Thursday, September 30, 2010

Ivanhoe, Ivanhoe, Wherefore Art Thou Ivanhoe?

Proud Nana
I’m half way through Ivanhoe, and so far we’ve barely met him.  We know that he was a knight in the Crusades and he is the childhood sweetheart of Rowena, the ward of Cedric the Saxon.  He won the tournament registered only as the ‘Disinherited Knight’, was benevolent with his winnings, and being wounded he collapsed, and is now unconscious on Isaac the Jew’s litter and has been caught up with that parties’ kidnapping.  I’m wondering if the story is about Wilfred of Ivanhoe or if Ivanhoe is the area in which all this adventure is taking place?!
There have been some interesting things to note though.  One of them is that Cedric only became a name since this story.  Scott actually misspelt it, and the correct name should have been Cerdic.  The other is that I finally know who Rowena and Rebecca are.  Thackeray wrote a satire based on these two characters so I will have to put it on my list of books to read. I loved his Vanity Fair.
My Kindle arrived, but I don’t have time to play with yet as I’m enjoying seeing my daughter and her family.  I wish our Gold Coast weather could be kinder; it’s not nice being washed out at the theme parks.  Last night we enjoyed dinner together at Outback Jacks and apart from the cook mixing up the meals and giving my son-in-law the tiniest steak in history, it was pretty good.
I received an iPod Classic from my son, via my daughter, preloaded with all his favourite music (his taste is the same as mine), TV shows and videos.  He called me a few nights ago and told me to listen to the Kick Ass soundtrack first as there was a track on there he loved.  It turned to be This Town Aint Big Enough For the Both of Us.  I told him that was Sparks, a bit of a blast from the past for me; I used to really like them when they were big in the UK.  I told him my favourite song of theirs was No. 1 Song in Heaven but that I’d been unable to find a copy for download.  When I switched on the iPod there it was, the first track to listen to (isn’t he a sweetie!), and now I’ve listened to that song about 50 times since last night!  It’s just as good as I remembered it.
Anyway, back to books: I’ve read 100 pages of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, it’s got my attention but I don’t quite have the time to read a physical book this week so will put it to one side and enjoy the family first.
Oh, and I’m still going with Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince! I’m about half way through it but as I’m only listening to bits here and there I’m not too sure where I’m at plotline wise.  I’ll have to recap this one too like I’ve recapped Ivanhoe.  Forces are conspiring against me to make sure that I won’t have time to reach this year’s target from the 1001 list; I’ll have to make sure the next few selections are no more than 200 pages each!!  

Monday, September 27, 2010

A Summary of Our Second Birthday

Sunday was Caffeine and Chapters Social Book Club's second birthday. Our first birthday passed us by without us realising that we had hit a milestone, so we certainly celebrated in style this year!

Afternoon Tea
Our hostess, Robyn C. laid out a lovely afternoon tea complete with gorgeous china and pastel serviettes.  We spend some time outside talking about e-books and Kindles (the courier rang me this morning and mine is being delivered tomorrow - yippee!).  After enjoying some nibbles and some refreshing punch, we retired to the lounge to watch Valentino: The Last Emperor in honour of the touring Valentino collection (which I must try and see in Brisbane before it finishes).  We dressed to a Valentino theme which was fun, and thanks to Robyn for completing my pathetic effort with a gorgeous red fascinator.  

I enjoyed the movie/documentary much more than I expected and didn't realise just how beautiful some of Valentino's dresses are and that they are all hand sewn.  Absolutely stunning.  

The Cake
The highlight of our afternoon was this beautiful cake, which Helen (our newest member) brought in.  Decorated by Helen's daughter, it just about blew us away, and it was a real shame to take it apart so that we could eat it!

After exchanging gifts of books, and bookmarks, the dream was over and it was back to reality going home and trying to work off all those calories!

We didn't get much book discussion done, but that will give us more to talk about for October's meeting.  I've read a little bit of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, so will make a concerted effort to get stuck  into it this week.  I'm also continuing with Ivanhoe, but have been a bit distracted so need to go back a disc and listen to it properly!

Gotta go and work off some more calories now as I had more cake when I got home for tea last night!  

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Knight's Bones are Dust and his Good Sword Rust

Enjoying Ivanhoe
I’ve had a bit of an unsettled week this week resulting in late nights and no reading or blogging – it’s been very frustrating.
The power adaptor for my Kindle arrived Wednesday and my Kindle is also on it’s way.  I’m a bit concerned as I wasn’t home when the adaptor was delivered and it was just left on the boot of my other half’s car in the driveway!! I rang the courier stating I want my next package put in a safe spot or delivered to my work address and whilst the girl was very pleasant she wasn’t very helpful so who knows where it’s going to get delivered.
To top it all, last night someone tried to break into my house. I called the police, mainly because I thought they should know that there may be someone in the area looking for easy pickings, I knew they couldn’t really do anything.  They came out pretty promptly and were really nice and helpful but I was still a bit nervous leaving the house today.  On the upside I got to know my neighbour across the road as I thought I’d ask if she'd seen anything, which she hadn’t, but we had a really nice chat (we’ve both lived here for 10 years and it’s the first time we’ve spoken!!).
Anyway, I’m up to Disc Three of Ivanhoe now and wonder why I believed Scott’s novels were hard to read.  I love his writing, yes the language is a little archaic (it was written in 1819), and it would be even more so if he’d have tried to write it in the Norman and Saxon languages of the time Ivanhoe is set, but it’s just wonderful.
I’m pleased that I had the foresight to do a bit of research on the book as Scott is well known for his historical accuracy; however it transpires that in Ivanhoe he has taken a bit of licence here and there.  For example Ivanhoe’s Robin Hood is very different from the real one, and his version is the one that Hollywood has made legend.  But he was also prescient in the case of Richard the Lionheart.  His view that he did not much care for his subjects and was more of a selfish adventurer (shades of Che?) is now considered to be the truth by modern historians.
So with this knowledge in mind, I shall just sit back and enjoy the characterisations in this loosely ‘historical’ romantic adventure.
One of the chapter headings, contains the last three lines of the poem The Knight's Tomb by  Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) .  It's been driving me mad but I have read those three lines before recently in another novel but can't for the life of me remember which one, but when I heard them this morning I remembered I really liked them.  The whole poem itself is lovely so here it is:
The Knight’s Tomb

Where is the grave of Sir Arthur O’Kellyn?
Where may the grave of that good man be?--
By the side of a spring, on the breast of Helvellyn,
Under the twigs of a young birch tree!
The oak that in summer was sweet to hear,
And rustled its leaves in the fall of the year,
And whistled and roared in the winter alone,
Is gone,--and the birch in its stead is grown.--
The Knight's bones are dust,
And his good sword rust;--
His soul is with the saints, I trust.

I finished Nightmare at 20, 000 Feet by Matheson.  There were some great stories, some good stories and some predictable stories.  For the most part the ideas were really good, but the delivery isn’t great and most of the dialogue is very stilted (I found this to be the case with Somewhere in Time too).  It just doesn’t flow from him like say Stephen King – he just has dialogue, not conversations….. it’s weird and a bit off putting.  Some of the stories were pretty good, but then I’d get to the last last line and I’d think ‘why did he write that? The story was fine without it’……….. it would kind of ‘blunt’ the story somehow.  I’ll have a rest from him now, as I picked up  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo from the library last night – I wonder if I hadn’t have stopped in there I may have caught the louse trying to break in.  Though maybe that may not have been a good thing.

Caffeine and Chapters Social Book Club will be celebrating its 2nd birthday in style.  We’re having a Valentino dress theme, and enjoying the hospitality of one of our members on Sunday.  We’re also hoping to watch the Valentino movie, and maybe talk books too!
Here’s hoping for a dry weekend for a change……

Monday, September 20, 2010

I'v Done it Again!

I can't believe it, I've wasted my download and got yet another play!  The Maltese Falcon I'm talking about.  I tried listening to it but couldn't get past the heavy American accents.   Besides, it has to be the book to be crossed off the list.  Not happy Jan!  I had to listen to the radio on the way home.....

So, I'm now uploading Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott instead.  I've wanted to read Walter Scott since listening to Whales for the Wizard by Malcom Archibald.  Hopefully it won't be hard going, but it will be another one to cross of the list.

I finished Carry Me Down, it was absolutely fantastic BUT I don't get the ending.  I listened to it three times, and I just don't get (like I didn't get the ending to No Country for Old Men).  It just doesn't make sense, and after getting to know John Egan and all those subtle hints into his dis-associative personality, the family's problems, his attempted murder of his mother..... there was no ending.  How did it END?  What happened to him?  What was the point of it?   What about the doll in the tree?  Aaaaagh, I need to know.  Don't let it put you off reading it though, it's very insightful into the nuances of an unstable mined.

Nothing more to write, just wanted to whinge about my lack of attention with my book selections!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A Little Bit of This and a Little Bit of That

Well that’s another weekend done and dusted.  Today was wet, so I spent it reading a little bit of this and a little bit of that……...

I awoke about 8.30am this morning, after being snubbed by my cats all night despite frantic calls around 1am when I thought if I could have a least one of them on my bed I’d feel ‘safer’!!  (Damn those ghost stories).  It was to no avail however, if there’s nothing in it for them - they’re not interested.  Not wanting to get up right away I thought I’d polish off a couple more stories from the Matheson collection – Wet Straw which was a ghostly revenge story and Dance of the Dead which was set after WWIII (this one was particularly creepy).  The next one is The Children of Noah, which I’ll probably read tonight.

(oblivious to her mistress in need)
I breakfasted on English Muffins with ginger marmalade and a cup of coffee, and then tackled my ironing whilst listening to more of Carry Me Down.  Things have gone from bad to worse for John Egan.  His father hit the grandmother and she kicked them out of her home; though, John does not know the reason at the time and drives his parent mad with his questions.  They go to Dublin and are given a council flat on a dreary estate where John is bullied by the local gang.  John’s father gets a job in a factory and things look like they could work out but one night John smells perfume on him and accuses him of 'being dirty' with the girls in the flat upstairs. His father is drunk and he denies it, but later John tells his mother of his suspicions.  One day she acts upon them, and they are confirmed, which results in his father being asked to leave. Unfortunately being the family that they are John is made out to be the bad guy ie he should have kept his mouth shut.

John’s mother falls into a deep depression and is unable to sleep.  One day she promises she will take John to the zoo but breaks the promise.  This is just one more broken promise in a long line in John’s life.  The breaking point comes when she does finally fall asleep and John straddles her and presses a pillow to her face.  When she stops struggling, he thinks he has killed her but shows no feelings, he is just numb, but he later hears her coughing and choking. When questioned by the Guarda and a child psychologist John says he just wanted to help her sleep.  John is taken to a boy’s home, and as usual my iPod let me down and I’m now waiting for it to charge so that I can finish it!  It’s been a compulsive read, strange, but compelling because it is told from the boy’s point of view.  He’s not really a bad kid, it’s the people he’s had around him and raising him that are the real problem.   

After lunch (BBQ chicken and bread rolls) I listened to some more Harry Potter and the Half -Blood Prince.  Harry’s learning some background about Tom Riddle via the Pensive with his Head Master, and he’s convinced that Malfoy is now a death-eater, although he’s yet to sway anyone else to his way of thinking.  I went onto Overdrive to see if my two holds were still available, I haven’t got much download left this month so one of them (2666) will have to be booked for another time, but I did however download The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett.  This book is on the 1001 list and has also been mentioned in a few books that I have read recently so as soon as I have finished Carry me Down that will be my next audio read.

OMG I forgot to mention my BIG news!  I was driving my other half mad last night going on and on about how great it would be to have a Kindle, that I have one on my Amazon wish list, and how I would download all those great classics ……. he was half asleep on the couch after wiping himself out with a pack of Pikelets and half a jar of jam and said if I wanted it so much why didn’t I just buy it.  So I thought there was some sense in that and said I would probably get it as a Christmas present to myself.  He said just get it and it’ll be an early Christmas present from him.  So I took advantage of his half comatose state and bought it!  It should arrive by the end of the month, or early October.  Woo hoo!

That brings my reading up to date, so until next time......

Friday, September 17, 2010

How Could I Have Been So Wrong?!

I can’t put Carry me Down down!  It’s a wonderful piece of story telling, a story of a young boy’s angst.  Maybe it will be sinister, but the tone I felt at the beginning is not there now.  Poor John, because he’s so much bigger than other boys his age, he’s expected to behave more like an adult.  However, he’s only 11 going on 12 and still has childish yearnings.
John is convinced that he is a human lie detector.  He first notices this when his father kills their cat’s kittens and he tells John that it does not upset him as it’s no different than what farmers have to do every day to feed them.  But John vomits, his ears burn and he knows that his father is lying.  Every time someone close to him tells a lie this happens.  He starts to keep track of everyone’s lies is his ‘Gol of Seil’ (Log of Lies) and fantasises about being picked up at the airport on his way to Niagara Falls (his dream holiday) by the people from the Guinness Book of Records and being introduced to Mr Ripley from Ripley’s Believe it or Not in order to show off his original talent.  He even writes to the Guinness Book of Records asking them to contact him so that he can demonstrate his 100% success rate in detecting a lie.
In the meantime his only friend has ditched him for the new girl in class, and she bullies John constantly about the time he wet himself.  He tells her that it was an experiment to see how long he could hold himself so that he could get into the Guinness Book of Records.
John’s parents are estranging themselves from him.  They tell John that they are concerned about his abnormal growth but his mother also has worries of her own the main one being his father’s lack of work.  There are some quite funny remarks/jokes between the boy and his parents, and whilst they are funny they are also a bit bizarre and you wonder really what sort of upbringing he has had with these people.
One day John goes to school to find that his teacher is sick and there will be a substitute teacher by the name of Mr Roach.  John takes to him instantly and wants to tell him about his lie detection.  When he approaches Mr Roach to ask him if he can get any books on the history of lie detection from America Mr Roach is sidetracked by the fact that the school does not even have a library.  The next day he sets up an ‘imaginary library’ with a box of Reader’s Digest, a table and a set of red curtains.  The students must line up, ring the bell and step into the ‘library’ and request a book.  A Readers Digest is then labelled with the book title and Mr Roach will use these titles in his request for a real library.  The students must take their ‘book’ home and write a summary onf their imaginary book.  

John requests a book on Vikings and he can’t wait to get home to get started on the summary. The next day he has to read his summary to the class and the teacher then tells them all about the Vikings.  The next day the new girl Kate requests a book on how to stop bed wetting for her ‘brother’. John is mortified……. and that is as far as I have got.
I must mention too, as this is also the cover image, that on the track where John walks to and from school, there is a tree and in this tree a doll has been stuck for many years.  The head is blackened, and he promises every time that he sees her he will get her down. 
I’m really impressed with the insights into John’s feelings and can almost identify with him at school with the bullying.  I was bullied mercilessly by a girl called Tina Pearson when I was at primary school, she wouldn’t let me pass the gate to go home and would pull my hair, kick my shins and call me names.  I used to bribe her with bags of marbles so that she would leave me alone! I often wonder what she’s like now.  Obviously she wasn’t a particularly happy child, which is pretty sad in hindsight.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

I Love Starting a New Book!

It’s lovely to start a new book isn’t it?  I always look forward to it with relish.  I finished Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and I’ve started listening to Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince.  At first I thought I was reading it out of order, the beginning in the Prime Minister’s office threw me a little bit until I realised it was a recap of previous events. 
Fred and George have their own shop in Diagon Alley now, which the gang visit whilst picking up requirements from their book lists.  Hermione finds a charm that guarantees day dreams – the side effects however include ‘vacant expression’ and ‘minor drooling’.  I love it!  Harry has been made Captain of the Quidditch team, which gives him the same rights as Prefects, so………so far so happy. 
The Time Traveller’s Wife has finally started to get my attention so now it’s been elevated to my lunchtime book and I even managed to read a few pages today.  I still have to stop and think sometimes, especially with lines like “I met Clare for the first time in October 1991.  She met me for the first time in September, 1977; she was six, I will be thirty eight.  She’s known me for all her life.  In 1991 I’m just getting to know her.”
Thank You Jeeves was a great disappointment – it was only 4 discs long and I wanted MORE!! I loved it of course.  Another one off the list – that’s two already this week. Actually I’ve had a bit of a panic attack as I only realised last night that it’s now mid September and I still have to knock off another 8 to reach my yearly target (as well as read my other books!).
Still reading through the Matheson short stories, my favourite from this batch I think so far is Disappearing Act. The narrator is finding that all the people he has known in his life are being erased from existence one by one……..will he or won’t he be next?
For my drive to and from work I’ve just started listening to Carry me Down by M J Hyland.  It has an Irish narrator which really lends a ‘feel’ to this book as it is set near Dublin.  It’s obviously going to be quite sinister, and there is a shocking murder scene involving kittens at the beginning.  I had to keep repeating to myself ‘it’s only a story, it’s only a story’.  It was quite graphic and upsetting (especially for a cat lover like me).  Yes, I could have skipped it but it may have some relevance to the story later on so I had to bear it.  Basically so far we can ascertain that the story is being narrated by an 11 year old boy.  His mum is 37 and his dad 38, both of whom (he tells us) are very good looking people and he believes that they must feel disappointment with him as he is very tall for his age, with a large nose, and his voice has already broken.  When talking with his parents he likes to study them and his mind will wander a bit only to be brought back to attention by the parent wanting to know what he is staring at.  His mother admonishes him a couple of times in the first chapters that this staring is unnerving.  There is also an underlying inference that the boy and his mum may be unnaturally close….?
The boy’s father doesn’t work, but he is apparently studying for the Trinity entrance exam, and as such they all live together with the boy’s grandmother in her home about two hours from Dublin.
The boy is fascinated with The Guinness Book of Records; he has every copy except the 1959 issue, and refers to it all the time.  I don’t want to Google the premise as it could ruin the plot line for me, but it appears that the boy will do something that he hopes will get him into the book….and it may not be very nice?  M J Hyland wrote How the Light Gets In which is on the 1001 list, so I may have to book a copy of that soon as so far I like the way she writes.

Monday, September 13, 2010

My Mum is a Legend!

What a bizarre yet enthralling story The Trial turned out to be.  The bizarreness of the situation and the strange characters ie  K.’s defence lawyer who is gravely ill in bed, but he is still working on the legal documents for submission.  Lawyers are not even officially recognised within the system; they are merely tolerated but are actually necessary.  The one person who can really advise K. on the legal system itself and his chances of acquittal is a painter by the name of Titorelli.  He is told that he is guilty (but of what he, or we, never know), and that there is very rarely an actual acquittal.  However, by manipulating the system he may get an ‘apparent acquittal’ but then he would be open to arrest again, or he could get a delay.  Delays can go on for years, and in the meantime he would be free to go about his business, albeit being shadowed by the men from the faceless and nameless legal institution. Apparently Kafka was involved in a legal case, and it must have been frustrating for him as it inspired The Trial.

I loved the parable about the entrance to the law and the door keeper.  I thought it would make a good stand alone short story only to find on Wikipedia that was it was in fact published separately under the name of Before the Law.

I was listening to it driving to work this morning, and it was rather funny as the narrator stated “Chapter 10”, then a bit of silence… then “The End”, then more silence and I thought it actually was the end which really threw me, then it started up again with it being the final chapter.  But, even funnier, at the end K. is abducted by two men and taken to a quarry.  They have a large knife and he feels that he is expected to take his own life, but he is unable to.  One of the men then plunges the knife into K’s heart and as K's sight begins to fade he says…..”Thank you Jeeves by P G Wodehouse”: one book had run right into the other – and at such a strange moment in the story! I had to listen to the end of it properly on my computer when I got home.  It’s such a sad end for K. but The Trial was an unfinished piece of work, and it would be so interesting to know how it was meant to end…  but we’ll never know.

I have been looking forward to listening to Thank You Jeeves, and after listening to a couple of chapters I realised that the storyline is that of one of my favourite episodes with Hugh Laurie & Stephen Fry.  It will be a light change after The Trial.

The Mint Julep was Yum!
Yesterday (Sunday) was spent eating and drinking coffee (as usual) and perusing the book shops in a vain attempt to find some horror or ghost anthologies that may possibly contain Ringing the Changes.  I couldn’t find one, because I couldn’t find any anthologies.  There were shelves and shelves of vampire novels instead…. how disappointing.  Stephenie Meyer has created a monster, but it’s a dreary bland monster and I can’t understand why it has spawned so many novels and why they are being purchased!!  What a hypocrite I am, when I was 15 I probably would have gravitated to these too.  There’s just so much of it out there now, the publishers have saturated the market and even worse is that we are subjected to it on TV too, all the programming these days is aimed at this particular age group with this particular theme. It’s mindless depressing rubbish which this age group could really do without (says I who read nothing but horror and ghost stories as a child, and was told by my English teacher when I wrote one of my own that I needed to see a psychiatrist!!). I think we live in depressing times as it is, so let’s lift it up a bit you authors and TV programmers out there.

On the upside (er maybe…. I haven’t read it yet!) I picked up a copy of A Stir of Echoes by Richard Matheson for $4.00.  I’m still interested in his work despite the two rather bland reads lately, especially as I have been reading Nightmare at 20, 000 Feet.  The title story made my heart go a few times (I was reading it in bed) and last night I needed to keep my light on for a bit before feeling comfortable that I was soon to fall asleep and could switch it off!  Mad House, another of the stories is so well written it’s hard to believe that’s it’s the same person who wrote Somewhere in Time!

Right, time to listen to some more Jeeves and Wooster I think...........they’re a joy to behold.

PS my mother is a legend and found the ISBN number I have been looking for and I now have a copy of Mary Danby’s 65 Great Tales of the Supernatural containing Ringing the Changes wending it’s way from Amazon as we speak. Woo Hoo! I should be reading it by mid November.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

I Won't Be Defeated!

What a frustrating time I’m having.  After reading The Festival by Lovecraft and reminding myself of Robert Aickman’s Ringing The Changes I really want to read it again.  Convinced that I must have it in my book collection I’ve torn apart my bookshelves and dug out all my anthologies.  There’s plenty of his stories is those that I have found but not the one I’m looking for.  I googled it and found a few anthology names, but the library does not have any of them... grrrrr.  I found one on Fishpond but it is currently unavailable!!  Now I want to read it more than ever.  I won’t be defeated, I may have to scour some second hand book stores over the next couple of weeks.

Some bed-time reading
I have almost finished The Trial, by Kaftka.  It’s a nightmarish/David Lynch sort of situation, very bizarre and absurd.  I notice that he has written a few stories in the collections I have.  I also had to laugh at myself too after going through all of these books.  A couple of years ago I really wanted to read The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen, and couldn’t get it from the local library.  I asked one of my bookclubbers to get it from their Brisbane library system and in that I was successful.  I then had the task of getting it back to them so they could return it when I had finished it……. last night I found not only The Great God Pan but a whole collection of his short stories on my bookshelves!

Last night I finished Somewhere in Time by Matheson, and it did redeem itself with quite a satisfactory ending.  Now I am going to start on his short stories as I’m just sitting here waiting for the rest of my shopping to be delivered as half of it was missing yesterday.  How they could have got it so wrong totally defeats me?  

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Golden Lane, No 22

Golden Lane, No 22

I have started listening to The Trial by Franz Kafka which is a book on the 1001 book list.  I read Metamorphosis a couple of years ago and thought it very clever and rather disturbing!  
I don’t know much about The Trial except that it is about a man who is arrested by people who won’t state who they represent, for a crime which he knows nothing about and the men won’t tell him what it is.
He is given the date and address of his hearing  by phone, but when he puts the phone down he realises he wasn’t told what time.  As most proceedings commence at 9am, he make his way to a strange block of flats in a run down area of town.  On arrival he is advised that he is 1 hour and 5 minutes late.
We know this man as K. (Josef K.) and being frustrated at this ridiculous situation he lets rip in the ‘court room’ demanding to know what exactly is going on.  That is as far as I have got.  I know that Kafka died before completing the novel, and as such it is apparently flawed with inconsistencies within the narration, but so far so good.
The picture above is of Kafka’s house.  It is actually a postcard that was sent to me by one of my original book clubbers who visited it on one of his European jaunts.  He told me that he was very surprised at how small it is. Amazing to think that these classics were written there.
As for my other reading, I've almost finished The Order of the Phoenix, and hopefully I can get through Somewhere in Time so I can start the Matheson short stories.
Had a busy night tonight, so going to have a cup of tea and watch the crazy team on Top Gear for half an hour.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Blackest Gulfs of Immemorial Ocean.....

Nightmare at 20, 000 Feet
I plodded on with Somewhere in Time last night in bed and Hell House this morning (I believe I’m close to the end of it now).  I’m plodding even slower with The Time Traveller’s Wife!!  It’s not that I don’t like it, I can’t even put my finger on it, but I have read about 150 pages now. This will be the book that breaks the record of taking me the longest time to read.  The current record is held by Moby Dick - it was a drudge and a half getting through that one.
During lunch I had a nice surprise and read a rather creepy story that I wish I had read tonight instead so that I could savour the creepiness before going to sleep.  It was only a short story called The Festival by H P Lovecraft.  It tells the story of (we presume) a young man who goes back to a town that he has been called to by his ‘fathers’ – meaning his ancestors – to attend an ancient Yuletide Festival.  The houses within the town are very old fashioned, there is no cable car although he had thought that it did run into the town, and all doors are closed and curtains are drawn.  He knocks on the door of ‘the house of his people’ and the door is answered by a man who is dumb but who writes a friendly welcome on his slate.  The room he is ushered into is cold and damp, there is an enormous fireplace but it is not lit, and there is a woman spinning furiously on a spinning wheel with her back turned towards him.  The old man’s face shows no emotion or expression and the younger man feels a certain unease that it is a mask. He is told that they are waiting, and so takes a seat and of the terrible books sitting on a table close by he picks up the unmentionable Necromonicon of the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred to read.
The tale then goes on to tell how he and the rest of the town make their way to an old church and then descend into the bowls of the earth to ride off on demon like creatures.  Our narrator is meant to ride a creature too but he throws himself into the putrid river than runs underground to get away……  he awakes in hospital, the town is as it should be (modern and with the cable car).  The only way he can prove to himself that he did experience those horrors is to obtain a copy of the Necromonicon and see if he recognises the passages that he had read the night before.
This passage I thought was wonderful; the narrator had just descended under the church:
“….. and suddenly there spread out before me the boundless vista of an inner world – a vast fungous shore litten by a belching column of sick greenish flame and washed by a wide oily river that flowed from abysses frightfully and unsuspected to join the blackest gulfs of immemorial ocean”.
Actually, whilst I was reading it, it brought to mind a short story called Ringing the Changes by Robert Aickman.  I haven’t read it for a long time but it has always stayed with me.  It was set in a seaside town but all was not what it appeared to be.  I must find a collection that has it so I can read it again……
Anyway, I picked up Nightmare at 20, 000 Feet by Matheson from the library; it is dedicated to, and has a forward by, Stephen King.  I also picked up Walter Scott's Ivanhoe.  I've never read any Scott but he's mentioned in many novels and after reading Whales for the Wizard by Malcolm Archibald I had to put him on the list. Whales for the Wizard pays homage to all of Scott’s novels.
Off to watch a bit of Jeeves and Wooster now.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Scare Me, Please!!

Hmmmm, it’s so hard to review a horror book.  They are not meant to be great literature, but sometimes it is hard to find where the merits lie.

I’m halfway through two Richard Matheson novels.  Somewhere in Time is a left of centre romance, though I have seen it listed as Sci Fi and Hell House is most definitely horror.  I’m not really enjoying either, which is a great disappointment as I have read I Am Legend, Duel and 7 Steps to Midnight and thoroughly enjoyed them.  The fact that I’m reading these directly after North and South is maybe not doing them justice as there is no comparison.

What I have had to do is to put myself in the frame of mind of the era when they were written ie 1975 and 1971 respectively.  What was horror back then…. most of it was pretty tame, so some of the scenes and the sexuality of Hell House may have given it a certain amount of notoriety when it was first published.  I’m listening to it during my drive to and from work, and maybe if I listened to it at night I may find it creepier than I do.  I think I did see the movie years ago and enjoyed it, but these days we’re a bit more sophisticated in what we need to frighten us.  I’m a tough old bird and not much scares me (except cockroaches) so I demand a lot.  The Exorcist scared me, and anything involving unnatural movement really frightens me ie the fiddler in movie The Gift, the girl from The Ring 1 and The Ring 2.

Jagged Teeth
Jagged teeth I really don’t like either – such as Pennywise’s (The clown from It), and the doppleganger from The Hammer House of Horror’s The Two Faces of Evil.  Really unexpected ugly things like the dwarf at the end of my all time favourite movie Don’t Look Now.  Horror is individual thing and I take a lot to be scared.  Although some of my waking dreams scare the hell out of me.  I’m still getting over waking up and looking over to my bedside table a little while ago and my beautiful grey tabby Jasmin was sitting there all bright eyed, with a lovely glossy coat, looking at me.  I was surprised to see her (she’s been dead for over two years) and I called out her name and went to stroke her (I was obviously not quite awake).  She leaned her head forwards and as she did so it started to change.  I knew it would not look good and I cried out and switched on my bedside light…… my heart pounding.  I had to sleep with the light on for a while after that!

So, although I haven’t yet finished it I’m finding Hell House very tame (nay even lame), however I do prefer it over Somewhere in Time.

Somewhere in Time is just plain bland.  The descriptions, the dialogue……I’m so disappointed.  I feel that maybe Matheson is better at the short story and with this in mind I have booked Nightmare at 20, 000 Feet from the library to help raise him in my estimation!! Basically the ideas are there, but the delivery isn’t (sorry Bradley) and it appears to me that in this instance the movies are better than the  novels.  I won’t give up though, there must be a horror out there that will scare me or at least unnerve me (like Pet Cemetary…. now that really was creepy).

Just an aside, my de facto mother in law died yesterday.  She lived in New Zealand so the last time I actually spoke to her was when we spent Christmas Day at the old folks home with her a couple of years ago whilst we were touring the South Island on holiday.  But even though we weren’t close I still feel sadness at her passing, and just wish to say "Rest in Peace Phyliss".

Saturday, September 4, 2010

All's Well That End's Well

I finished North and South this morning whilst cleaning the house.  It had a very acceptable ending, which pleased me.  So many times you read a good book and the ending ruins it all.  I won't spoil it by writing about it as it really is worth the read.  It's a nice feeling to have enjoyed a book so much.

I have started listening to Hell House by Richard Matheson, but I haven't got very far because I missed a bit whilst day dreaming and had to go back, but it's not book marked very well and it went right back to the beginning.  I couldn't be bothered trying to find where I was so listened to it all again!  The upshot so far is that a dying millionaire has hired four experienced people to study the disturbances at a well known haunted house known as the Belasco House to determine whether there is life after death.  There have been two studies in the past all resulting in death or madness of all but one of those involved. Fischer, the survivor, is a physical medium and is one of the group to be hired.

Hell House got it's name from the acts of peversion that took place within it's walls and with the basic introductions to the characters I think I can see where it will lead.  Florence Tanner is a mental medium, and by all accounts attractive.  Barrett, the leader of the group is married to the clingy Edith who  has a masculinity to her looks...... I just hope that this will read better than a Richard Laymon.  But so far so good.

I'm half way through Somewhere in Time, also by Richard Matheson (it will be interesting comparing his style between the two novels and genres).  Our protagonist has wished himself back to the nineteenth century to go in search of Elise the stage actress whose photo he fell in love with.  It's a nice romantic notion but so far I feel that the writing style is quite basic and it isn't really 'giving' me anything to go on with regards to imagery.  Still it's an easy read for a bed-time book.  If I could go back in time, I'd go looking for Ernesto Guevara before he met Castro in Mexico.  How different his life could have been........

Other reads ~ I've just about finished Flatland and Harry Potter and I've uploaded Thank You, Jeeves (thanks Tanya!!) and Franz Kaftka's The Trial for next week.  Both are on the 1001 list.

Right, cup of tea time and a few episodes of the X-files before bed!  

Thursday, September 2, 2010

A Hussy and a Liar!

Birley Cotton Mill
Honestly, things are going from bad to worse in North & South, and I can’t put the damn thing down, I’m loving it.  Even worse is the Milton accent that the wonderful reader is using….. it’s infiltrating my thoughts.  I sound like Higgins (the union man) when I’m thinking about something!  I even sound like Higgins whilst working on this.  I need help……!

Well, anyway, to sum up so far – Mrs Hale died not long after Bessy died.  But worse than that, her long lost son Frederick came to say his goodbyes.  Well, he wasn’t lost (he lives in Spain) but he was involved in a mutiny and is a wanted man.  Margaret wrote him a hurried letter about their mother and he came at once.  But Dixon (she’s the haughty servant) was out shopping in Milton and recognised a sailor who had been on the same ship as Fred.  Knowing that he might be recognised, court martialled and hung he must make his escape.  Mr Hale suggests he use the quieter railroad station to depart from and Margaret accompanies him but is unfortunately seen by Mr Thornton who mistakes her brother for her lover. 
Waiting at the station, bad luck has it that the sailor now works as a porter there, and makes a scene when he sees Fred.  There is a scuffle and Fred knocks the porter from the platform, but the train arrives at that instant and he is able to make his escape to London.  Margaret goes to look for the porter but he’s no-where to be found.  Later, Margaret is visited by a policeman who is investigating the death of the porter who, although was seen after the scuffle, died a short time later.  Margaret had been identified as being at the scene but she flatly denies it.  When Mr Thornton, who is also a Magistrate, finds out that Margaret may be somehow involved, he directs that there is not enough evidence for an inquest as the porter was a known drinker and was in the advanced stage of disease.  When Margaret realises what Thornton has done she is relieved but also mortified as in his eyes she is now a hussy and a liar!!  Four more discs to go…….
Shadows of Death ~ this is my lunchtime book as it’s short stories but I really haven’t had a lot of time to read it – there's always interruptions and the phone  (I’m chained to my desk at work!)  I have however almost finished the first of the stories The Shadow out of Time.  Lovecraft really does create this creepy, dark feel to his stories. The protagonist has had a three year episode where he was not himself.  He knows, but others would not believe, that his body had been taken over by one of the Great Race and during that time his mind was transported to that body.  Once he had recovered from the horror of being in an alien body he studied for a while in their libraries.  When his mind was returned to his body, all that he learned was to be wiped from his memory, however he did remember still in his dreams and fragments of thought.  He wrote some papers about it and it was mostly ignored.  One day he receives a letter from an archaeologist who is digging in the desert in WA and has come across strange blocks with hieroglyphs that our narrator has written about so he goes to see for himself…….. It’s full of typical Lovecraftian words to try to impress the horror of what is about to unfold.  It’s great!
Harry Potter ~ I managed to listen to a bit more today.  The plot is a little bit slow so hoping it picks up a bit, but still enjoying the characters.
Flatland ~ almost finished, it’s been a bit of chore really!
I’ve just found out too that our library system’s eAudio Books can now be uploaded to your iPod.  It used to be that I could only listen on my laptop which was really inconvenient.  I’m not sure if the MP3s expire like the WMAs do, but my first download is going to be Hell House by Richard Matheson, which was recommended to me by ‘BradleyonFilm’.  So here's to another night of reading.........
and dreaming............