Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Horns ~ Joe Hill

I’m fairly new to Joe Hill’s work, I liked his collection of short stories in 21st Century Ghosts, but I didn’t like Heart Shaped Box though I can’t remember why – but I do remember it was way too long.  Horns, however, has some very nice writing in it and I really liked the themes and how the characters developed.  I guess you can call Horns a love story, but it’s not your regular romance, so don’t go putting down your Mills and Boon in a hurry – as it may not be for you!

Ignatius Perrish, the protagonist, awakes one morning after getting very drunk the night before to find that he has grown horns.  People who fall under the influence of the horns will tell Ig their darkest secrets and desires which, at first, he finds very alarming especially when he learns what his parents really think of him.  But, Ig’s parents have good reason for harbouring bad thoughts about him, as they believe that he murdered his girlfriend and got away with it.  No one had been charged over Merrin’s death, but under the horn’s influence Ig’s older brother Terry confesses that it was their mutual friend Lee Tourneau.  

And so evolves a story of good vs evil, sin vs faith, revelations, love and revenge with lashings of magic realism, and some great back-stories.  I especially liked Lee’s memory of a contrary cat and setting the moon straight.  I have a feeling that some of these scenes were once short stories, but it all works very well.

Horns is a devilishly tongue in cheek dark fantasy and I really liked it.  


Monday, February 13, 2012

Not Quite The Castaway

Robinson Crusoe isn’t quite the castaway that I was expecting when I read this novel last week (especially comparing it to the excellent movie Castaway) but he is enormous fun. 

I had this on my reading list because last year I read The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins and it was the favourite novel of one of the characters who constantly quoted from it.  It certainly does contain plenty of thought provoking anecdotes.

Crusoe is the sole survivor of a shipwreck (not his first either by the way) and he spends the next 28 years marooned on a desert island.  Amazingly though this island seems to be able to supply him with all his wants and needs – there are goats which he kills for meat and obtains milk; and grapes which he dries into raisins to begin with.  Later he grows corn, makes a type of bread, learns how to make cheese, weaves baskets and fires clay pots.  He has a ‘house’ on the beach which he calls his ‘castle’ and then he has his ‘country retreat’ further into the island.  Crusoe certainly makes the best of a bad situation, whilst berating himself for not taking his father’s advice many years ago and abandoning his plans to go to sea in the first place.  His father, being a pious man, had planted the seed in Crusoe’s mind about God's punishment should he go to sea which he refers to throughout the novel.

Whilst the plot is pretty whimsical, it does reach a defining moment when one day the lonesome Crusoe finds a footprint in the sand.  Suddenly the idealistic life becomes one of fear and constant looking over his shoulder.

Daniel Defoe
There are plenty of moments where you just cringe, but they do relate to the times when this novel was written.  Crusoe was in fact on a voyage to purchase Negroes, to bring back to the Brazils as slaves, at the time of his shipwreck.  One day after many years on the island, and with cannibals being bi-annual visitors to the other side of the island, he saves a Negro man from imminent consumption.  This man is called Friday as that was the day, by Crusoe’s reckoning, on which he saved him.  We never actually find out what this poor man’s real name is.  Crusoe dresses Friday in jackets and breeches made from goatskin which probably would have been excruciatingly uncomfortable, not to mention hot, and taught Friday to say his (Crusoe’s) name which was ‘Master’!!  Appalling!

The best thing about this book though, for me, was the fact that it was written nearly 300 years ago yet the language is simple and the story entertaining. I can imagine Defoe in his elaborately curly wig, fingers stained with ink, writing with his quill by candlelight, and giving his readers a glimpse of far away places that most people could not even begin to imagine yet alone visit.  That’s pretty magical.

Until next time


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Well Dean, You Have Lost Me

Stephen King is hanging by a thread, but he may redeem himself with 11/22/63 which I do happen to be enjoying (200 pages in), but Dean Koontz has done his dash with me.

I have just read his biggest load of drivel yet - What The Night Knows.  I wasn't expecting much when I picked it up, but it didn't even rise to that expectation.  I don't understand publishers, is it really all about a quick buck?  If a newbie writer had submitted this rubbish it would most definitely have been rejected.

So what was wrong with this piece of junk?  Well, pretty much everything!

It's all been done before.  The premise was just like the Denzel Washington movie Fallen - you know, the one where an evil entity jumps from person to person to achieve its end.  I'll give a little on that one, it's probably hard to come up with new ideas, especially when you pump out as many 'novels' as Koontz, and they do say 'don't write what has never been written before, but write what only could have been written by you'. However, in this case it was a poor job indeed.

I think that Koontz needs to spend more time in the real world, with real people/families.  When you read horror you need to suspend your disbelief, this is the nature of the genre, but you do need decent characters that the reader can relate to.  If you can't relate to them, you don't care what happens to them, and you don't care where the story is headed.  The characters in What The Night Knows are totally unbelievable, the protagonist's family are too perfect, his descriptions too corny and sickly sweet.  The protagonist is a cop yet he lives is this huge house with staff to cook and clean for the family whilst the wife paints.  The kids are home schooled, with no set bedtime hours, and intelligent beyond their years.  It just doesn't ring true.  This is an area where Stephen King stands head and shoulders over Koontz - you connect with his characters, you care about them, and he can write from a child's point of view brilliantly.

Where was it?  Readers today are more sophisticated, we need that feeling of dread and building tension, throwing in a few murders and an evil spirit just doesn't cut the mustard I'm afraid.  What happened to the writer who penned Phantoms, Watchers and my favourite Odd Thomas (discounting those dreadful sequels)?  

In short What The Night Knows is an example of how not to write a horror novel and is just an outright insult to his fans.

Bitterly disappointed,

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Pygmy ~ Chuck Palahniuk

Pygmy is a diminutive 13 year old terrorist from a country/state that is never named, but is likened to Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union and China.  This ‘country’ has arranged for several of its young ‘operatives’ to stay with host families in America as a kind of student program.  

The operative’s mission is code-named ‘Havoc’ (surprise surprise for a Chuck Palahniuk novel!!), and it is to take place at the National Science Fair where money tainted with a neurotoxin will be released and it is hoped that the money will be spread around until all the capitalists are killed.

This story is told via Pygmy’s regular dispatches to his superiors, and is written in a drone-like pigeon English which at first is quite hard to read, but you do get into the rhythm of it.  As well as learning about Pygmy’s time in America you also find out about his formative years and his training leading up to the mission. Pygmy rarely mentions actual names, so his host family, the Cedars, become familiar to us as ‘Pig Dog Brother’, ‘Cat Sister’, ‘Cow Father’ and  ‘Chicken Mother’. Things look dire for America with such indoctrinated and well trained operatives, but things do go a little awry when Pygmy realises that deep down he does feel emotion and that strange feeling is actually fondness for his host ‘cat sister’.

Pygmy is a satire on Western, particularly American, consumerism and greed. It is certainly a very original novel, not just for the plotline but also in the way that it is written.  After reading the first chapter I debated whether to make my life a misery over the next few days or just forget it and move onto something else.  Luckily I decided to persevere and I read a very clever, shocking and funny novel.

I don’t recommend Palahniuk novels to people I know as he’s very confronting and not to everyone’s taste, a lot of readers I know would be offended by his work.  But, for the record, I thought this was a great novel though I think he has limited his readership because of the narrative voice.

For more info on Pygmy and other Chuck Palahniuk novels visit

Happy Reading!