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review 2017-08-07 18:14
Gothic psychological horror, with haunted house and ghosts for art and lovers of antiques.
PAINTED: A Horror Novel - Kirsten McKenzie

Thanks to Rosie Amber (from Rosie’s Book Review Team, check here if you would like to have your book reviewed) and to the author for providing me with an ARC copy of this novel, that I freely chose to review.

When I read the description of Painted I knew I had to read it, as it was a horror novel (and despite how much I like the genre, I don’t seem to read many of them), and it had to do with art. When I read that the author had worked in the antiques family business; that sealed the deal for me.  I had not read any work by this author before (and I understand this is the first time she writes horror) but I am pleased to have discovered her.

I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, but let’s say we have a dead painter who left very specific instructions in his will as to how to deal with the artwork he left behind. Unfortunately, there had been changes at his lawyer’s and his instructions were ignored. And we all know what happens when we ignore warnings, don’t we?

There are authors who are better at building characters than at creating a plot, and there are also authors who excel at describing places and objects but are not so good at providing psychological insights. McKenzie manages to create a great gothic atmosphere (some reviewers have said that the novel is more gothic than pure horror, but both things do not exclude each other), with a fantastically eerie and creepy house, full of even creepier portraits, and a variety of objects, furniture, and even plants that all combine to create a fabulous setting for the novel. In fact, the house becomes another character, one that hides many secrets, and of course, many ghosts.

But the author also creates fully-fledged characters, with their passions, foibles, secrets (some darker than others), and stories. Even when we do not get to share much time with them, we get flashes of their personality (be it because of their fastidiousness about their personal appearance, or because of the way they hang on to mementos from the past, or the way they present a false and harmless persona to the world when they are anything but). She manages to do this by using a variety of techniques, especially by her particular use of point of view. The story is written in the third person, but it shares the points of views of different characters. There is a certain degree of head-hopping, although I did not find it confusing and it is very smoothly done. We do see things from the perspective of all the characters. We mostly follow Anita, the young woman sent by the auctioneer’s to catalogue the paintings, because she is the first one to arrive and she spends the most time at the house, but we even get an insight into the thoughts of the lawyer’s secretary and of the farmer’s dog. And of course, the baddies (although it is not easy to decide who is good and bad in the story). There are also moments when we are told something that none of the characters could know (a great way of creating suspense and forecasting future events), like references to shadows, sounds nobody has heard yet, and things that happen behind character’s back or when they are asleep.

The character easiest to empathise and later sympathise with is Anita. It is clear from the beginning that she is battling with something that happened to her in the past and is bravely trying to get on with her life (despite still experiencing symptoms of PTSD). Her story is terrible in its own right, and it makes her reactions to what happens more justified. Some characters are nasty and difficult to like (like the lawyer), but most of them are given interesting backgrounds and scenes that make them memorable, and some are much more twisted than we realise.

I loved the details of the process of cataloguing the house contents (as I love antiques and TV programmes about antiques. Yes, I could watch The Antiques Roadshow forever and never get bored), the descriptions of the painting process, and the pace of the novel. The atmosphere is created slowly and we follow the characters’ commonsensical approach to the events to begin with and share with them their descent into paranoia and utter horror. The step-by-step reveal, the twists and turns, and the ghosts (it reminded me of The Turn of the Screw by Henry James) are also masterly rendered. And the ending… No, I did not see it coming, and as a fan of unhappy endings in horror books, this manages to satisfy, to surprise and to leave us wondering.

This is psychological horror, with ghosts and haunted house, at its best, and it does not contain gore or extreme violence (there is more menace and imagining than there is anything explicit), so I would recommend it to lovers of the genre, and to those who love atmospheric readings and don’t mind a scare or two. I cannot comment on the author’s previous writing, but she definitely has a talent for this genre, and based on the quality of her writing, I’m sure we’ll hear more from her.

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review 2017-02-25 00:00
The Turn of the Screw
The Turn of the Screw - Henry James The only thing I really enjoyed was Emma Thompson's performance. She's what kept me listing (and reading along at some parts).

I just didn't get it? It didn't get me? It literally did not pull me into the story or hold my true interest. Perhaps a second reading/listening in the future.
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review 2017-02-11 00:00
The Turn of the Screw
The Turn of the Screw - Henry James 3.5 stars

This is a perfect ghost story. It slowly and continuously gets more creepy and has that vague way of doing things to keep you guessing even after it's over.
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url 2016-10-01 17:48
Audible (US) Daily Deal for October 1st
The Turn of the Screw - Richard Armitage - introduction,Audible Studios,Henry James,Emma Thompson

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, narrated by Emma Thompson, introduction by Richard Armitage.

 

Available today for $1.95.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2016-09-10 19:35
Halloween Book Bingo 2016: Fourth Update -- BINGO!!
Das Fräulein von Scuderi: Erzählung aus dem Zeitalter Ludwig des Vierzehnten - E.T.A. Hoffmann
The Turn of the Screw - Henry James
The Dain Curse - Dashiell Hammett
The Lottery - Shirley Jackson
Hallowe'en Party - Agatha Christie

 

The Books:

Read by Candlelight or Flashlight – E.T.A. Hoffmann: Das Fräulein von Scuderi (Mademoiselle de Scuderi) (read by flashlight, in bed)

A spooky mystery set in the 1680s, in the Paris of Louis XIV. Mlle. de Scuderi – an elderly gentlewoman who is in the confidence of the king and his maitresse, Madame de Maintenon – gets involved, very much against her own will, in the efforts to clear up a string of brutal robbery-murders, as well as the death of Paris's most famous jeweller.  She isn't actually the person to solve the crimes, but acts as a powerful intermediary on behalf of the person wrongfully accused, and her advocacy on his behalf eventually leads to the solution.

 

Those familiar with the real-life Edinburgh tale of Deacon Brodie may find some elements of this story familiar.

(spoiler show)

 

I read this in German; Hoffmann's language is rather florid (and might well be too florid for me under different circumstances), but somehow it fits the setting and mood of this story very well.

 

 

Ghost Stories and Haunted Houses – Henry James: The Turn of the Screw  

A perfectly-timed, profoundly unnerving fireside tale of a young governess's experiences on her very first job, guarding two children – a boy of ten and a girl of eight – who appear charming and innocent initially, but are slowly and bit by bit revealed to be possessed by the evils spirits of their former governess and her paramour, the household's former manservant.  By Henry James's standards rather short and concise (even in its language), and all the more memorable for its blend of succinct language and masterfully crafted, eery atmosphere.

 

 

Free Space – Dashiell Hammett: The Dain Curse

Hammett's second novel; one of his "Continental Op" stories, concerning the (alleged) curse besetting a young San Francisco heiress who sees all persons close to her die a violent death within a very short space of time.  A classic noir tale, though the damsel in distress is actually not so much "damsel" as in genuine distress; with everything from an obscure cult that could give any of the more recent real-life ones a run for their money, a lonesome cliffside mansion, plenty of flying bullets and other sinister doings, and plenty of "saps," "chumps," and "swell" things and characters.  I like the Op's narrative voice; it's unsentimental and matter of fact, but without quite the level of cynicism of Chandler's Philip Marlowe. The Op also genuinely cares for the lady's well-being and goes to quite a distance on her behalf, without claiming even half his well-deserved laurels at the end.

 

 

Set in New England – Shirley Jackson: The Lottery

One of Jackson's greatest masterpieces, the terrifying story of an annual lottery (by Jackson's own account, set in her Vermont hometown, though the location is not actually named), which seems to begin as just another small town event, but is slowly and inexorably revealed to be a drawing for the victim of a ritualistic stoning.  No reason for the ritual is given and the story stops short of describing the stoning itself in great detail, but it doesn't actually have to – you're chilled to the bone by the end of the story regardless; which is precisely what Jackson was aiming for, of course: she wanted people to think about the casual violence we inflict on each other each day every day without even thinking twice.  (And indeed, many of Jackson's original readers, who found the story on the pages of the New Yorker in 1948, took it for fact and asked, shocked and appalled, in what part of America rituals such as these were actually permitted to take place in the middle of the 20th century.)

 

 

Set on Halloween – Agatha Christie: Hallowe'en Party

One of Christie's final Poirot novels, and one of the few books that stand out favorably among her final books overall.  There is the odd passage here and there where Christie reveals that she really was not – nor did she seem to want to be – in touch with the England of the 1960s, but the mystery itself is finely-crafted and holds up well; even if Christie in part revisits familiar ground (but then, she frequently did that).

 

Poirot is summonned to a village some 40 miles from London (in Miss Marple territory, it would seem in fact) by his friend, crime novelist (and Agatha Christie stand-in) Ariadne Oliver, after a young girl has been found murdered at a Halloween party that Miss Oliver happens to have attended.  The dead girl, during the preparations for the party, had proclaimed that she had once witnessed a murder – and though everybody is quick to declare her to have been a braggart and a liar who was probably just trying to impress the celebrity novelist in attendance, Poirot is reluctant to agree with that judgment, arguing that someone obviously took her words at face value and chose to kill her rather than running the risk of discovery.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Currently Reading:

    

Scary Women (Authors) – Daphne Du Maurier: Jamaica Inn

 

 

Finished – Update 1:

 

Creepy Crawlies – Arthur Conan Doyle: The Adventure of the Speckled Band
Supernatural – Arthur Conan Doyle: The Sussex Vampire
Set in New England – Shirley Jackson: The Lottery

 

 

Finished – Update 2:

The Turn of the Screw - Henry James Das Fräulein von Scuderi: Erzählung aus dem Zeitalter Ludwig des Vierzehnten - E.T.A. Hoffmann

Ghost Stories and Haunted Houses – Henry James: The Turn of the Screw
Read by Candlelight or Flashlight – E.T.A. Hoffmann: Das Fräulein von Scuderi (Mademoiselle de Scuderi)
(read by flashlight, in bed)

 

 

Finished – Update 3:

The Canterville Ghost - Oscar Wilde, Inga Moore  The Legend of Sleepy Hollow - Washington Irving
 
Young adult horror –
Oscar Wilde: The Canterville Ghost
Pumpkin –
Washington Irving: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

 

 

Finished – Update 4:

The Dain Curse - Dashiell Hammett Hallowe'en Party - Agatha Christie

Free Space – Dashiell Hammett: The Dain Curse
Set on Halloween – Agatha Christie: Hallowe'en Party

 

 

TA's Reading List:

Read by Candlelight or Flashlight – E.T.A. Hoffmann: Das Fräulein von Scuderi (Mademoiselle de Scuderi) (novella)

Magical Realism – Isabel Allende: La casa de los espíritus (The House of the Spirits) (novel)

Witches – Terry Pratchett: Wyrd Sisters (or possibly Terry Pratchett / Neil Gaiman: Good Omens) (novel)

Genre: Horror – Edgar Allan Poe: The System of Dr. Tarr and Professor Fether (short story); alternately E.A. Poe: The Tell-Tale Heart or The Masque of the Red Death (also short stories)

Black Cat – Ngaio Marsh: Black as He's Painted (novel) (black cat central to the story and therefore also black cat on the cover of the stand-alone paperback edition)

Diverse Authors Can Be Spooky Fun – Possibly Edwidge Danticat (ed.): Haiti Noir (short story anthology); otherwise TBD

Ghost Stories and Haunted Houses – Henry James: The Turn of the Screw (novella)

Young adult horror – Oscar Wilde: The Canterville Ghost (novella)

Scary Women (Authors) – Daphne Du Maurier: Jamaica Inn (novel)

Reads with BookLikes Friends – Arthur Conan Doyle: The Hound of the Baskervilles (novel)

Grave or Graveyard – Edgar Allan Poe: The Cask of Amontillado (short story); alternately Ngaio Marsh: Grave Mistake (novel) or Umberto Eco: The Prague Cemetery

Genre: Mystery – Peter May: The Blackhouse (novel)

Free Space – Dashiell Hammett: The Dain Curse

Gothic – Horrace Walpole: The Castle of Otranto (novel)

Creepy Crawlies – Arthur Conan Doyle: The Adventure of the Speckled Band (short story)

"Fall" into a Good Book – Edgar Allan Poe: The Fall of the House of Usher (short story)

Locked Room Mystery – Gaston Leroux: Le mystère de la chambre jaune (The Mystery of the Yellow Room) (novel)

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night – Agatha Christie: And Then There Were None (novel)

Set in New England – Shirley Jackson: The Lottery (short story)

Full Moon – James D. Doss: White Shell Woman (novel) (full moon on the cover, and the protagonist / investigator is called Charlie Moon); alternately Dennis Lehane: Moonlight Mile

Vampires vs. Werewolves – Terry Pratchett: Feet of Clay (Night Watch novel; female werewolf one of the main characters & running gag involving a vampire)

Supernatural – Arthur Conan Doyle: The Sussex Vampire (short story)

Classic Horror – E.T.A. Hoffmann: Der Sandmann (The Sandman) (short story)

Pumpkin – Washington Irving: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (short story)

Set on Halloween – Agatha Christie: Hallowe'en Party (novel)

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