Saturday, July 31, 2010

Savannah

I have just started reading Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.  This is going to be a great read.  I picked it up and then I didn't want to put it down.  What wonderful characters - and they're real!  It has conjured up some wonderful images already.

I've also just started a book of short stories Button Button by Richard Matheson, so will make a few comments on these next week.

I'm a bit knackered from my day out to Dreamworld, so going make a nice cuppa and curl up with a Freddo and the bizarre inhabitants of Savannah.

Mad Wombat

video

I know this has nothing to do with books, but this wombat is crazy!  It was hilarious watching him attack his stuffed friend.  I filmed him today at Dreamworld, it was a great day out.  You can't beat those annual passes!
Me making friends with a little Joey today at Dreamworld.  He was just beautiful.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Better Than Horror

Therese Raquin so far this is better than any horror novel I have read. 

The lovers have done the deed, or rather Laurent murdered Camille and Therese looked on.  It was quite awful and I immediately thought of The Talented Mr Ripley as it was the same scenario - out on a rowing boat. Laurent doesn’t really love Therese, he loves what she represents – something to abate his desires and a means to an end.  Laurent is a peasant; we are constantly reminded of that – his manner, his thoughts and his bearing.  He is also lazy.  Ultimately he just wants to live an idle life, but he needs an income and if he marries Therese all her inheritance (the haberdashery shop and old Madame Raquin's savings) will pass onto him.  What an arse. 

For two weeks after the murder, Laurent visits the morgue and views all the bodies that have drowned in the Seine (there seems to be a steady flow, pardon the pun), for he can’t rest until he knows that Camille has been identified and buried.  Zola certainly doesn’t gloss over this scene.  It is horrific, and even more horrific is the thought of those who come to view the corpses for the fun of it.  Unnatural death is ugly and Zola has recreated this to great effect.

Therese’s behaviour after the murder alarms Laurent and he decides to keep his distance until things settle down.  Therese is certainly hysterical and unsettled at first and as time goes by Laurent takes a mistress, grows portly, and finds himself quite contented and he begins to wonder how he let Therese take hold of his passions in such a way.  Then he considers that perhaps he won’t marry her, but his guilty conscience kicks in reminding him that Camille would have died for nothing.  There is one other thing to consider too, if he jilts Therese she might give away their secret………

This is wonderful, I am savouring every word.

I’ve started a Caffeine and Chapters themed read The Book of The Dead by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child.  I know it won’t be a great read, but it’s started out okay (I really enjoyed Preston’s Blasphemy).  This is the Same Title Different Book theme.  The other book I chose was The Book of The Dead by Patricia Cornwell, but I gave up halfway through a little while ago.  I’ll try to finish it, or I’ll get another one with this title.

I’m halfway through The Shadow out of Time by Lovecraft.  You can’t beat him, it’s so over the top but he takes it all very seriously.  He loves to use words such as ‘monstrous’, ‘unhuman horrors’, ‘abyss’ and ‘cyclopean’!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Kindred Spirits?

It is interesting that I have picked up Thérèse Raquin to read after Madam Bovary. Only a few chapters in, there are similarities with their disillusionment with life. Madam Bovary turned to adultery, and retail therapy (which eventually sent Charles broke) but Thérèse will turn to murder……

Poor Charles, Homais the apothecary (whose arsenic Emma had deliberately ingested) and close friend of Charles became distant as the gap in their social status widened. Charles was broke, he found out about the lovers and eventually died from a broken heart. Bovary’s daughter Berthe was farmed out to relatives and eventually went to work in a cotton mill. Her life could have been so different, poor kid!

Thérèse on the other hand lost her mother when she was very young, and was left with her aunt by her father who eventually died overseas. Living with her overbearing aunt and her sickly cousin in a cloying atmosphere she finds herself stifled, unable to run free and happy. It is always expected that she will marry her cousin Camille, even though they have no feelings for each other, and her life after marriage remains the same except that she now sleeps on the right side of their home instead of the left.

Camille decides one day that they will move to Paris, and his mother insists on making all the arrangements so that she can ensure her own future. She purchases a dowdy haberdashery shop in a dingy Arcade in Paris. When Therese moves in she is dismayed, and turns inward into herself. She has no interest in re-papering the rooms above the shop or to look for new carpet, she has completely given up…… until one day when Camille brings home Laurent, a work colleague, for dinner. Feeling the fluttering of attraction, Therese is always present when Laurent visits after work to paint Camille's portrait. Finally, when the portrait is finished, Camille goes out to buy Champagne and her Aunt/Mother-in-law goes to prepare dinner, and they find themselves alone. Thérèse gives herself to Laurent totally.

That’s as far as I have got, and loving how it is written. There’s more narration than dialogue so far, but the oppressiveness of the shop, the dingy Arcade and Thérèse's life are very well described. This one is on the list which is a bonus.

I finished Heart Shaped Box finally, and the worse thing was that my mind started wandering at the end, and when I realised it had finished (it was on audio) I had to go back a whole chapter and listen to it again! Talk about prolonging the agony!!

Monday, July 26, 2010

When is it Going to End?

My God, talk about dragging a story out. Heart Shaped Box is dragging on and on and on…….. it could have finished a few chapters back. I’m totally over it, it’s becoming stupid! Now it’s a cross between Stephen King and a corny Dean Koontz.

Madam Bovary on the other hand has just suffered a horrific death thanks to a dose of arsenic by her own hand. Totally unexpected. Di at book club said that when she read it she wanted to slap her! I don’t feel quite that strongly towards her, I feel sorry for her as she had a taste of the high life and couldn’t quite settle with her own dull way of life. She was just not as restrained as the rest of us would be. I think it’s Charles who needs a slap; he’s gone through the novel in a state of oblivion.

Poor Emma though, she ended up being hurt and used and only realized that there was a good man in her life – her husband - at the end There’s still a bit to read, so I’m interested to see where it will take me and how it will end.

I’ve tried to make a start on H P Lovecraft but I haven’t had much of a lunch break so will hopefully get started with it properly soon and as for The Time Traveller’s Wife, I’ve read three chapters and I'm confused already!!

I’m too distracted to write anymore, The Goodies are on ABC2 and are bringing back some very fond memories!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Problem Solved!

Right, I feel I’m back on track now. I’ve got Shadows of Death by H P Lovecraft to read in my rare lunch breaks, and my pick up/put down occasional book will be The Time Travellers Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. If I like it, it will become by evening book when I have finished Madam Bovary.

H P Lovecraft is quite an interesting individual. His style is very gothic like the 19th Century sensation writers but he is actually early 20th Century. SBS or ABC did a documentary on him about a month ago. I thought it was an unusual subject for a mid week documentary however was very pleased to have stumbled across it. The author of Reanimator – which became a cult horror movie - is an absolute legend and inspiration to modern authors and movie makers such as Stephen King and John Carpenter. You just have to read ‘N’ from Just After Sunset by Stephen King to realise that it is a tribute to Lovecraft’s creations of Cthulhu and The Great Old Ones.

Lovecraft was a very solitary man, he did marry briefly and tried the social life but ultimately he went back to his small home town alone. A prolific writer, he really did not get the recognition or the reward that he truly deserved for his very original stories. They can be funny in their own way, the beast will literally be at the door but the narrator keeps on writing about how close it is, how scared he is, and the terror he is in, instead of running! While probably dated now, I’m sure I will enjoy them, I’ll just transport myself to the era that they were written to fully appreciate them.

The copy that I have is ISBN 9780345483331 with an Introduction by Harlan Ellison. Now Ellison himself is a very interesting individual. He is most famous for writing Demon with a Glass Hand for The Twilight Zone or Outer Limits, I forget which and I can’t be bothered to Google it, just relying on the old grey matter tonight. Demon with a Glass Hand and another of his stories were the inspiration for the hugely successful Terminator movies. It has taken many years but Ellison is now credited with this fact at the beginning of the Terminator TV Series (The Sara Connor Chronicles?). You can watch Demon with a Glass Hand on u-tube. I used to love the Outer Limits, they just don’t make shows like that any more. It’s all vampires these days.

What about the new Di Caprio Movie Inception? I am so excited! The premise reminds me a little of the old Dennis Quaid movie Dreamscape. I’m definitely going to see this at the movies on the weekend.

Book Club was really good tonight, a good turn out.  It was a bit cold in the restaurant, but I had a lovely lasagne even though it took me all night to eat it as I was gas-bagging so much!!

Off to bed now hopefully to get a decent nights sleep. My bogan neighbours kept me awake last night to the point I could take it no longer and I had to get up, open my bathroom window, and yell out to them to keep the noise down as we were trying to sleep. If they want to party all night, that’s fine, but when it’s a work night – take it indoors, not out on the back deck disturbing the whole neighbourhood.

Right, that’s out of my system….. but I’m making up the couch in my study tonight just in case!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

OMG – I’m only reading two books!

I can’t believe it; I’m only reading two books at the moment. I’ll have to do something about that this week.


I’ve almost finished Heart Shaped Box by Joe Hill. My feeling on this one is that it is something Stephen King would have written 20 years ago. Would I have thought this if I didn’t know Stephen King was his father…….? I’ll never know. But, whilst I think it is ‘ok’ for the Genre I know that I would have really enjoyed it 20 years ago, maybe even five years ago – before I started book clubbing and expanded my reading. There’s nothing bad about this book, but I just don’t feel that the style is very original. I listened to 20th Century Ghosts first, and that was really good. I think that Joe Hill is probably the exponent of the unsettling short story, rather than the full blown novel. I’ll review this one for the Caffeine & Chapters July newsletter.

The other book I’m reading and have been reading since June is Madam Bovary by Gustave Flaubert. When it was first published Flaubert was charged with writing an immoral novel, but now it is considered a classic.

I really love the French provincial setting, and apparently Flaubert deliberately identifies certain things within the area so only a true local would be able know where he was actually writing about.

Madam Bovary is the disillusioned wife of Charles Bovary, the local Officer of Health (basically an unqualified doctor). Charles is a bit rough around the edges, and Emma fancies that she belongs in Parisian Society. Emma begins her wanderings when she first develops a platonic relationship with Leon who lodges with the local pharmacist. Charles works hard within the community and Emma encourages him to take on more and more but when he tries to correct a club foot and the patient ends up losing his leg due to gangrene things take a downturn and debts begin to mount. In the meantime Emma has fallen for Rodolphe who is a bit of womaniser. Rodolphe leads Emma on to such an extent that she orders a cloak and travelling trunk and believes that she and her daughter will be running away with him to start a new life. Rodolphe wakes up to his coming ‘entrapment’ and literally ‘buggers off’.

When Emma receives her ‘Dear John’ letter, and finds that she has been left in the lurch she falls into a deep depression. Charles takes care of her thinking that she has a severe illness such as cancer, whilst juggling his debts, but Emma slowly recovers and begins to show an interest in her daughter again and her garden. After a suggestion by a friend that Charles should take Emma to the opera in Rouen, Charles bumps into Leon whilst getting drinks during the break. Leon joins them but Emma loses all interest in the opera and just wants to talk with Leon so they leave. They are currently at a café and Charles is encouraging Emma to stay another day so that she can see the opera all the way through to the end with Leon. Poor Charles, he’s so naïve.

A year or so ago one of my book club members had read Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes. He raved about this book and said it would be beneficial to read this before reading anything by Flaubert. Unfortunately I have not taken this advice, but I am really enjoying Madam Bovary and I will definitely read the Julian Barnes at some stage (I think it’s on the list, so I’ll have to!!)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Midnight Express

So much for sweet dreams, I dreamt my car had been stolen, what a relief when I woke up!


I finished The Third Policeman and loved it! What an ending, the more I think about it, the more it reminds me of a ghost story I once read in my teenage years – Midnight Express by Alfred Noyes.  This story went round in a loop, and this is what The Third Policeman does.

The narrator thinks that he has escaped from the hangman’s noose, but as he is riding home on Seargent Plucks sensuous bicycle, he comes across Mather’s house (Mather’s was the man that he had murdered).  Living within the walls of the house is Fox the third policeman, but when he sees Fox, he has the face and the voice of Mather’s.  Fox knows the whereabout of the cash box, and claims that he has sent it to the narrator’s house, and that it does not contain money but in fact omnium.  With this omnium he will be able to use it to create or obtain anything he wants. 

On arriving home the narrator finds Diveny his co-conspirator in the murder living there with a wife and a child.  The shock of seeing the narrator causes Diveny to fall to the ground screaming (his wife and child cannot see him).  It transpires that the cash box had in fact been a bomb and the Narrator has been killed and has been dead and buried these past sixteen years.  Being distressed by this turn of events, the Narrator leaves the house and as he is walking along he comes across a strange building – the same strange building he comes across at the beginning of the story and so starts the loop.  But this time he is joined by Diveny, who has apparently died from the shock of seeing him.  They are now both in a hell that will have no ending – a punishment for their crime. They enter the police barracks together the story ends with the lines “Is it about a bicycle?” by Sergeant Pluck. This was the same greeting Pluck had originally given the narrator at the beginning of the novel.

What an ending!  I loved it.

I Googled Midnight Expressed and found a copy – it was my favourite unsettling story for a long time:

Midnight Express by Alfred Noyes

“It was a battered old book, bound in read buckram. He found it, when he was twelve years old, on an upper shelf in his father’s library; and, against all the rules, he took it to his bedroom to read by candlelight, when the rest of the rambling old Elizabethan house was flooded with darkness. That was how young Mortimer always thought of it. His own room was a little isolated cell, in which, with stolen candle ends, he could keep the surrounding darkness at bay, while everyone else had surrendered to sleep and allowed the outer night to come flooding in. By contrast with those unconscious ones, his elders, it made him feel intensely alive in every nerve and fibre of his young brain. The ticking of the grandfather clock in the hall below, the beating of his own heart; the long-drawn rhythmical ‘ah’ of the sea on the distant coast, all filled him with a sense of overwhelming mystery; and, as he read, the soft thud of a blinded moth, striking the wall above the candle, would make him start and listen like a creature of the woods at the sound of a cracking twig.
The battered old book had the strangest fascination for him though he never quite grasped the thread of the story. It was calledThe Midnight Express, and there was one illustration, on the fiftieth page, at which he could never bear to look. It frightened him.
Young Mortimer never understood the effect of that picture on him. He was an imaginative, but not a neurotic youngster; and he avoided the fiftieth page as he might have hurried past a dark corner on the stairs when he was six years old, or as the grown man on the lonely road, in The Ancient Mariner, who, having once looked round, walks on, and turns no more his head. There was nothing in the picture – apparently – to account for this haunting dread. Darkness, indeed, was almost its chief characteristic. It showed an empty railway platform – at night – lit by a single dreary lamp: an empty railway platform that suggested a deserted and lonely junction in some remote part of the country. There was only one figure on the platform: the dark figure of a man, standing almost directly under the lamp with his face turned away towards the black mouth of a tunnel which – for some strange reason – plunged the imagination of the child into a pit of horror. The man seemed to be listening. His attitude was tense, expectant, as though he were awaiting some fearful tragedy. There was nothing in the text, so far the child read, and could understand, to account for this waking nightmare. He could neither resist the fascination of the book, nor face that picture in the stillness and loneliness of the night. He pinned it down to the page facing it with two long pins, so that he should not come upon it by accident. Then he determined to read the whole story through. But, always, before he came to page fifty, he fell asleep; and the outlines of what he had read were blurred; and the next night he had to begin again; and again, before he came to the fiftieth page, he fell asleep.
He grew up, and forgot all about the book and the picture. But half way through his life, at that strange and critical time when Dante entered the dark wood, leaving the direct path behind him, he found himself, a little before midnight, waiting for a train at a lonely junction; and , as the station-clock began to strike twelve he remembered; remembered like a man awakening from a long dream –
There, under the single dreary lamp, on the long, glimmering platform, was the dark and solitary figure that he knew. Its face was turned away from him towards the black mouth of the tunnel. It seemed to be listening, tense, expectant, just as it had been thirty-eight years ago.
But he was not frightened now, as he had been in childhood. He would go up to that solitary figure, confront it, and see the face that had so long been hidden, so long averted from him. He would walk up quietly, and make some excuse for speaking to it: he would ask it, for instance, if the train was going to be late. It should be easy for a grown man to do this; but his hands were clenched, when he took the first step, as if he, too, were tense and expectant. Quietly, but with the old vague instincts awaking, he went towards the dark figure under the lamp, passed it, swung round abruptly to speak to it; and saw – without speaking, without being able to speak –
It was himself – staring back at himself – as in some mocking mirror, his own eyes alive in his own white face, looking into his own eyes, alive –
The nerves of his heart tingled as though their own electric currents would paralyse it. A wave of panic went through him. He turned, gasped, stumbled, broke into a blind run, out through the deserted and echoing ticket-office, on to the long moonlit road behind the station. The whole countryside seemed to be utterly deserted. The moonbeams flooded it with the loneliness of their own deserted satellite.
He paused for a moment, and heard, like the echo of his own footsteps, the stumbling run of something that followed over the wooden floor within the ticket-office. Then he abandoned himself shamelessly to his fear; and ran, sweating like a terrified beast, down the long white road between the two endless lines of ghostly poplars each answering another, into what seemed like a long straight canal, in which one of the lines of poplars was again endlessly reflected. He heard the footsteps echoing behind him. They seemed to be slowly, but steadily, gaining upon him. A quarter of a mile away, he saw a small white cottage by the roadside, a white cottage with two dark windows and a door that somehow suggested a human face. He thought to himself that, if he could reach it in time, he might find shelter and security – escape.
The thin implacable footsteps, echoing his own, were still some way off when he lurched, gasping, into the little porch; rattled the latch, thrust at the door, and found it locked against him. There was no bell or knocker. He pounded on the wood with his fists until his knuckles bled. The response was horribly slow. At last, he heard heavier footsteps within the cottage. Slowly they descended the creaking stair. Slowly the door was unlocked. A tall shadowy figure stood before him, holding a lighted candle, in such a way that he could see little either of the holder’s face or form; but to his dumb horror there seemed to be a cerecloth wrapped round the face.
No words passed between them. The figure beckoned him in; and, as he obeyed, it locked the door behind him. Then, beckoning him again, without a word, the figure went before him up the crooked stair, with the ghostly candle casting huge and grotesque shadows on the whitewashed walls and ceiling.
They entered an upper room, in which there was a bright fire burning, with an armchair on either side of it, and a small oak table, on which there lay a battered old book, bound in dark red buckram. It seemed as though the guest had been long expected and all things were prepared.
The figure pointed to one of the armchairs, placed the candlestick on the table by the book (for there was no other light but that of the fire) and withdrew without a word, locking the door behind him.
Mortimer looked at the candlestick. It seemed familiar. The smell of the guttering wax brought back the little room in the old Elizabethan house. He picked up the book with trembling fingers. He recognised it at once, though he had long forgotten everything about the story. He remembered the ink stain on the title page; and then, with a shock of recollection, he came on the fiftieth page, which he had pinned down in childhood. The pins were still there. He touched them again – the very pins which his trembling childish fingers had used so long ago.
He turned back to the beginning. He was determined to read the end now, and discover what it was all about. He felt that it must all be set down there, in print; and, though in childhood he could not understand it, he would be able to fathom it now.
It was call The Midnight Express; and, as he read the first paragraph, it began to dawn upon him slowly, fearfully, inevitably.
It was the story of a man who, in childhood, long ago, had chanced upon a book, in which there was a picture that frightened him. He had grown up and forgotten it and one night, upon a lonely railway platform, he had found himself in the remembered scene of the picture: he had confronted the solitary figure under the lamp: recognised it, and fled in panic. He had taken shelter in a wayside cottage: had been led to an upper room, found the book awaiting him and had begun to read it right through, to the very end, at last – And this book too was called The Mignight Express. And it was the story of a man who, in childhood – It would go on thus, forever and forever, and forever. There was no escape.
But when the story came to the wayside cottage, for the third time, a deeper suspicion began to dawn upon him, slowly, fearfully, inevitably – Although there was no escape, he could at least try to grasp more clearly the details of the strange circle, the fearful wheel, in which he was moving.
There was nothing new about the details. They had been there all the time; but he had not grasped their significance. That was all. The strange and dreadful being that had led him up the crooked stair – who and what was That?
The story mentioned something that had escaped him. The strange host, who had given him shelter, was about his own height. Could it be that he also – And was this why the face was hidden?
At the very moment when he asked himself that question he heard the click of the key in the locked door.
The strange host was entering – moving toward him from behind – casting a grotesque shadow, larger than human, on the white walls in the guttering candlelight.
It was there, seated on the other side of the fire, facing him. With a horrible nonchalance, as a woman might prepare to remove a veil, it raised it hands to unwind the cerecloth from its face. He knew to whom it would belong. But would it dead or living?
There was no way out but one. As Mortimer plunged forward and seized the tormentor by the throat, his own throat was gripped with the same brutal force. The echoes of their strangled cry were indistinguishable; and when the last confused sounds died out together, the stillness of the room was so deep that you might have heard – the ticking of the old grandfather clock, and the long-drawn rhythmical ‘ah’ of the sea, on a distant coast, thirty-eight years ago.
But Mortimer had escaped at last. Perhaps, after all he had caught the midnight express.
It was a battered old book, bound in red buckram…”

I really enjoyed reading this again.

Off to make a roast pork for dinner.  I made a chicken biryani this morning, but it was a disaster.  The recipe said to add a cup of rice, but I think it should have been a 1/4 cup.  Once it's been in the fridge for a couple of days it's just going to be a solid mass......... 

I must write some thoughts on Madam Bovary, I'm half way through it but have barely made mention of it yet....tomorrow night?

Saturday, July 17, 2010

"It is inescapable and highly intractable."


Benicio bears no relevance to my current thoughts, but he's soooo dreamy I felt like including his image!!

Oh well, back to reality........ I've just come back from Seaworld Resort where I had a fantastic buffet, where I gorged myself on oysters and smoked salmon.  I'm still feeling a bit uncomfortable after too much dessert, so whilst it is all digesting I'll have chat about a couple of books.  I finished Solaris and can honestly say I loved it.  It was beautifully imagined and I did read somewhere that Lem was not happy with the English translation and can imagine probably that English may not encapsulate some of the images that he conveyed in Polish.

You don't have to like Science Fiction to enjoy this novel, though there is plenty of scientific theory throughout.  The premise is the question of whether human beings can make contact with the one living entity on Solaris - being the all emcompassing ocean.  The ocean has made contact with humans, but in such a way that it has frightened them.  It has created living images of humans from the sleeping minds of the scientists, and has so unnerved them that they try experiments to get rid of their 'visitors'.  Kelvin however is visited by the image of his beautiful late wife who is in some way better than the wife who committed suicide.  After questioning her own existence and knowing that she is part of a bigger picture that is frightening the station crew she chooses to be destroyed aided by Snow, one of the other scientists.  When she has gone Kelvin realises he cannot ever leave Solaris as there may be a chance that he will see her again. This is a true love story.

The asymmetriads and the mimiods that the ocean creates are such a wonderfully imagined idea that I would really love to see one and can almost believe that they exist.  I lament my own lack of imagination when I read something as wonderful as this.

Anyway, the real reason for this blog tonight is identified by my title.  It is a line (one of many) that has made me laugh from The Third Policeman and is spoken by Seargent Pluck in a deep resonant Irish accent (well, that is how the narrator makes it sound in the audio book).  Seargent Pluck is going to hang our narrator for murder, our narrator having stumbled upon this strange Irish community where people can turn into bicycles and Eternity is reached via a lift.

Our narrator really is a murderer but Seargent Pluck doesn't know this at this stage, he's charging him because  of some incontrovertable rules about people with no names as our narrator cannot remember his name since arriving at this strange place.

Knowing that he is gonig to be hanged within 24 hours our narrator asks Seargent Pluck about certain strange goings on at the Police Barracks and about measurements that are taken daily with regards to levers.  Pluck takes him to a building that leads to Eternity where he is weighed before taking the lift downwards.  When they arrive he finds a room that is full of little doors, and the room following from there is the same.  Pluck takes a bicycle from one of the doors, and opens the main door to the next room and there is a bicycle there too in the same position and they suppose that if they open a door from there onwards and so on........ our narrator asks for some gold and also some jewels which they are able to obtain from one of the little doors, but when he asks to leave Eternity he's told he can only go in the lift if he weighs the same as when he first arrived and he has to leave his loot behind much to his distress.

When our narrator was younger he broke his leg so badly in six places it resulted in him having a wooden leg.  In this strange community he meets a robber but he also has a wooden leg, and he pledges his allegiance to our narrator and promises not to rob him.  Whilst waiting for the hangman's scaffold to be built he watches the carpenter who drops his hammer. Joe (our narrator's soul, with whom he has internal conversations with) mentions that the carpenter didn't even flinch when the hammer dropped on his foot. Our narrator calls out to the carpenter and asks if he has a wooden leg, he does indeed and he also knows of the robber and has other wooden legged friends, and he agrees to get hold of them immediately to save our narrator from the hangman's noose.

I wish I had the actual hard copy book here so that I could flick through the pages and type out some of the wonderful lines.  There's something magical about Irish humour and this book is full of it.  When our narrator (I don't think he's been given a name yet?) first arrives in this wierd community it is via the house of the man he had murdered.  He has gone there three years after the event, to look for his cash box which was the original motive for the murder.  Everything changes when he pulls up the floor boards to get the box and the murdered man is in the room with him and when they talk the murdered man answers everything in the negative.  It is a very funny and very clever scene.  I listened to it twice.  In fact throughout this book I have gone back to re-listen to passages as it is quite a strange narration that it needs to be savoured a few times to be fully appreciative of its cleverness.

There is a downside to the novel and that is the use of a lot of footnotes relating to a man named De Selby, who is the initial cause of all our narrators troubles.  I have found them pretty irrelevant so far and very annoying!  HOWEVER, I am loving this read and even more so when I realised the other day it is on my 1001 book list.

I went to the library this morning and I spent an hour at the audio section checking out all the titles I hadn't read!  There aren't that many when you discount all the Danielle Steele's lined up there.  I did pick up four books though which I'll listen to at a later date:

Carry Me Down by M J Hyland
North & South by Elizabeth Gaskell*
The Man in the High Castle by Philip K Dick (this will be my September read for book club as the theme is A Man's Home is His Castle).
A Tranquil Star - Primo  Levi (17 short stories translated from the Italian).

*Another one for the 1001 list.

Well off to bed now, I think my all you can eat seafood buffet has begun to settle and I might be able to sleep without too many nightmares!


Oops, here he is again.... sweet dreams for me tonight then.......

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Thoughts on Solaris by Stanislaw Lem

So far I am really enjoying Solaris. It’s more psychological than anything. The protagonist Kris Kelvin has gone to Station Solaris to find out why there is no response from the three scientists there. When he gets there, one scientist is dead, one won’t leave his room and the other is nervous and paranoid.

The ocean on Solaris has created living physical beings based on their memories. So far we don’t know much about the other ‘visitors’, but Kelvin’s visitor is the image of his dead wife Rheya. Rheya won’t leave Kelvin’s side, if she loses sight of him she panics and exhibits superhuman strength to reach him. Initially Kelvin is appalled and frightened as his wife had committed suicide a few years before and he knows exactly what she is but as time goes on and she asks questions about her existence he begins to fall in love with her.

I like the way this story has been set up. We are given the history of the early explorers to Solaris, the written works on the subject of Solaris and it’s ocean, and , the imagery of the Mimoids that the ocean creates – “……the mimoid resembles a town, an illusion produced by our compulsion to superimpose analogies with what we know”.

Snow, the paranoid scientist, tries to reason with Kelvin when he doesn’t want to try the x-ray bombardment of the ocean to stop the ‘visitors’. He reminds him that if his ‘visitor’ was an old hag then he would be quite eager to be rid of her. At the moment we don’t know who Snow’s visitor is. Sartorius, the scientist who locks himself in his room appears to have a child visitor, and Gibarian who has committed suicide has a large Negress who is found wandering the station or lying with him in cold storage, which is quite creepy.

I will try and finish it tomorrow, sum up my thoughts and write a review.

I finished Harry Potter & The Prisoner of Azkaban, was almost sorry to say goodbye to Hogwart's until I read the next one.

I've also just started The Third Policeman by Flann O'Brien.  So far it's bizarrely funny.......

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Harry Potter doesn’t just belong in the children’s domain

A few years back our head office sent up an ex Victorian policeman who was contracted to do an audit of our office and train us in compliance. I was a little afraid of this man when he arrived at our office; he was very stocky with a shaved head and looked every bit the law enforcer of the Victorian type. I was called in to his allotted office for my training, and as I sat down he pulled out his brief case and opened it. It contained two items – a buff manilla folder and a book - Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I laughed, he smiled and the ice was broken. He turned out to be a lovely man, and I realised that some books do not just belong in the children’s domain. No matter how old we are, we are all still children at heart and warm to the sense of the magical. I don’t think that there would be anyone amongst us who would not love to shop at Diagon Alley, join in a feast or catch the Hogwart’s Express.

J K Rowling’s imagination is amazing. From the names of her characters, to the names of the Wizarding lessons….. everything is so well thought out and everything contains a sprinkling of her lovely humour.

It has been a couple of years since I read book two, but the characters are so well constructed that I got straight into The Prisoner of Azkaban with no real need of the reminders that are strategically placed throughout. Hermione, Ron and Harry have just come face to face with Sirius Black so I’m on a bit of a cliff hanger until I listen to some more on my drive to work in the morning.

I finished reading On Borrowed Time by Evan Green in my lunch break today. It read a little bit like a Matt Reilly towards the end and I even got caught up in the excitement, but then it got confused and the last few lines were a bit pathetic and a real let down. I’m a big believer in great opening and closing lines, so no marks there for this one.

A little bit about why I read several books at once……. I have a different book for different periods in the day. IE my drive to work is about half an hour each way, so I like to have an audio book for that drive. It took me a while to get used to listening to books, but as long as you have a good narrator you can’t go wrong. Audio books have just about tripled my reading output – or should that be input? I try and do all my book club reads as audio books (I’m not sure why…..). I even think that some books can be enjoyed more as audio – such as the PG Wodehouse Jeeves & Wooster stories.

In the evenings I like a physical book, generally a nice 400 pager that will last me a long time that I can savour for half an hour before sleep. Just lately that’s been a Dickens, though at the moment it is Solaris as I need to get that finished as it’s due back to the library on Thursday!

At work I like to have an easy light hearted/pulp book or short stories. Something that I can pick up and put down (on those rare occasions when I actually get a lunch break I still need to answer the phone).

I also have a ‘spare’ read. Something I’ll pick up now again. This is generally a horror book, something I won’t take too seriously but just to keep my ‘hand in’ with my favourite genre. Though I have gone against the rule and it’s currently Madam Bovary. I’m really enjoying it, so it may become my evening book.

I have many books lined up beside my bed and I'm just itching to get started with those!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Addictions

I promised myself that I WOULD NOT go on the computer tonight.  I've spent the past week messing with my new phone, synching to rubbish that I'll probably never use, setting up a music account, downloading albums only to find they are protected and I can't put them into iTunes (lucky they are free as part of the phone purchase).  So after achieving nothing, and slipping on the old reading...... here I am again on the computer.  I'm either addicted or the real reason is that my partner is laid out on the couch, tv gadget in hand, head back, mouth open and snoring.  My black cat has made herself comfortable on him so I guess they're staying put for a while.  I could twiddle my thumbs, I could go to bed early, but instead I'll write about my latest reading - which has suffered this week as I've said.

First of all I finished Shatter.  I decided I didn't like Julie-Anne, she was too harsh on Joe, but she did have some valid points about him bringing his work home!  The climax was great, but the semi all's well that end's well in the last chapter I didn't like.  It was a bit like watching those old American shows where they all have a good laugh at the end.  After what the family had been through it was a little hard to swallow, but apart from that it really was a fantastic read (although I did this as an audio book).

I'm thinking of buying a Kindle.  I have to weigh it up.  Apart from the fact I'll be stuck on the computer again synching, and dowloading (all that time consuming non achieving rubbish that goes with technology these days), I do have about 150 science fiction e-books on my laptop that I really would love to read..... but I don't want to read them on the laptop.  Something I'll put on the wish list and keep an eye on the pricing, it's a bit steep at the moment and I might be better off just buying the books....? 

I digress..........

I finished The Moonstone.  That was a bit of a struggle in the end, it was a bit silly really.  I think maybe his masterpiece was The Woman in White?  I haven't read it, but I did listen to the BBC Radio Play which was excellent (they usually are).   I do have it as an audio waiting to be listened to, but after the equally silly Two Destinies I think I've had enough of Collins for this year....?

I've also been reading a pulpy fiction book which one of my work mates bought me for my birthday.  It's by Evan Green called On Borrowed Time (though I keep wanting to call it Nothing to Lose, but it amounts to the same thing).  I have another of his books by my bed waiting to be read by the name of Adam's Empire.  On Borrowed Time has been one of those light hearted action reads, but apart from a major error in the first chapter it's been okay. Green is apparently an Australian personality who lives in Fiji, but I don't know anything about him. The protagonist in the novel is an out of work journalist who's been given a year to live.  After surving a cyclone in Fiji he gets caught up in a hijacking and a kidnapping.  You need to suspend your disbelief, but it's a lot of fun. I've almost finished it - I've been reading it on and off since February!

My daughter will be very pleased with me as I'm up to chapter six with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.  It's excellent of course.  J K Rowling sets the scene beautifully and I just love her dialogue and her imagination.  I just love the name of the stationer's Flourish & Blotts, in Diagon Alley.  It's all very clever and she is well deserved of her fame. 

Solaris has been on the backburner thanks to my new toy, but I will be starting it tonight when I go to bed and I'll take it to the hairdresser's with  me in the morning! 

Well must sign off, and check to see if Up by Peter Gabriel transferred to my phone okay..... what was I saying about addictions?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Thoughts on The Woman in White

Reading with Mum on a wet afternoon
Well, the momentous event in Ivanhoe never happened.  Ivanhoe was to joust as a champion for the accused Rebecca, but when he squared up to the Templar Knight, he barely touched him with his sword and the Templar fell off his horse and died as a ‘victim of his own passions’ – probably a stroke or heart attack.  How pathetic - Ivanhoe was incapacitated and feeble for most of this story and I was very disappointed with him.  It was however a great adventure story and I liked the way Scott described his scenes and what his characters wore, pointing out the differences in dress between the Saxon’s and the Norman’s.   
  
Now that’s finished, I’ve started listening to The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins.  I have read a couple of Collins’ books and haven’t really enjoyed them; but I do know the premise of the Woman in White and as it’s on the list I’m compelled to read it.  Already I am finding the narrative voice similar to The Two Destinies so I’m really hoping it doesn’t get as corny as that novel did.  Our narrator is Walter Hartright, a drawing master, who has a chance and strange encounter with a woman in white.  She mentions with great regard the name of Mrs Fairlie, and Limmeridge House.  Walter is startled as he is about to begin employment at Limmeridge House.  He assists the lady to a carriage at her request and by chance hears a conversation where a man claims he is searching for a woman who has escaped from his asylum and who is dressed all in white.

Once at Limmeridge House Walter becomes acquainted with Laura Fairlie and her half sister Marian Halcombe.  Laura is delicate and attractive whilst Marian, though lacking in looks, is a strong minded, intelligent and well bred woman.  The half sisters are Walter’s students and the more time he spends with them the more he find himself falling in love with Laura.  Walter mentions his encounter with the Woman in White to Marian and with carefully reading through her mother’s letters she is sure that it is Anne Catherick, once a student at her mother’s school and who bore an uncanny resemblance to Laura. One day a letter arrives for Laura which distresses her and results in Walter being asked to leave the house.  Marian advises that Laura is betrothed to wed a Baronet, an arrangement made by her late father.  But, the letter that Laura has received points to a premonition of unhappiness and despair. Walter and Marian wonder at who wrote the letter, as they have describe the baronet perfectly.

I find that Collins describes what his character is doing in too much detail, and I’m a bit annoyed that Marion had to be construed to be unattractive in order to be a strong character.  But, the story line is intriguing and it has that Gothic feel to it which I like.
  
The Book of The Dead has taken a nice little turn.  Maltravers has been given the unpublished Sherlock Holmes manuscript to read, which is set in the local vicinity of Attwater.  In the meantime Carrington the owner of the manuscript has been told that his wife is having an affair, and who she has been having the affair with.  The bearer of bad news has long held a candle for Carrington and they agree to meet at his home to talk about it further.  But when Carrington arrives home he disturbs an intruder unlocking his safe and is shot in the chest with a shotgun. Who did it?!  It’s fun, easy to read, and I really liked the few chapters of the Sherlock Holmes story that Maltravers reads.

The weather here has been absolutely atrocious, but at least I can get some reading done!  Still going with Dragon Tattoo, will write some thoughts on it later.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

I Love It When a Book Surprises Me!

Well, after spending over an hour trying to work out my new touch screen mobile phone I have given up and will do something I enjoy  more - writing about my current read.

I LOVE IT WHEN A BOOK SURPRISES ME!  I've been listening to an audio book which I picked up from the library on a whim whilst desperate for something to read that I hadn't picked up before. I'd never heard of the author and had no idea what the genre was - this novel is Shatter by Michael Robotham.

I have not been able to 'put it down' - or should I say 'switch it off'.  Set in Somerset (around Bath) the characters are very well developed - Joe, the protagonist is a psychologist who has recently been diagnosed with Parkinsons and is showing the early signs.  He is married to a translator who spends a lot of time away and he begins to suspect she is having an affair.  I'm not sure if I like his wife or not, I'll make up my mind when I finish the novel.  Joe is called to help talk down a woman who is threatening to throw herself from a bridge.  He is, however, unable to talk her down as she is intent on talking on her mobile phone.  Joe believes that this is not actually a suicide but a murder....... and so the journey begins.

I visited Bath last year when I made my first visit to the UK since leaving in 1991, and coincidentally this is the second book I have read recently that has been set there. (The other is The Map That Changed the World by Simon Winchester).

I'm not sure if the the genre is Crime or Mystery, the way the story has developed is quite complex. Now I'm on the last disc and the climax is quite exciting.  If I like the ending then it will get a 9 out of 10 from me..... so watch this space, I hope to finish it tomorrow.  Either way it's definitely worth a read and I'd like to try some more of his books now.

By the way I still haven't finished The Moonstone, I have about 20 pages to go and then I'll start Solaris.... so many book so little time.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

How the Quality of My Reading Has Improved

After having just typed up the books that I have read over the past five years, I had a little giggle at how awful my preferred reading was back in 2005.  I would only generally read horror, Stephen King and Clive Barker were my absolute favourites.  I do actually have one book case dedicated to those authors, and have read just about every book each has written.  However, there were two books that stood out from the rest:

1.  Matt Reilly I was introduced to by a second hand book dealer when I was looking for something to read on my way to Perth.  He suggested Ice Station, and it was definitely a very fast paced book.  Although  not a huge fan of Matt Reilly I did go to see him at our local library a couple of years ago and his enthusiasm for his work was very contagious. As a person, I liked him very much.  He's very easy to read and heaps of fun, and he acknowledges that this was his appeal. When I got my book signed he suggested I sold it on e-bay as the cover was a rare one and he hadn't seen it outside of the USA.  However, it's on my 'shelf of fame' in my bedroom with my other signed books.

2. Friday Night Lights was given to me by a friend's mother to read.  It was about American Football in a Texas High School.  It was absolutely fascinating.

These two books made me realise that there were some other enjoyable reads outside of the Horror Genre.  But,  how was I going to make my choice from all those books out there?  The answer was: join a a book club.

I contacted a local bookclub and the Club Secretary dropped off Eucalyptus by Murray Bail.  From then on my reading began to expand and I never looked back.  I stayed with the book club for two and half years, but it started to become very serious and I didn't enjoy it as much as I wanted to so the solution was to start up my own club: Caffeine and Chapters.   My daughter came up with the name and it is very apt.  We meet up over dinner and/or coffee and just talk books ...... and movies..... etc.

The highlights of my reading has been:

Catch 22 - Joseph Heller.
This was so funny.  I saw the movie first and never understood it.  Once I'd read the book I saw the movie a totally different way and it's brilliant.  A fantastic read, something he was never able to match with future work.

Cryptonomicon - Neal Stephenson
I read this whilst laid up on my partner's couch suffering from viral labrynthitis.  This was amazing, and fascinating  Two parallel stories each with a foot in the basis of truth. 

Pattern Recognition - William Gibson
This is the author who coined the phrase 'Cyberspace'.  His novels were years ahead of their time (Neuromancer etc).  I especially liked Pattern Recognition - the characters were quite unforgettable.

The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkein
It was a relief to finally read this novel, I had wanted to for years but thought it would be out of my league.  It's a beautiful story of friendship.

W. Somerset Maugham & Milan Kundera
Anything by both these authors.  They are like old friends with whom you can sit in an armchair and have a cup of tea with.

Tim Winton - Cloudstreet
I didn't want this book to finish.  Set in Perth, it was a wonderful off beat story of two dysfunctional families who live together.

Salman Rushdie - Shalimar The Clown
I love the humour, the colour, the language - Rushdie gives it all.

Memoirs of a Geisha - Athur Golden
I could not put this book down.  It was part of my book club theme otherwise I wouldn't have bothered to read it. I absolutely loved it.  (The movie was a total let down).

House of Leaves - Mark Z Danielewki
This must be one of the most unusual and creepy books ever written.

There have been many downsides also!

Stephanie Myer - Twilight Series
I've read three out of four, but really whilst Rushdie gives you everything, she gives you nothing.  The only thing is I need to know how it ends.....

Naked Lunch - William S Burroughs
Why is this on the 1001 list?? It was absolute tripe.  I hated it.

Moby Dick - Herman Melville
Sorry to say it but this was a real yawn.  It was more like a dictionary on whales and whaling.  In this case the movie was much better!

The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer - Joyce Reardon
Based on Rose Red by Stephen King - I wish I hadn't read it.  It was awful.

Well, it's bedtime and I've still got to make up my pack lunch and iron something for tomorrow..........

Thursday, July 1, 2010

It's like Christmas!

After stuggling with my cold for the past couple of days and dealing with a heavy workload (my fault, I did take a week off just before the end of financial year!) I treated myself to a visit to the library on my way home from work tonight.  I picked up Solaris which I hope start reading this weekend.  It's not very long, only about 211 pages.....then I trotted over to my favourite section - the AUDIO BOOKS!  I'm quite excited by the six titles I chose, and am busy ripping them to my laptop as I type.

I couldn't resist it - I picked up Much Obliged, Jeeves and Jeeves in the Offing by P G Wodehouse.  If they are as funny as The Mating Season and What Ho! Jeeves I'll be in for a treat.  Different narrators this time so hope they do a good job.

Then I picked up Therese Raquin by Emile Zola.  Set in 19th Century Paris, it is about a woman and her lover who murder the woman's husband.  However they are haunted by visions of the dead man and are unable to enjoy their future together..... intriguing.

After being very impressed with 20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill, I was very pleased to find the recording of Heart-Shaped Box, which is his debut novel.  Apparently the film rights have been bought by Warner Bros. Studios.....following in his father's footsteps for sure.

Now this next title really has me intrigued.  It's an Irish novel by Flann O'Brien, whose popularity had waned in recent times until this particular title (The Third Policeman) appeared in the TV Series Lost, which has given his book sales a nice unexpected boost.  It's only three discs, is supposed to be very funny but very surreal also.

Finally, I picked up a classic by M.R. James entitled Ghost Stories volume 1. 

I'm really going to enjoy listening to these (in between Harry Potter of course!).

Off to bed now......

PS I hope at least one of them is on the 1001 list!