Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Well Written Characters & The Walking Dead

I love a well written character, don’t you?  One that you continue to think about long after you have finished the novel. For me a few of those characters have been Nick Andros from The Stand (Stephen King), Roland Deschain from the Dark Tower Series (Stephen King), John Egan from Carry Me Down (M J Hyland), Tom Ripley from The Talented Mr Ripley (Patricia Highsmith) and Owen Meany from A Prayer for Owen Meany (John Irving) amongst a few others.

Just lately, though, it has been a TV character that has captured my imagination. I don’t watch much TV as I prefer to read, but occasionally I will borrow a TV series from the library and this month I borrowed The Walking Dead Season 2.  I enjoyed Season 1 a while back, I thought the zombies were great and overall it was a breath of fresh air compared to the banal rubbish we generally have to put up with on the box.  In Season 1 we were just getting acquainted with the start of the ‘zombie apocalypse’, but one character stood out for me: the ‘redneck’ Daryl Dixon.  Season 2 has brought Daryl to the fore, he is the best written character in the series and he is portrayed to perfection by Norman Reedus. Daryl is a hunter and tracker, he’s an angry and emotionally damaged man, but he is true and honourable and has the skills required to survive.  He’s also damned attractive when he's covered in blood and sweat, carrying that crossbow and just getting the job of zombie killing done; and I know that I’m not the only one who’s currently drooling over him judging by his fan base!

But you can’t talk about Daryl without mentioning his delightful older brother Merle.  A nasty piece of racist shit, Merle is a character you will love to hate because he is played so well by the brilliant Michael Rooker.  I’ve enjoyed Rooker’s work for quite some time and you can see that he revels in playing this charmer and the fans definitely love watching the rivalry between the two brothers.  Merle is a character from the graphic novels, yet Daryl is not, and I find it interesting that Daryl is the most rounded of the characters in the TV series to date.

I haven’t read the graphic novels yet nor watched Season 3, though I intend to, and  I admit it's not always the best writing, plotting or dialogue -  you do find yourself yelling at the characters for some of the dumb things they do and the bad decisions they make.  But it is compulsive viewing - the zombie make up is fantastic, and I have found that there are some really haunting images that actually touch me.  Season 1, Episode 1, when Rick (played by Andrew Lincoln) comes across a female zombie head and torso dragging itself across a park, he watches it for a while and with great sorrow he says something like “I’m so sorry this happened to you”, and that for me was a really poignant moment.  Season 2, Episode 10 (“18 Miles Out”), when Shane (played by Jon Bernthal) and Rick take a minor character away from the farm where they have holed up we are given the image of a lone zombie in a suit slowly making its way through a golden field.  After the guys have had their punch up over Rick’s wife and killed a few zombies they drive back to the farm and we are shown the image of Shane, battered and bruised and lost in thought, watching that same zombie still making its way through the field.  The feeling I got was of utter loneliness – for Shane, for the zombie and for the future of mankind – it really was very well done. 

 It’s strange to feel passionate about zombie fiction, when I embrace 19th Century Literature, but I hope that the Walking Dead continues to fire my imagination.  The writers are merciless when it comes to axing a character I've noticed, so I hope that Daryl Dixon’s character continues in the series because he’s the reason why I will continue to watch it.


Harbour ~ John Ajvide Lindqvist

I don’t even know how to begin to review this novel because, for me, it was a complete mess of a story.

Set in Sweden, the basic premise is that the protagonist Anders and his wife take their daughter Maja out across the ice to visit a lighthouse where she inexplicably disappears.  After a period of mourning Anders returns to the family home on the island of Domarö to find some answers, and a series of bizarre and deadly events occur. 

One of the sub stories relates to Ander’s Grandmother Anna-Greta and her long term partner Simon.  I quite liked the character of Simon, an elderly magician, and his bizarre pact with an insect known as ‘Spiritus’ that enables him to manipulate water.  Anna-Greta and a few other islanders hide a centuries old secret which relates to the disappearance of Maja and over time all is revealed.  However, Lindqvist spends too much time on the story of Anna-Greta’s relationship with Simon to the point that it just draws the novel out to be much longer than it needs to be.

The theme of the evil sea, and the ancient steps leading down into the ocean brought to mind Lovecraft’s ‘Old Ones’, but really in the end I couldn’t make sense of the ‘why’ of what was happening to the islanders.  The novel just jumped all over the place and half the time I didn’t know if I was reading about Anders or about Simon, or if it was the past or the present, because there were too many back stories. 

There were some horror elements that did work, Björn and Henrik were two creepy characters and the writing was ok (although it is a translated novel) and whilst I understood that Anders was mourning the loss of his child, I found his voice to be too whining, and I wanted him to pull himself together rather than hitting the bottle all the time; I couldn’t find the sympathy for him that I found for some of the characters in Handling the Undead.

This is my second Lindqvist novel and I think Handling the Undead is much better although I was disappointed with that one too.  I obviously need to read Let the Right One In for which the author is really well known.


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Bell ~ Iris Murdoch

This is my third Iris Murdoch read.  I thoroughly enjoyed the satirical A Severed Head and the hilarious The Sea, The Sea, so when I picked up The Bell and read the blurb I was expecting a comedy of sorts set in a religious community.  What I got, however, was a totally different kind of read with The Bell being more about dysfunctional people, flawed relationships and torn emotions. 

The novel is set in Gloucestershire at Imber Abbey, where a small lay Anglican community live and work simplyThe story opens with Dora Greenfield, a wayward mischievous woman who is returning to her marriage after an affair.  Dora’s husband Paul, an older man, loves her but no longer respects her and though she is frightened of him and his bullying ways she is more afraid of him when they are apart.  Paul is conducting research at Imber Abbey and when Dora arrives she feels like a fish out of water as whatever she does seems to contradict with what the community is about.

The novel then switches focus to the head of the community, and owner of the Imber Community house, Michael MeadeOriginally a teacher, he once had dreams of becoming a priest but these were destroyed by his affection for a boy called Nick Fawley a student at the school where he taught, and who told all to the head of the school to Michael’s shame.

The boy becomes a troubled man; a raging alcoholic who constantly threatens suicide, and who comes to stay at the lodge located across the lake from the Imber Community house.  Nick’s twin sister Catherine is a revered member of the community as she is preparing to enter the Abby as a nun (though this appears to be against her will) and it is only for this reason that Nick and his dog Murphy are tolerated – at a distance.  A situation that is torturous for Michael.

Another main character in the novel is a student called Toby Gashe who has come for a stay at Imber before going to Oxford. Michael, during a lapse of self control, kisses Toby briefly on the lips.  The story then follows Michael’s mental torment as he questions whether he has damaged Toby in the same way that he believes he has damaged Nick.  Toby is confused and upset at first but he holds no animosity towards Michael as he genuinely likes him, but to prove to himself that he is not ‘that way inclined’ he pursues Dora.

All of this takes place during an important time at Imber – the community is awaiting the delivery of a new bell.  The old bell had a legend associated with it, and the telling of it captivates Dora’s imagination so when Toby informs Dora that whilst diving in the lake he believes he has found a large bell Dora hatches a plan.  She and Toby will raise the old bell from the lake and exchange it for the new bell thereby creating a ‘miracle’ at the unveiling.  This is a major task, but with Toby’s engineering knowledge and the help of a tractor they almost succeed……..

Dora’s character was at first charming and fun, but as the novel reaches its climax you realise that yes, one of the characters was correct when they called her a ‘bitch’.  She is very self centred, using her charms only to her own advantage, and has no regard whatsoever on how the ‘miracle’ may effect those of the community.

My favourite characterisation was that of Michael Meade and the sensitive way that Murdoch dealt with his homosexuality. Consider, this novel was written in 1958 when homosexuals were whispered about, and called ‘pansies’ or ‘queers’.  Murdoch does not write of Michaels feelings towards Nick or Toby as dirty or twisted but just as a different kind of love.  It was beautifully handled.

There is something mystical about the whole novel; it has a certain haunting atmosphere about it, the dysfunctional community members, Michael’s recurring nightmare, and the legend of that ominous bell lurking in the background.  A great read indeed.


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Thursbitch ~ Alan Garner

I have been meaning to read Thursbitch for quite some time, but as I had read somewhere that it was difficult to read it made its way to the back of my list. When I finally got it from the library I was astonished to see that it was only 158 pages long.

I will ignore references to ‘difficult reads’ in future as I may never have bothered with this fantastic little novella.  It was wonderful, I couldn't put it down, and I wished so much that I was there in the valley of Thursbitch, which was brought to life so vividly by Garner.

Thursbitch Ruins
There are two intersecting narratives, one set in the 18th century and another set in the present day.  At first the reader is tantalised by a mystery – in 1755 a packman by the name of John Turner is found dead in a snow storm with the print of a woman’s shoe by his side. Then we are introduced to Ian and Sal, who we believe are married, or are lovers, as they trek through Thursbitch discussing the geological formations.  We are tantalised by the names of the standing stones, the eerie atmosphere, and unexplained sights and sounds.  As the story progresses, you find yourself turning back to the first few pages to read them again and it all starts to make sense; though Ian and Sal are not what you thought they were, and the reason why they return to the valley leaves an emotional charge which is very affecting.

I loved the way this was written, the dialogue for the scenes set in the 18th Century are written in the local Cheshire dialect of the time, and the dialogue between Ian and Sal feels so natural and real it’s not like you are reading a novel at all.

Outstanding, I loved it!


Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Other Hand (also known as Little Bee) ~ Chris Cleave

Little Bee is a young Nigerian refugee whose life is intertwined with that of a UK journalist and her husband after horrific events bring them together.  I won’t give too much away as the book’s blurb asks you not too J

I was certainly taken in with the hype printed at the beginning of the novel and I could not put it down during the first few chapters.  It was shocking, it was emotional, and it was also very funny.  But then it seemed to lose its impact and I started to not believe in it.  The events that unfolded in England did not ring true and the trip back to Nigeria with Sarah and Charlie (for me) was unbelievable.  No mother would knowingly put her child in danger, and Sarah was well aware of the dangers.

During the reading though, you do start to reflect on your own life, it’s all very well in our safe and secure society to question the cost of accepting refugees, but it is simply because we cannot imagine the atrocities that can be inflicted on fellow human beings and what these people are fleeing from.

The writing style is easy to read and tears did well up during certain scenes, but the lack of believability I felt towards the end dampened its impact and left me feeling disappointed that it wasn’t to be the amazing read that was promised at the beginning. 

Little Bee does, however, show us how fickle our lives can be, and how our domestic problems are not really problems at all.


Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Liebster Award

I have been nominated for the second time in two years for the Liebster Award, this time by a fellow Robert Aickman fan Martin Cosby.  Martin has selected various bloggers that he would like to find out more about, and I think that is a great idea.

 Here are the requirements:

• I have to list 11 random facts about me, and answer the 11 questions asked by Martin who nominated me.

• I am to nominate 11 other people, and come up with 11 new questions.  I can’t nominate the person who nominated me (for obvious reasons.)

• I paste the award picture on my blog.

So without further ado, here are 11 facts about me then:

1. I have been engaged 3 times.
2. I met Peter Gabriel in Perth, WA, on his Secret World Tour and got his autograph.
3. I have a bookshelf dedicated entirely to Stephen King.
4. I am allergic to my cat.
5. I am terrified of cockroaches.
6. I sponsor a little girl in Bangladesh, who draws me the most beautiful pictures of flowers.
7. I love Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals.
8. I can't watch nature programs, they distress me.
9. For the past two years I have only listened to Muse and Radiohead.
10. I have a crush on Hugo Speer playing Sergeant George in the BBC's adaptation of Bleak House.
11. In the past year I have become intolerant to caffeine.

Well, these are the questions I am to answer from Martin -

1. Do you write your first drafts by hand?
a. Yes
2. Do you follow more than 10 blogs?
a. Yes
3. Do you play a musical instrument?
a. I learnt the recorder at school.  I wish I could play the violin, I want to cry each time I hear one played.
4. Given the choice, which opera would you attend?
a. No operas for me, but I would love to see Phantom of The Opera live, with Ramin Karimloo as The Phantom :)
5. e-book or paper book?
a. I have a Kindle but find I am using it less and less, I pefer the real deal.
6. Do you use an electric blanket?
a. Yes and not ashamed to admit it.
7. Do you write in cafes?
a. No, but I have my photo taken in cafes for use on my blog.
8. Is there a film that has influenced you greatly?
a. Julie and Julia inspired me to start a blog, I watch mainly horrors but they're not really inspirational :)
9. Do you keep a diary?
a. On and off, mainly when I travel so I don't forget anything.
10. Which foodstuff do you like the least?
a. Sauerkraut.
11. Do you listen to music while you work? If so, what?
a. Yes, Muse or Radiohead.

My 11 nominees are:

This is hard as I don't like to annoy anyone, so please don't feel obligated if I have picked on you, this is just a bit of fun :)  :

These are the obligatory questions for my nominees:

1. Do you believe in a God?
2. What frightens you?
3. Are you a romantic?
4. Do you love your pet more than your partner ? (be honest!)
5. What is your all time favourite Song?
6. Do you have a claim to fame and if so what it it?
7. Are you a morning or a night person?
8. How do you like your eggs?
9. What is your favourite word?
10. What are you reading now?
11. Rate your sense of humour ie evil, dry, witty, childish......

Looking forward to your answers!