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Search tags: 1001-must-read-books
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review 2017-12-18 22:13
The Green Man / Kingsley Amis
The Green Man - Kingsley Amis

A ghost story for adults. Like all good coaching inns, the Green Man is said to boast a resident ghost: Dr Thomas Underhill, a notorious seventeenth-century practitioner of black arts and sexual deviancy, rumoured to have killed his wife. However, the landlord, Maurice Allington, is the solewitness to the renaissance of the malevolent Underhill. Led by an anxious desire to vindicate his sanity, Allington strives to uncover the key to Underhill's satanic powers. All the while, the skeletons in the cupboard of Allington's own domestic affairs rattle to get out too.

 

Maurice Allington is not the kind of guy you want to get mixed up with—he may be the well-known proprietor of the inn The Green Man, but he drinks far too much, ignores his wife and daughter, and spends his free time propositioning his friend’s wife. When he starts seeing things around the inn, we have to wonder if his drinking has finally addled his wits, for Maurice certainly doesn’t believe in the ghosts that he advertises to lure guests.

I remember a TV show based on this book, which I skipped based on how much the ads for it disturbed my peace of mind. Maybe I should have watched, because the book didn’t bother me a bit! I found Maurice to be completely unreliable as a narrator of his own experience—too alcohol impaired to be trusted—and since no one else shares in his visions/delusions, I was able to control my imaginative faculties and remain calm. As Maurice reflects a one point, “I thought to myself how much more welcome a faculty the imagination would be if we could tell when it was at work and when not.” But mine doesn’t work that way—it is often overactive when I would like it to mind its own business.

A good ghost story for people who normally don’t care for them.

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review 2017-12-11 22:30
The Drowned and the Saved / Primo Levi
The Drowned and the Saved - Primo Levi

The author tries to understand the rationale behind Auschwitz, Treblinka, Bergen-Belsen. Dismissing stereotyped images of brutal Nazi torturers and helpless victims, Levi draws extensively on his own experiences to delve into the minds and motives of oppressors and oppressed alike. Describing the difficulty and shame of remembering, the limited forms of collaboration between inmates and SS goalers, the exploitation of useless violence and the plight of the intellectual, Levi writes about the issue of power, mercy and guilt, and their effects on the lives of the ordinary people who suffered so incomprehendingly.

 

How in the world do I rate a book like this? I guess its four stars, because I didn’t find it to be quite as engaging as Night or Man's Search for Meaning, but it was still an un-put-down-able book. I’ll be reading more of Levi’s work, without a doubt. The voices of these Holocaust survivors become ever more important as attrition takes them from us and their story becomes doubted by some.

The Drowned and the Saved is a powerful metaphor for the concentration camp experience. Those who emerged became the Saved, those who perished became the Drowned. As in the two books that I referenced above, Levi tells us that those who appear to be the Saved had to do some brutal things to get that status. He goes so far as to say that all the good people were among the Drowned. So how was he to feel about himself, supposedly one of the elect? His death in 1987 was ambiguous—officially ruled as a suicide, but it may have been an accident.

He says that the Saved were the prisoners who didn’t actually touch bottom while in the camps. It seems that he may have hit bottom well after the fact.

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review 2017-11-16 04:27
Brave New World (Audiobook)
Brave New World - Aldous Huxley,Michael York

Brave New Shock Value: the Anti-Utopia

 

So, I read that. Or listened to that. I can see why this was a revolutionary novel when it was written. Huxley set out to write a satire of the utopian novels so popular in his day and wrote a horror story instead. It's certainly imaginative, and not entirely out of left field, unfortunately. It does show its age in some respects, but since this is meant to be uncomfortable, that's not as much of a deterrent as it could be. I'm not really sure what to rate this though, so I'm leaving it unrated.

 

Narration is top-notch though - 5 stars for Michael York.

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review 2017-10-30 17:21
At the Mountains of Madness / H.P. Lovecraft
At the Mountains of Madness and Other Works of Weird Fiction - H.P. Lovecraft,D.M. Mitchell

I read this book to fill the ‘Monsters’ square of my 2017 Halloween Book Bingo card.

I’ve read a few accounts of Antarctic exploration and At the Mountains of Madness starts out in exactly the same style, but then it veers dramatically off course--the tale becomes an H. Rider Haggard adventure novel crossed with a cheesy horror movie! Lovecraft is very skillful at making the readers use their imaginations—he doesn’t describe the horrors experienced by the men of the expedition. Instead, he shows us a destroyed campsite and lets the expedition leader tippy-toe around the ancient ruins, jumping at every sound. There is a lot of hinting and alluding to mysterious writings, rather than descriptions of actual creatures, which would have become silly quite quickly. Much better to let each reader’s mind fill in the details that they would find the most horrifying.

It has taken me a long time to get around to reading Lovecraft, probably because I’m not much of a horror reader. If you are going to read any significant amount in this genre, a basic knowledge of Lovecraft and his Cthulhu mythos will stand you in good stead. I now realize that I have been missing allusions to his work in a number of short story collections that I’ve read in the past.

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review 2017-10-24 17:02
Wise Children / Angela Carter
Wise Children - Angela Carter

Dora and Nora Chance are a famous song-and-dance team of the British music halls. Billed as The Lucky Chances, the sisters are the illegitimate and unacknowledged daughters of Sir Melchoir Hazard, the greatest Shakespearean actor of his day. At once ribald and sentimental, glittery and tender, this rambunctious family saga is Angela Carter at her bewitching best.

 

Read to fill the “Magical Realism” square of my 2017 Halloween Bingo card.

The large cast of off-beat characters in this book reminded me strongly of Canadian author, Robertson Davies. And all of the links back to Melchior Hazard, Shakespearean actor, made me think of Station Eleven! But Carter definitely makes this tale all her own, despite the echoes with other authors.

Like the Shakespeare that permeates the novel, there are lots of twins, sudden changes in fortune, costumes, and a lot of uncertain parentage. As the old saw goes, it’s a wise child that knows its own father. Dora Chance, Melchior’s illegitimate daughter and twin to Nora Chance, tells the tale and it unrolls like an article in a gossip rag. Whether you can trust all she says or not is a Chance that you’ll have to take! The Lucky Chances, as the sisters are known, can only be considered lucky in comparison to others in the tale. For instance, they were raised by a woman who seemed to actually care about them, rather than by their biological parents and in this, they seem to come out ahead.

Dora and Nora sound like they would be a lot of fun to have a gin and tonic with, but I wouldn’t want to stay in their house!

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