Review: The Woman by Jack Ketchum and Oasis by Joan de la Haye

I offer my apologies to my readership (do I even have a readership? You tell me…); I have been so busy of late that finding time to update this whole shebang has been hard to come by.

My recent Halloween Reading List Bonanza has come to a sad end, by virtue of the fact that it’s not October anymore (dang) and I did not get to blog on all that I promised, unfortunately. I hope that by reading my posts on the books I did manage to review, that you’ve picked up on some handy tips and reading recommendations to follow up on. And not forgetting relevant movie adaptations. I think the representation of print horror on the big screen is a very interesting topic; something I’ll blog on in the future.

Naturally, I have still been reading, albeit, at the expense of work, important tasks and my love life.

Here are some of my most recent recommended reads:

The Woman by Jack Ketchum and Lucky McKee 

My interest in this book was piqued when I was walking around HMV like a miserable bastard one day and I saw the DVD adaptation in the horror section. I decided to buy the book first.

The Woman is a tale of an unnamed feral woman, the last survivor of a band of cannibals that roamed the American wilderness, who is spotted bathing in a stream by slick lawyer type Chris Cleek whilst out on a hunting trip. He decides to try and civilise her, instructing his family to clear out the cellar for a ‘project’. Cleek kidnaps the woman and brings her back to the family abode, shackles her to the wall of the cellar and calls the family (wife Belle, teenage kids Peg and Brian and little girl Darleen) down to marvel at his find.

The true nature of Chris’ personality soon becomes apparent as his ‘project’ rapidly spirals out of control. He is a cruel, egotistical man who frightens  his family into submission, has impregnated his own daughter after a sustained campaign of sexual abuse (that, it seems, the family are more than aware of) and the barn in the backyard holds a terrible, terrible secret that weighs heavy over the family as they wander through daily life, as if in a dream.

Through the woman’s internal monologue we can see that she is highly intelligent, has adapted magnificently to surviving in the most extreme environments, has superior instincts (for e.g. she can sense that Peg is pregnant as soon as she comes in the room) and is, quite frankly, a honed killing machine without much empathy for the civilised brutes who have ripped her from her way of life.

Chris and Belle’s son Brian is particularly susceptible to his father’s behaviour; he starts to emulate Chris and develops a few nasty habits of his own; such as taking to spying on the woman through a hole he has made in the cellar door and wanking off. Naturally, the woman knows he is there.

After witnessing his father Chris raping the woman one night, Brian goes into the cellar the following afternoon and attempts quite clumsily to torture the woman with a pair of pliers. Rather than be punished for his obscene behaviour after being caught by Peg, Brian is received warmly by his father who dismisses his behaviour as something any young lad would do. With Chris as the only male role model in his life, it becomes obvious that Brian is doomed to follow the same path as his father; he is also cruel and lacks compassion for those around him. It raises some very interesting questions about nature versus nurture, but as it’s the only environment that Brian has ever known, can he be truly blamed for his actions? It is a bit of an existential debate, I feel and too large to cover in this review.

Peg, on the other hand, is full of compassion for the woman and is horrified both at her father’s actions and her mother’s complacency. She intervenes when Chris and Belle use a pressure washer to clean the woman and apologises to her many times, though the woman’s own hodgepodge language is impossible for Peg to understand, and vice versa. The woman is interested in Peg, and as aforementioned, immediately knows she is pregnant. The woman appeals to Peg many times, calling her ‘mother’ in her own garbled tongue; Peg is unable to understand her, though there still seems to be a degree of mutual understanding between them. The woman vows to kill her own baby if she is impregnated as a result of the rape she has endured.

Ultimately, Chris’ violent behaviour escalates and teetering on the end of sanity, subjects his family to an evening of horror that turns into a bloodbath as Peg, in desperation, unshackles the woman, who as expected, wreaks her revenge in the most brutal of ways. Suffice to say, some very nasty family secrets finally come to light yet some ‘redemption’ is offered to the surviving members of the family.

How strong are the ties that bind?

Who is more civilised, the hunter or the hunted?

What is our true state of nature?

I found The Woman excellent and I truly couldn’t put it down even though I was trying to save it to read whilst working a night shift. I thought about it quite a lot that night to be honest which was a little bit depressing. The complexity of what actually makes us human and who/what makes us who we are, are both mind-boggling concepts. Despite the brutality in the book, I think the authors’ attempts to characterise their protagonists as victims of their own circumstances/upbringing helps us to remember that they were all innocent children once; like Darleen who is blissfully unaware of the events unfolding around her and embraces the unusual situation with the cheerful naivety of a child.

As Thomas Hobbes so famously said all those years ago, ‘the life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short’…

Oasis by Joan de la Haye

Oasis is a novella by South African author Joan de la Haye.

Solar radiation has fried the planet and those affected by the radiation have turned into zombies. Those few remaining survivors who have not been zombified are led by a team of crack military commandos making their way to an army base in the South Pole referred to as ‘New Atlantis’.

Events are told through the eyes of Maxine, a young woman who has spent the past year holed up in a shelter with her parents and her brother and his wife. Her brother and his wife have a lot of sex in the bunker which irritates Maxine and reminds her of her own single situation (until the commandos arrive and she has a passionate but ultimately short-lived affair with their leader).

The group encounter many zombies along the trail and Maxine laments the destruction of all the places she used to frequent and especially misses the ability to contact her friends through social media websites like Facebook and Twitter. I think it’s quite a comment on society today, with social media so ingrained in our lives, that in the event of a literal apocalypse, people still miss the ease in which they could communicate at the mere click of a mouse. That’s not a criticism of course; I thought it was quite wry.

Zombies of course, don’t communicate too well. All they want to do is kill people and eat them; they are hell-bent on destruction.

The group are followed along their path to ‘New Atlantis’ and Maxine narrowly misses being shot in the head after one of their number becomes infected. However, the bullet grazes her forehead (after passing through the infected person’s skull…), breaking the skin and Maxine begins to develop some very strange feelings indeed…

One thing I especially enjoyed about Oasis is that it didn’t take itself too seriously. I thought Maxine was a great protagonist and having a zombie story that is told from the viewpoint of a zombie was excellent. It reminds me a little of Dust by Joan Frances Turner (which I also  enjoyed), although not as sombre in its tone.

It’s quite a brief read, at around 43 pages, but it’s worth it for a short, sharp shock.

I also enjoyed its rather bleak ending despite all I said about how funny I thought it was.

It’s the end of the world and zombies are tearing up the place, what do you expect to happen!

 

That’s it for now, folks.

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