor. 

Just talking to the specialist about how I was feeling took a major load off my shoulders, ‘no problem’ she said ‘ I’ll give you a script on the proviso you talk to your doctor about starting HRT’.  HRT??  It had never occurred to me that this was a symptom of going through ‘The Change’. I had been suffering horribly with hot flushes but that was all I knew about starting menopause.  Not only is insomnia a common symptom, it is also the best kept secret.

The sleeping pills helped me fall asleep but I would wake around 2 – 3am.  Frustrating, but at least I was getting some sleep.  I told my boss what was going on as I was really struggling with my concentration and mood, but he was very understanding (another weight off my shoulders).

Finally I got to see my doctor and a blood test showed that my hormones were low and I started HRT three weeks ago.  I still can’t fall asleep without the sleeping pills – this could take another couple of months, and I still wake up around 2-30am but I am starting to fall back asleep again.  Yippee!  I feel human again, and I can function normally again, and not only that - no more hot flushes.

Every day I think about what those poor middle aged women went through without today’s medical knowledge.   I’m not happy that I need HRT given the long term risks but really what is the alternative.... madness?

Maxine

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Going Retro

Sick and tired of the quality of most TV programmes these days, I started looking back at the shows I used to enjoy. The ones that had a decent story to tell, where characters weren't constantly yelling at each other, and children showed respect for their parents.

I had to go way back unfortunately, but what I did remember and have now re-watched brought back fond memories and I was very surprised how the quality of the shows stood up. Yes, there is a kind of innocence about them but I do feel that they hark back to better times.

Sky

This is a series that I thoroughly enjoyed re-watching. Initially all I could remember was a fair haired boy sitting crossed legged in a cave with the most amazing blue eyes. A quick search on Google and I found the DVD. Sky is in fact a God modeled very much on David Bowie and The Man Who Fell to Earth who needs to get back to his own time and dimension. The synthesized soundtrack adds to the eeriness of this series and as a kid I loved it.  The benchmark was set for my future viewing habits


The Changes

This was a favourite of mine when I was about 9 or 10. Something causes society to turn against machines. Cars, tractors, radios etc are destroyed or locked away never to be used again. Set in the south west of England one young girl is separated form her family as they try to flee to France, this is her story of survival. Forget zombies.... when society moves back to a simpler way of life, pagan beliefs and superstition become a dangerous foe. 


Shadows

All I could remember about this series was the episode The Other Window, I don't know how old I was when I first saw it but it scared the hell out of me, even just thinking about the ending frightened me for a long time.  Of course, re-watching it with adult eyes it isn't frightening at all.  This is a really good award winning macabre series for children that ran for three seasons.


The Outer Limits

I always preferred the original series of The Outer Limits to The Twilight Zone. It brings back memories of babysitting on a Saturday night and waiting for 11pm so I could watch this show. It's definitely dated to watch now, but it's messages aren't. My favourite episode is The Architects of Fear. I even think this episode inspired Bill Clinton judging by a report I read recently about his term in office. Scary.


Tales of the Unexpected


Finally how could I forget this one. With a wonderful theme tune and originally based on works by Roald Dahl the later episodes were by various well known writers, and acted by some very well known stars. The stories at times are a little predictable but they all have a wonderful twist. Whether you guess the twist or not matters little as the quality of each show is a joy to watch. For the record my two very favourite episodes are The Flypaper and The Man at the Top.


Children of The Stones

I've only just got a hold of a copy of this one, and have watched the first episode.  It's a shame that kids these day watch such violent shows, or rubbish like Home and Away where there's no respect between any of the characters.  They're not learning anything except how not to speak to people. Programmes like Children of the Stones have a real sense of time and place, with a focus on the history and beliefs of the area.  I love the opening title!


Another series I'm quite enjoying is The Crow Road based on the novel by Iain Banks which I have just read.  But, that's a post for some other time :)

Maxine


Friday, April 11, 2014

Chris Eaton, A Biography ~ Chris Eaton

Have you ever Googled your own name and wondered about the people that you share it with?  Well, Chris Eaton has and the result is a work of fiction centered around the lives of various male and female Chris Eatons along with a few other quirky characters.

Perhaps we all know, have met, crossed paths with, a Chris Eaton in our own lives?  I know I have, he's a charming Englishman who works at our Sydney head office and briefly worked with me in Queensland a few years ago.

You won't find a linear story here, but what you will find is your life paralleled with one of the Chris Eatons within the narrative.  Encompassing a broad spectrum of lives lived, this is by turns a funny but thought provoking novel.  At various points I did think that I was re-reading Moby Dick with the amount of facts and figures being presented on a multitude of topics, whether true or not I'm not sure as I don't think that the narrator was altogether reliable at times, but some of it was very interesting.

I did, to my surprise, find myself really enjoying this book.  It was very well written, and I was interested in many of the topics (punk rock, salt ...... otoliths).  I could not believe the book included the obscure otolith!  These little buggers are dominating my life at the moment, causing me severe vertigo at their worst and light headedness at their best, and no-one around me has ever heard of them, yet here they were speaking to me from the page (Kindle) LOL.

There were many thoughts, feelings and interactions in this novel that I could identify with, and it made me realise that we are ALL THE SAME.  We don't need to share the same name to experience the same hopes, fears, loves and life lessons.

This really is something different to read, and I can recommend it as a well written thought provoking independent novel.

Maxine

Ps: I Googled my own name and I found mostly obituaries which was rather disconcerting!


Monday, April 7, 2014

1Q84 ~ Haruki Murakami

*Warning: This Review Contains Spoilers*

Two moons, little people, a cat town, an 'Air Chrysalis' and parallel story-lines that merge at the end.  Sounds surreal and mystical doesn't it, and just my type of read from an author I usually enjoy.  I didn't expect to be so wrong!  This love story between Aomame, a cold blooded assassin, and Tengo, a ghost writer, could have been intriguing but instead it was distasteful, boring and extremely repetitive.
  
I had several problems with the writing which totally frustrated me.  For one, I couldn't understand why there was such an in depth description as to the type of head a man must have for Aomame to sleep with him.  This was a ridiculous story-line to begin with, but being constantly told that it must be a certain shape and slightly balding didn't make sense as Tengo, her supposed soul mate, clearly did not have this head type at all, so what was the point?

When we were first introduced to Tengo he was in the grip of a disturbing vision/memory of his mother. These visions stop him completely in his tracks, he cannot function, and we are told in great detail that this happens on a regular basis (a bit like me and my BPPV!).  Yet it is barely alluded to for the rest of the novel.

The writing (or maybe it was the translation?) came across as very unprofessional. When you have only two characters in a scene and they are conversing you don't need to say for example "Tengo said”.  We know who’s talking.  and when one of the two characters repeats the other character’s line (which happened way too much in this novel I can tell you!) you don't need to say for example “Tengo repeated”. Aaaaagh, it was too much!

There were in depth histories of several secondary characters which served no purpose to the story, and sequences involving a ghostly NHK fee collector who we must suppose is Tengo's comatose father which also served no real purpose whatsoever.

I did enjoy the character of Ushikawa, but the amount of time spent with him was wasted as he was killed off. I didn't get it, why did I have to spend so much time with this secondary character and learn about his past, his flaws and hear his inner thoughts, only to have him die and achieving nothing in the way of propelling the story in any meaningful way?

My biggest gripe though is the fact that there was way too much repetition over-all in the novel, especially the constant recapping of the story thus far and dumb explanations of what was going on by various characters so much so that I found it pretty insulting to me as the reader.

I was so hoping for something magical like Kafka on the Shore, but this novel could have easily been cut by a third and I think we should demand a re-write – especially that of Aomame’s character, dialogue and motivation as that side of the novel was just plain awful.

I'm a very disappointed Murakami fan.

Maxine 


Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Shelter ~ James Everington

The Shelter is a novella by the independent writer James Everington in the style of Stephen King's The Body which resonated with me in the fact that it is about a group of children (in this case four boys) getting up to no good during a school summer holiday.  Set in England, it brought back memories of those long six week holidays, with not much to do except going exploring with friends.  It is something we probably don't let our children do today but, without Foxtel, Apple, X-box or PC's, our options for entertainment back when I was a teenager in the late 70's and early 80's lay in the outdoors.

The story of The Shelter is related by a thirteen year old Alan Dean who, with his best friend Duncan and two older boys that he knows from school, goes in search of an old air raid shelter that supposedly lies outside of their village.  When they get there it's location seems a bit bizarre with the shelter being located in the far corner of a field, the atmosphere changes too with the incessant buzzing of wasps and a feeling of rising anger that threatens to overwhelm the boys themselves.

Driven by excitement and fear, and wondering if this is the resting place of Martin, a local schoolboy whose disappearance has dominated the news reports lately, they open the metal lid that covers the entrance to the shelter.  Everything appears normal until a simple prank leaves Alan in a terrifying situation and open to a supernatural event.  But did it really happen?  

As children we are ready to accept the unknown, and in a state of heightened terror we can imagine any amount of horrors.  Yet for all those nights of being too afraid to look under the bed, or in the closet or at that bundle of clothes thrown on the chair that looks like something unimaginable.......... did any harm ever come to us?  This then brings doubt and cynicism into the mind of the adult, and the realisation that there never was anything there at all. This is the thought that the older Alan will ponder as he reviews the events of that summer.

The writing style does need some polishing, and the idea itself of using a group of bored children to propel the story along isn't all that original - just read Stephen King and Dan Simmons - but I found that I really liked it because of the memories that it stirred up for me and I almost (almost mind you) felt a pang for a genuine English Summer.

Maxine

Saturday, March 8, 2014

As I Lay Dying ~ William Faulkner

There's something about Faulkner that I really like, but I can't put my finger on it.  I've only read two of his novels but I guess it's the quirkiness of the characters, and the secrets that come out during the telling of the story, that grabs my attention.

Addie Bundren is dying, her husband and children are waiting around for her to die, which is her wish. Her son Cash is out in the yard making her coffin which is also her wish.  Her final wish though is to be buried in Jefferson with 'her people', and basically this is what the novel is about.  We follow this hillbilly family to Jefferson to bury their mother, but it's not an easy journey and Addie will be several days dead before she is finally laid to rest.

During the journey we find out that Addie and her husband Anse were not happily married nor great parents, that one son is not Anse's biological son, their only daughter is not as pure as she seems and another son is dangerously mad.  

As I lay Dying is told from the viewpoint of fifteen different characters, including the deceased Addie.  I'm not usually a fan of using different narrators, but it works in this novel especially when the antics of the family are viewed by a more sane narrator.  It is by turns both funny and sad.

Jame's Franco's movie adaptation of the novel is quite stunning.  Using the split screen device he is able to capture the multi-narrator point of view for several of the scenes, and in others he has the characters staring into the camera narrating a monologue to the viewer.  My favourite monologue is that of Cash as he describes the build of Addie's coffin.  

What I like best about the movie is that it barely detracts from the novel at all,  which is a rarity these days, so I guess Franco's not just a pretty face after all!


After enjoying this so much, and also The Sound and The Fury, I look forward to reading some more Faulkner later this year.

Maxine