You are currently browsing the monthly archive for December 2007.

[note: I was torn between going into more depth here and not revealing spoilers – I’m doing the latter, but discussion in the comments is always welcome]

I meant to draw this one out, I really did. I wasn’t going to read it all in an evening. I even tried to stop, watching Hex and catching up on my blogroll. But all of a sudden I was lying on my bed, reading the acknowledgements at the end. And that’s always the sign of a good book.

Judas Coyne has a rock star past, a previous life as an abused, pig-keeping hillbilly brat, and a succession of goth stripper girlfriends who he only knows by the name of their state. The novel focuses on two – his current girlfriend Georgia, and the recently deceased Florida. He buys a ghost on an internet auction site, and it starts to wreak havoc on his life, beginning a journey that takes him across America to the one place you can never go back to.  

I’ve been meaning to read Heart-Shaped Box ever since it came out, and somehow never got around to it. I remember looking for it and finding Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Edges instead, and it’s interesting how similar the two are. In both cases the big reveal is a little obvious, with the exception of a twist that’s eerily similar in both books. Hill’s debut reminds me more of Victorian sensation fiction than conventional horror, which is one of the more delicious aspects – although the supernatural stuff is truly spine-chilling, the real emotional pay-off comes from the revelation and resolution of domestic plot strands. At the start, it seems as though Hill is drawing his characters in black and white, but over the course of 365 pages, the precise shades of grey start to show. For a novel that deals with heavy metal and the supernatural, and has strippers for it’s two main female characters, all of the women are wonderfully, three-dimensionally drawn. Interestingly, we find out more about the incidental characters than we do about Jude himself – it’s as much about the secrets the people in his life are hiding from him as it is about the past that he’s accepted, but still hurts him. The reason behind his name change from Justin Cowzynski to Judas Coyne is briefly but heartachingly dealt with, almost as an aside. The plot itself is minimal and fairly transparent – I’d worked out why the ghost was there in the first hundred pages – but that didn’t spoil my enjoyment of it. It’s as much about the journey – the night road – as it is about the destination. And if that isn’t rock and roll, I don’t know what is.

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I went to Waterstones, and spent a little more than that £20 book token. I got two books I’d been meaning to read for ages – Joe Hill’s Heart-Shaped Box, which I’m 15 chapters into and loving like a masochist loves handcuffs, and Sarah Hall’s The Cullochan Army. The latter is a dystopian, Handmaid’s Tale-esque novel set in the North of England – it may not be exactly the right title, but the chances of me wrestling it from my mother to check are pretty much zilch. I also got The Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook 2008, which is full of details about literary agencies, publishing companies and how to do your own publicity. All a little premature, since all I’ve done so far is written one novel in dire need of editing, and sold one short story (and I’m still waiting for the contract for that one). Hopefully it’ll glare balefully at me from my bookshelves and force me to get past the rut of writer’s block that keeps sneaking up on me.

 To date, I’ve only read one book in the week I’ve been home, Stephenie Meyer’s Eclipse. Unless you count re-reading a Buffy graphic novel that was a present for my 19th birthday and I discovered in a drawer, anyway. I still haven’t finished Letters Between Six Sisters, since it’s the kind of thing I like to read in installments, and the whole thing spans the better part of a century. Dorothy Parker couldn’t throw this book with great force across the room unless she wanted to call the builders in afterwards. I’m loving it, though, but I’m dreading taking it home on the train next week. I’m about halfway through Russel Brand’s My Booky Wook, after seeing him in St Trinians last night – it’s an enjoyable read, but there’s only so much self-destruction and bad grammar a girl can handle.

I’ll do a big glut of reviews at some point – tomorrow, I’m off to Haworth in Yorkshire. I’ll be staying across the road from the Bronte Parsonage, where my aunt works, so there’ll be lots of long, bracing walks on the moors and abusing my aunt’s staff discount in the museum bookshop…Photos may follow, if I can talk my parents into lending me their digital camera…

Now I know that this is my third post, and so you haven’t had a chance to thoroughly assess my reading preferences yet. However, I have a £20 book token and want you to tell me how I should spend it.

I’m open to any genre – especially Y.A, fantasy, literary fiction and biography. I tend to read a lot of 19th C novels, books with an LGBT slant, and anything from or about the 1920s. I’m fussy about my poetry, but I’ll try anything once. Love short stories – I’ve been meaning to invest in Katherine Mansfield’s, so maybe that should go on my list. Don’t suggest anything about the bloody Mitfords, though, because I’ve been on a glut lately and can probably recite their entire histories. Which isn’t difficult in the case of Unity – was born into crazy family, became a Nazi, tried to shoot self in head and failed, sparked rumours of carrying Hitler’s love-child, died on remote Scottish island. Unity actually gets a little sympathy from me, since she was obviously a bit messed up – Diana deserved everything she got, quite frankly. I got their collected letters from Daddy and I’m loving them, but after that, Nancy et al and me are taking a break.

I’m thinking of Libba Bray, since I haven’t read any of the Great and Terrible Beauty series, and something by Cecil Castellucci if I can find her books in the UK. However, I am absolutely desperate for recommendations since all I have with me is non-fiction and I’ve OD’d on that lately. Since I’m working on a Y.A project right now, that’s what I’m leaning towards. Although I wanted to read Mrs Woolf and the Servants, which would probably Improve My Mind a little more. Failing that, maybe Edith Wharton, Evelyen Waugh, or P.G Wodehouse for some frivolity.

 Expect a post on the Mitford’s letters, one on Germaine Greer’s Shakespeare’s Wife, and one on Nigella Express, since they were my Christmas haul.

Off to watch Ballet Shoes now, and although I can’t remember much about the original book, I have an urge to re-read Noel Streatfeild.

One of my recent charity shop finds, I initially read this without really being immersed in it. Penelope Farmer’s introduction fondly admits that it’s one of Wharton’s weaker novels, and I’ll have to take her word on it until I finally get around to reading The Age of Innocence.

Twilight Sleep is an enjoyable book, if a seemingly superficial one, focussing around Pauline Manford and the failing marriage of her son. Pauline is a brilliant, if misguided, woman – a compulsive organiser and meditation junkie on the books of every committee and New Age charlatan in 1920s New York. She has, with depressing inevitability, time for everyone except her family. She can be irritatingly gullible and amazingly blinkered, but my overriding thought was that if she had a real job instead of being an unpaid social chair for her husband, she’d be a much more likeable character. In fact, screw likeable – she’d probably be President.

In contrast, it’s her apathetic daughter-in-law Lita who has the burning desire to work, even if it is only to turn herself into an object by strutting her stuff on the silver screen. Wanting to work for her money, not just marry into it, she has her sights set firmly on Hollywood – and divorce from the loveable but rather hopeless Jim. Considered to be a great beauty, she enjoys flirtations but sees men as little more than razorblades in a cake – a means of escaping the prison of her current life. One of those men happens to be Dexter Manford, her mother-in-law’s second husband, who is rapidly nearing his mid-life crisis.

spoilers below

Restless, seductive Lita is the catalyst for the entire plot, and she and the determindly oblivious Pauline are the only ones who remain unchanged by the consequences of her actions. However, she is by no means the villain of the text – if anyone comes close to claiming that title, it’s Dexter. His daughter Nona, Lita’s current best friend, becomes increasingly fixated on and disconcerted by the burgeoning relationship between her father and her sister-in-law. The only one who seems aware of what’s about to happen, Nona functions as a Cassandra figure, prophesising danger but dismissed because she can’t articulate her fears. Farmer suggests that hidden in the seedy underbelly of Manford family life is “the hint of paternal abuse”, and this is borne out by Dexter’s taste in women. He has a history as a philanderer, but the only women with whom we see him extra-maritally involved are Lita (her name a disturbing echo of Nabokov’s protagonist), and Gladys Toy, whose name suggests both the levity with which Dexter treats her and his taste for childlike women. And Freud wiuld have a field day with the bizarre climactic scene, where Nona is discovered in Lita’s room, having been acccidentally shot by her mother’s first husband after she discovers her father in Lita’s bedroom.

The more I think about this book the more I appreciate, if not like, it. Beneath the frothy subplots that litter every chapter with slef-important domestic dramas, the real story is dark, unnerving, and unresolved. It’s worth a read – even if it is between the lines.

Well, this is my inaugural post. Better make it a good one.

 

[At one point over the summer, I made the mistake of starting a booklog. I went back through the annals of my mind, scoured my bookshelf, and entered every book I could remember reading on the list. I kept it up, too, for…ooh, at least a month. But then actual reading took over, and I never seemed to find the time again. I’ve updated it now, though, so should anyone be burning with curiosity about my reading matter it will be posted later and I hope you’re satisfied.]

 

I read quickly. I always blink with surprise when I see those reading memes floating about the blogosphere – ‘read 50 books in a year!’ I won’t lie – there’s a certain amount of intellectual snobbery in how quickly I can get through books – my two-hour daily commute and three-quarters of my lunch hour is normally enough for one. ‘Read your height in books’ doesn’t work either, since I like a good chunky tome to curl up with on a rainy afternoon – and besides, I’m tiny. Not Kristin Chenoweth tiny, but not much taller than Dame Judi Dench, put it that way.

 

And when I say I read quickly, I mean reading. I’m not skimming, I’m not turning the pages without taking anything in (unless it’s a very dull book). I genuinely do read this quickly. And if you ask me to sum up what was on the page I’ve just turned over, I will. In fact, I’ll probably quote from it. And please don’t stand next to me and peer over my shoulder, calling people from the next room to come and watch the circus freak. Oddly enough, I find it off-putting.

 

The downside is that it means I get through a lot of books. My girlfriend and I have four bookshelves, all packed to the gills, and in the New Year we’re going to have to take a trip to Ikea and figure out where the hell the fifth one is going to go. Of course, all this gets expensive, which means that libraries are fantastic – I spent nearly every lunch hour at school in ours. It was a gloriously gothic room, full of crucifixes and embroidered Latin samplers. Half the books were ancient, except the ones on the Sixth Form bookshelf, which mentioned forbidden things like sex and alcohol. When I was thirteen, I discovered a complete set of Austen, bound in red leather and titled with shiny gilt letters. University libraries were fun too, especially when I discovered the giddy pleasures of literary criticism. Of course, libraries in the real world are depressingly different. The real world doesn’t cap your fines at a certain amount because you’re an impoverished student. And if there’s one thing I’m better at than racing my way through a Nancy Mitford, it’s forgetting to take my library books back. There are certain towns in Britain that I daren’t go back to, for fear that an irate librarian might recognise me, pin me to the ground and take my bank card as payment for dropping The Selfish Gene off three months late and then running away.

 

So if you see a fast reader in the course of your day, don’t mock them. Don’t ask ‘how do you read so fast?’ when they know no other way. Think of the suffering it causes them – getting through a favourite series in a week, racking up hideous debts to feed their problem, and, worst of all, having to turn to writing themselves because they’ve read all the books in the house and it’s a week until payday.