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Posts tagged ‘Horror’

The Denizens of the Castle

I had read Shirley Jackson’s The House on the Hill, as part of last year’s RIP and absolutely loved it. Therefore when this year’s RIP came about, it made perfect sense to revisit another work by this brilliant author and I picked up the highly recommended We have Always Lived in the Castle.

The book begins with the narrative of Mary Katherine Blackwood, or Merricat as she is called by her sister, Constance, who is on her way to the village to get groceries and books from the Library. Merricat tells the reader that only she can make this trip to the village because Constance is still struggles to leave even the Blackwood garden, for the last 6 years. Merricat knows that she is being taunted at while she goes about doing her chores and in her mind she plots revenge against her hecklers.  It is soon revealed that in the now almost empty Blackwood mansion, Merricat lives with her elder sister Constance and their invalid uncle Julian. They have very few visitors and most of their day is spent cooking , reading and cleaning, while Uncle Julian writes his book. This has been the state of things for last 6 years, when Constance and Merricat’s parents, brother and aunt were killed due to Arsenic poisoning after dinner. Constance was charged by the police, but acquitted due to lack of evidence.  Since then the two sisters had sequestered themselves in the Blackwood house, never going out and almost never entertaining guests, living their lives in an inward looking set routine. Things however begin to change, when their cousin Charles comes visiting. While Constance is happy to finally have some company, both Merricat and Uncle Julian are dissatisfied with the change. Uncle Julian feels that Charles is here to get his nieces money and disrupt his work; while Merricat believes Charles is responsible for the breakdown of her daily routine and happy lives and for most importantly making Constance disgruntled with their lives, when she had been completely content with her lot, until Charles came. She begins to plot various schemes to get Charles out of the house and out of their lives, none of which work and she finally takes the drastic measure of burning down the house, leading to interesting revelations about the death of the Blackwood family and the new direction the lives of the sister would now have to take!

The book is brilliant! Ms. Jackson does not disappoint and from the very opening narrative, the reader’s attention is grabbed and curiosity aroused as to what happened to the Blackwoods.  In Merricat, Ms. Jackson draws a brilliant character – obsessed, unapologetic and completely reckless, she is a unique creation if there is ever one. Her imaginations whether it about living on the moon or the discovery of three powerful words which will halt the changes that are happening in her life, leaves the reader in awe. I love the unapologetic attitude of Merricat and the fact that Ms. Jackson did not find any reasons to explain and elaborate the whys and the hows. I loved the irreverent approach of this is what it is and deal with it! In creating Constance, we find a perfect foil to Merricat’s character; Constance blames herself for what happened to the family and its fortunes and therefore accepts her sister’s anomalies and stands by her, irrespective of the latter’s action or more importantly its implication on Constance’s own life. She accepts her losss, because she feels she is worthy of the blame. Between the actions of the two sisters, there is a constant sense of feeling sympathy and discomposure, alternately! The constant cycle of food and preparation of it is wonderfully put down to reflect the one semblance of normalcy in the dysfunctional Blackwood family and how the ritual of breakfast, lunch and dinner provides, rhythm and occupation to players. I loved the ending – an irreverent end where apparently “evil” wins in a way that it allows the Blackwood sisters, again alternating the feelings of sympathy and disquiet! The language is simple and here again lies the brilliance of Ms. Jackson – without any blood and gore and through the means of clear simple words and phrases, she is able to convey a distinct discomfort and strangeness to the readers. There are no high flown theatrics, but as a reader you are left feeling eerie!

I am so glad I finally read this one – it was a perfect, absolutely perfect RIP reads and one of the best works I have read in the thriller/horror genr

The Horrifying Times…..

Yay! RIP X is here!!  I have had such fun in the past in participating in these events, that this absolutely no question of passing this up! This annual event is hosted by Carl V. Anderson over at Stainless Steel Droppings; but this year to celebrate the 10th edition of RIP (R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril); the event is being hosted by The Estella Society!

rip10

(Image by Abigail Larson)

The event runs starts from September 01st to October 31st and there are multiple perils for the indulgent reader/viewer; the only clause being, that you read or watch anything under the following genre –

Mystery
Suspense
Thriller
Dark Fantasy
Gothic
Horror
Supernatural

I have decided to naturally sign up for the Peril The First and this means and I quote directly from the site “Read four books, any length, that you feel fit (the very broad definitions) of R.I.P. literature. It could be King or Conan Doyle, Penny or Poe, Chandler or Collins, Lovecraft or Leroux…or anyone in between.” My nominees for this year are –

  • We have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson – Thanks to The Estella Society’s last year’s Readalong, I was introduced to the brilliance of Shirley Jackson and The Haunting of Hill House and I have been since then planning to read more of her work. This event is just the event to get kick started on another of Ms. Jackson’s Nuggets!
  • In a Glass Darkly by Sheridan Le Fanu – Heard much, but read practically nothing. I was once told by one of my university professors that not to have read Sheridan Le Fanu is not to have truly ventured into the Gothic genre in the truest sense of the term. So this time I plan to read Le Fanu and “truly” understand Gothic!
  • The Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde – What can I say about this book that has not already been said! This is a re-read and I remember reading it way back and being extremely uncomfortable through the night. Time to revisit an old, I can hardly say friend, but rather an indulgence in its most macabre sense!
  • The Shining by Stephen King – I know …I must be one of those very few, practically non-existent population that has not read this book, but I am never been much of a Stephen King fan; however this one is considered a cult classic and I think I will give this one a shot, before I consign my entire Stephen King reading as an unmitigated disaster!

Finally I am for sure participating in the Peril of the Group Read, which runs from September 18th to October 18th. This year we are reading The Quick by Lauren Owen. I have never read Lauren Owen, but the reviews sound awesome and it’s a thriller based in Victorian England…need I say more??

So without further ado, here’s to RIP X…let the mayhem begin!

The Scary Barn And Then Some….

I had a really exhausting and infinitely dorky work week and by Friday, all I wanted was comfort food and a good, gripping but easy read. Food came in form of wonderful Prawn Coconut Curry and White Rice (one of my most favorite dishes ever, cooked by an indulging and tolerant best friend cum flatmate cum Masterchef!) There was also some lovely red wine for indulgence and now all I had to do was select a good book and escape from the real world! I was not in a mood to indulge into a Byatt  or a history of Byzantine or World War II based fiction; I needed needed a good old yarn – a dam good story. Therefore, I picked something which has lain quietly in my Kindle for some time – The Haunting of Maddy Clare by Simone St. James.

Sarah Piper is leading a lonely existence in 1920’s London, working as a secretary on temporary assignments, residing in a boarding house. She is now out of job and soon shall be out of all her money, when she gets an assignment to work as an assistant with a writer named Allister Gellis. In her very first meeting with Gellis , a rich, handsome war veteran, Sarah realizes that her new work would be more than just taking short hand and typing letters. In fact Allister Gellis is academic researching ghosts and other such supernatural phenomena and his current assignment specifically requires a female assistant, since this ghost – Maddy Clare, seems to get violent in the presence of men. Sarah’s task is to understand the reason for Maddy’s haunting and gather evidence about her presence to enable Gellis to write his book. With the strongest skepticism and doubt, Sarah agrees to the assignment and travels with her Gellis to small town where this haunting happens. On route she discovers that Allister Gellis usually has his regular assistant Matthew Ryder help him research his work, but he is currently away and it is Ryder who manages all the equipment during the field study, including operating the sound recorder, which the later has created. On reaching Worikshire, Sarah meets Mrs. Clare, whose barn Maddy is haunting and learns that 7 years ago, a 12 year old Maddy had showed up on Mrs. Clare’s doorstep dirty, grimy, severely injured and completely traumatized. Mrs. Clare and her house keeper had taken the girl in and nursed her. It seemed that initially the traumatized Maddy could not even speak, but would go into fits in the presence of any man. Enquiries were made to understand who was Maddy and when no one came back to claim her, the kind Mrs. Clare kept her in her home and slowly trained to be a maid. Over the years, Maddy had grown into a quiet individual, she still had her moods and fits, but mostly she was obedient and obliging girl, until two months ago when she hung herself from the rafters of the very barn that she was now haunting. Mrs. Clare was convinced that the rage which was manifested from Maddy’s departed soul could be fathomed only by a female expert and hoped that Sarah would be able to fix things for her, so that things could return to normalcy. With deep doubts, Sarah starts to reach out to Maddy, with frightening revelations of latter’s past, and devastating consequence, for Allister, Matthew and herself, unless Maddy’s soul can be avenged!

The book was gripping, almost! It began very well and the scene of first haunting with the fire in the barn was SCARY!! The thump-thump noise that Sarah hears is enough to give the reader hibby jibbies. The sleepwalking episode and the invasion of the crows was enough to make me sleep with the lights on for two days running! Unfortunately that were all the promise Ms. St. James had shown begins an ends. As a mystery narrative, the revelations falls flat; it’s clichéd and you can figure out the whats preety much my page 100 or so. More importantly, the author fails to answer the more critical questions of who is Maddy? Why did no one claim her? How did she manage to show up at the Clare’s house? You are kind of told the ending but not how the ending came about. For instance, In The Book Thief, Markus Zusak tells you up front that Rudy will die, but as a reader, it does not take anything away from the story, because the journey leading to Rudy’s death is more absorbing and complex! I could not feel any sympathy or any liking for the characters – Sarah Piper is a whinny mouse who keeps telling us that she was tall and slim with curves in her body and she is plain! Now let’s go over this – the protagonist is tall and slim with voluptuous curves and she is plain!! She keeps droning about her beauty until the male protagonist tells her she is beautiful! Wow! That’s innovative and completely non regressive! Matthew Ryder has a chip on his shoulder and one does not know why except for war trauma, and goes around scowling and being curt to one and all and that I guess is a wannabe Mr. Darcy prototype. Allister Gellis is the all-star, blonde, rich and handsome and war scarred as well, but he can be polite to even horrible strangers, but since he is not I will protect my itty bitsy assistance from being forced to drink a glass of whiskey in rude insulting manner like Mr. Ryder, he is not the hero! Point to be noted – our heroine has lived a difficult and independent life for last 5 years in London and cannot tell an over bearing stranger in the middle of the afternoon in a pub filled with people and in the presence of her employer who is a gentleman that she does not want a second glass of whiskey until the knight in shining armor shows up! Ye! Gods! The romance is flat! We had two chapters worth of “make love” scenes, and I skipped them completely. The clichés abound – if you are new rich, you are without class. You are a bully, because your wife left you!

In the end, it is an easy read, but it is not a gripping read and while the hauntings are truly and extremely scary and this where the author shows pure brilliance, it is all lost in the miasma of banality of the plot and mediocrity of the characters.

Once Upon A Time, let Ms. Gakell lead you on further….

On this night after Halloween, it makes sense that I close my RIP IX readings with Elizabeth Gaskell’s “Gothic Tales” (Yeah!! I know I am day late, but with everyone going crazy with the “Halloween rage” thingy, it’s good that I did not pile on to already overcrowded bandwagon of Halloween celebrations). I state close, though I did mention in my RIP post that I would be reading 4, besides the read along is because my 4th book is completely untenable, unpalatable, un-everything!! If I thought “Rebecca” was OTT and “The Sign of Four” had a weird appraisal of women, then “Angelica” wins hands down on all that  is unbelievable dumb, stupid and all kinds of unpleasant adjective. I could not go on beyond the 100 pages – there is not one bit of scare and I completely hated Angelica and the entire family. I am not sure if the book gets better later but I am no longer making an effort to find out. I am so thoroughly disappointed – I was really looking forward to Arthur Phillips’s work and it was such a letdown!

Anyway, this post is about “Gothic Tales” and not “Angelica” which does not deserve even one sentence and I have already wasted 3! “Gothic Tales” is an anthology of all works mystery, gothic and horror genre written by Elizabeth Gaskell between 1851 and 1861, published mostly in Household Words and the Christmas special edition of All Year Round. Elizabeth Gaskell with her complete flexibility and virtuosity of the art weaves tales which are old legends like “Disappearances” as well as a ghastly ghostly tale of a secret marriage and a mysterious child that roams the freezing Northumberland in “The Old Nurse’s Tale.” There is an absolutely terrifying doppelgänger and threatens the future of the one person the witch who gave the curse loves in “The Poor Clare”. “Lois the Witch” is a sympathetic take on the young women accused of witchcraft in the Salem Witch hunt in 16th Century. Another sympathetic and heartbreaking novella is the “Crooked Branch”, a tragic tale of love gone awry. “The Doom of the Griffiths” is also a sympathetic narrative of loneliness, filial love and loyalty. Then there is “Curious if True” a fun and extremely weird narrative that includes all famous fairy tale characters including Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Puss in Boots, Beauty and the Beast etc. The other novellas include “The Squire’s tale” and “The Grey Woman”, stories about ruthless highway men and chases across countries.

The book is a brilliant collection of all kinds of weird tales, some downright scary and others plain bizarre and yet others which points to utter foolishness of men and women in believing in stupid superstitious nonsense. Each tale is distinctive and is located in a different time and different geographies. We move between England, United States, Netherlands, Germany and travel between 17th to 19th centuries. These are not short stories but novellas and reading one does take time, simply because of the lovely details Ms. Gaskell has put in. Like a storyteller from old (I realize that she is from the old!!) she sits around the fire and tells you the story in a “once upon a time” style. There is no rushing, no get to the point in her tale, no breathtaking actions; but a slow meandering walk in which you follow her lead and suddenly you are in the middle of thick events. If you want fast paced adventure, she is not for you, but like a wine, if you savor this book slow, well get ready to sleep with the lights turned on!! This collection more than ever convinces me of the extreme brilliance of Ms. Gaskell – she is completely in her element writing a North and South and can turn her eye equally masterfully to satire; Cranford being the prime example. And now Gothic Tales is a testimony to the fact that an author need not really have a declared “genre” as long as he or she had a great tale to tell and knows how to create the atmosphere and evoke the reader’s imagination with use of words.

Considering that this year, my RIP reads have been borderline, disasters, I am eternally grateful to the last Mrs. Elizabeth Gaskell and Ms. Shirley Jackson, from rescuing it from complete and utter annihilation!

P.S. Yes …you know what I will say – I would again urge all too please help us in supporting the project that I am currently leading. This help from you will ensure preservation and continuation of a now practically extinct culture – there are many ways to support this cause –

  1. We need financial patronage – We need your monetary help to complete this project. Every contribution is of great value and you have our heartfelt appreciation for any amount that you put forth. You can pay via a credit/debit card, directly at Indiegogo’s Website (The project is called Identity on a Palate)
  2. Help us Spread the Word – Please share this campaign on your social network so that more people can become aware of this project. The more people see this, more the chances of us reaching our goal. Please so send me the link or a mail for the same, as we would love to see this live!

Please do help and Thank You again!

A House on the Hill…

As part of the RIP 2014, The Estella Society organized a Readalong – The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. While I was only planning to take part in Peril the First, but scrolling through Carl’s post I came across this reading event and I just had to be a part of it!!

I had never read any works of Shirley Jackson before and I am usually skeptical of books that belong to the horror/supernatural genre. I am usually very disappointed in the endings of such genre and I do never feel even a twinge of fear and in fact find some plots absolutely laughable. However I had heard some great things about the The Haunting of Hill House and though I had not seen any of the movies based on this book, I knew it was rated very high among 20th century literature. It had been part of my TBD for a long time and the Readalong came as a great opportunity to finish at least one book out of the ever-growing list.

The book opens with a description of the Hill House and Dr. James Montague has undertaken to conduct a study on the supernatural phenomena surrounding the house. He is joined in this investigation by three other members, two of whom he has himself picked – Eleanor Vance and Theodora along with Luke Sanderson who is the heir to the house. Dr. Montague on their first night at the house reveals that The Hill House was built by Hugh Crane who hoped his family would live in the house; however his first wife died while coming up to the house when her carriage crashed in the tree on the driveway and he lost his second and third wife as well. Hugh Crane’s two daughters were brought up in the house and the younger one married and the elder one continued living in the house with a companion, a girl from the village to whom she finally left the house. There were antagonism between the villagers and the younger sister versus the companion on this and soon the companion complained of thieving incidents and other such events in the house, before committing suicide. Since then anyone who has rented the house has never managed to complete the duration of their lease and have always moved away in a hurry. As the four participants settle in, events begin occurring in the house that disturb and threaten them. Soon Eleanor Vance begins to experience phenomena that others are oblivious to and slowly begins to lose grip on reality as she becomes subject to more such episodes. Finally concerned, Dr. Montague forces her to leave the house, though she resists such eviction. As she drives down the driveway, she crashes into the large oak tree.

The characters in the book are minimalistically drawn but are very real. While the author does not spend to many lines in describing her protagonists, their actions bring out the nature of their character far more illustratively. There are some marvelously humorous events that take of some of the stress after the intense action and offer a much-needed relief in the chilling narrative. The star of the book naturally is The House – from the very beginning it dominates the plot line and all the other characters are just supporting this mammoth. It creeps and shudders and laughs and plays and thunders and booms making it well know that the house and the house alone is what matters and no one can tame or ever truly own it. The beauty of the book lies in the fact there is no blood or gore or horrifying monsters; but rather the use of subtle psychology and the feeling of things creeping behind you that makes it a terrifying read. There are no loud incidents, no clutching of throats or ghosts rising from the graveyard, but a far more petrifying phenomena – when one realizes that one alone is being subjected to supernatural things while others continue to live out their lives as normal. The understanding that you are holding the hand of a friend while sleeping only to wake up and realize it’s someone else’s hand or sitting in a room while something thunders and threatens to enter your room, a nameless horror, but never does, and you wait for it to come back again another night is truly terrifying and distressing.

The book is SCARY!!! I am not someone who is usually daunted by supernatural plots, but for the last three nights, I have slept with the lights on!!!!!I am so glad that I read this book finally and I have to agree with Stephen King (whose books by the way I really dislike!) who wrote that this book was one of the finest horror novels of late 20th century!!

About Moving on and Reading Ideas…

In the words of the ever-wise Jane Austen, I must say that “I must have employment and society” and though the circumstances under which Mr. Wickham made the statement and mine are wholly different, there cannot be any denying of the fact that I must either resume life as soon as possible in the best way, despite the recent events in my past,  or I will probably need professional therapy! I really dislike opening my posts on such a depressing note and therefore without much ado, I will plunge forward and share with you all my reading plans for September and October!!

Naturally, with Halloween around the corner, Carl has unveiled his RIP Challenge 2014. I have been looking forward to this event for some time and have even bought books in anticipation of the reading event!! The rules are as always simple, read or watch any of the following genres and participate in the Perils as per your interest and time. The event runs from September 01st to October 31st. The genres include –

  • Mystery
  • Suspense
  • Thriller
  • Dark Fantasy
  • Gothic
  • Horror
  • Supernatural

I, of course, peril my sanity by signing up for Peril The First which involves and I quote directly from the site – Read four books, any length, that you feel fit (the very broad definitions) of R.I.P. literature. It could be King or Conan Doyle, Penny or Poe, Chandler or Collins, Lovecraft or Leroux…or anyone in between

My reading list for this event goes as –

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier – Clichéd I know, but I have not read this in couple of years and this is as good a time as any to revisit this old friend!!

Gothic Tales by Elizabeth Gaskell – As I have often declared, Gaskell is one of my favorite authors and I have held on to reading this book specifically to read it through this challenge.

Angelica by Arthur Philips – This is yet another book that I had held off on because I wanted to read it as part of this event. I had heard some great things about this one and I really look forward to reading it, with all the lights in the apartment blazing!!!!

The Sign of Four – How can I even think of participating in this event without homage to the master of mystery and thriller??? Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Last Year it was the Hounds of Baskerville and this year it’s yet another revisit with The Sign of Four.

This was my plan for the RIP event; but while scrolling through the other events at Carl’s post, I came across Peril of the Group Read. Again quoting directly from the Carl’s post, “For the third year in a row bloggers Andi and Heather of The Estella Society are hosting a readalong in conjunction with R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril. This year’s readalong runs from September 1st through October 1st, and the chosen book is Shirley Jackson’s classic, The Haunting of Hill House.The Haunting Hill House had been in my TBR for some time and this seemed like as good a chance as any to finish at least one book from my ever-growing list. I have already begun reading the book and I have not been able to sleep for two nights in a row with lights off….review to follow soon!!!

In other reading news, I still have to finish my Classic Spin read for the month, “Katherine” by Anya Seton; I had barely begun reading this book, when everything else took over and I had to exchange this book for some lighter reads until I was back in my gear again.

I also have the The True and Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters by Michelle Lovric to finish from last month and I have finally bought Penmarric by Susan Howatch and The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon by Richard Zimler in an unintended book buying spree on one of those stressful days of past weeks. I also bought The Complete Works of Christina Rossetti in a fitful remembrance of my mother!

Finally, I am also very much looking forward to the Margret Kennedy Week hosted by Jane between 6th to 12th October! I plan to read “The Feast”, another one lying in my TBR list for a while and the author’s nonfiction work, Jane Austen, if I can get my hands on it!!

That is my reading agenda for now. I am sure; I will edit and add some more books in this list, while others may be left behind for a better moment. But the idea as always is to read and read more and then to read some more….

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