Category Archives: Genre

Holidays are coming!

I took a proverbial holiday from my blog for a good few months and now, I am actually going on a real-life holiday, to Tenerife! Woohoo!

Despite still feeling rather resentful about having to pay £70 for ONE hold bag with Ryanair, I’ve decided to concentrate on my reading list instead, as we all know that choosing the right holiday reads is an essential part of any trip.

Because I have recently become addicted to reading true-crime books (I know, I know…), my first holiday read is The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule; a friend of Ted Bundy, who was entirely unaware that he was, in fact, a killer of women.

My second holiday read is In The Woods by Tana French. I’ve heard a lot of good reviews so I am excited to get stuck into this one.

My final holiday pick is I Have Waited, And You Have Come by Martine McDonagh, which tells the story of Rachel, who meets a mysterious stranger in a post-apocalyptic world…can’t wait!

My poolside reading runs the gamut from true-crime to post-apocalyptic fiction but not being the Chick Lit type (what a horrific ‘genre’ title…), I felt I needed some reads I could really sink my teeth into. I am, quite literally, going to read my face off.

If I have enough cash, and can justify buying another book, then Tracks by Robyn Davidson will make the cut. I saw the trailer for the film in the cinema the other night and I literally swooned with excitement (having never heard of Davidson’s real-life trip before) and felt ludicrously inspired to go on my own intrepid journey right there and then (which was ridiculous considering that I had work in the morning, and was in fact, stuck in a cinema…). There’s always the future, right?

I am currently in the middle of reading and reviewing Wounding by Heidi James and I am about half-way through, at the moment. Watch this space for the review!

 

 

Review: NOS4R2 by Joe Hill

Some spoilers (sorry!)

If any of you are unfortunate enough to follow me on Twitter then you’ll know how desperate I have been to get my hands on a copy of NOS4R2 by Joe Hill. I was feeling pretty bleak about the whole situation, really. I felt as though I NEEDED a copy in my life but my finances prevented me from making that happen.

Nervously anticipating the last pay cheque from my last job, I was very happy to find that I could indeed afford to lay my greedy little hands on said tome, as Mr Taxman had generously given me a rebate. Success! images

So that morning, I trotted down to Waterstones in Swansea to make the purchase, feeling a little like Dick Whittington probably did when he discovered the streets were paved with gold (tenuous metaphor, I know…), to discover that there were only 2 copies left.

Did I seal the deal? You betcha ass I did. And now I am going to talk about that experience at length.

Vic McQueen is a girl who knows how to find things. With her trusty Raleigh Tuff Burner she is able to bridge the gap between lost and found, quite literally, with the aid of the Shorter Way Bridge. When she needs to find something (whether that be her mother’s lost bracelet or a priceless photograph) she hops on her bike and the Shorter Way Bridge takes Vic where she needs to go, even if that place is hundreds of miles away.

Vic doesn’t know if these trips are real or not and over time, finds herself rationalising these experiences with simpler, and quite frankly, saner explanations.

Crossing the Shorter Way Bridge doesn’t come without a price. When Vic returns from her adventures, she often experiences excruciating stabbing pains in her left eye, headaches and delirious bouts of fever which often lasts for days.

Feeling alone and seeking answers, Vic crosses the bridge to Here, Iowa and meets an eccentric woman who, through use of Scrabble tiles, divines that Vic will cross paths with a mysterious and terrifying stranger; a one Charles Talent Manx and his terrible 1938 Rolls Royce Wraith (though we find out his name later; remember that in Scrabble spelling names is against the rules…). il_170x135.210641763

Over time, Vic uses the bridge less and less, attributing each crossing merely as a fantastical illusion through which she can escape her unhappy home life.

Then, age 17, angry and seeking trouble, Vic crosses the Shorter Way Bridge and discovers it waiting for her at the other end. Trouble that drives a 1938 Rolls Royce Wraith; a certain someone who steals children from their lives, their parents and their humanity and takes them to Christmasland…a place where unhappy children can be happy…forever.

Only one child has escaped the clutches of Charlie Manx, and that is one Victoria McQueen, teen hell-raiser. But Charlie Manx does not forgive and he does not forget…

I found Vic McQueen to be a character that I could relate to on a couple of levels. I could empathise with her desire to escape her dysfunctional home life. We often escape into own worlds (or ‘inscapes’ as they are known in the book) to avoid tense situations or undesirable circumstances. Secondly, I could (and can) relate to the fact that Vic, for the longest time, doesn’t know who she is or what she wants to do.

Her whole life is tainted by her encounter with Charlie Manx and she is unable to cope, drinks to excess, and eventually burns down her house in an effort to exorcise the ghoulish voices that call her on the telephone to taunt her from Christmasland. Down the line, she is institutionalised, losing her grip on reality for a while, leaving her lover Lou, and son Wayne to carry on their lives without her.

I think it goes without saying that Vic is a fantastic female protagonist. She has a lot of issues (don’t we all…) and doesn’t fit the traditional conventions of what a heroine should be like; she drinks, swears, paints, fixes bikes, is covered with tattoos and is pretty much totally estranged from her family. Vic likes rock music and is realistic about her life and prospects and doesn’t kid herself that it’s all sweetness and light. She is almost a lone wolf figure; in company but always alone.

When Manx comes back in Vic’s life some decades down the line, seeking revenge, she does what she has to do; kicks ass and hunts that fucker down. She is vulnerable but doesn’t let fear paralyse her. She needs the men in her life, but more for the practicalities they offer, rather than any real emotional support; the exception perhaps being the kind-hearted Lou.

Another notable character is Bing Partridge, Manx’s gas mask-wearing henchman. Though not in a positive way at all…

I feel that for me personally, Bing represents the true horror in NOS4R2; an impressionable, remorseless, almost child-like killer and violator of women and men.

Answering a decades old advert in one of his father’s old magazines, Bing makes initial contact with Manx, who has been, over the years, advertising for Christmasland helpers.

Bing is desperate to join Charlie Manx in Christmasland, escaping his own hum-drum existence as a lackey at a chemical plant and does pretty much anything to achieve this.

He kidnaps children for Manx, gasses them into submission and then keeps their mothers for himself. Intoxicating them, raping them and then disposing of their bodies in his rancid basement.

Bing’s sadism knows no bounds as he kidnaps, tortures and rapes with the impunity that Manx’s operation grants him. The scariest thing about Bing, is that he truly believes what is doing is for the greater good, like most deluded serial killers;

‘Bing tried to tell himself that he was being foolish. He and Mr Manx were heroes, really; they did Christian work. If someone wrote a book about them, you would have to mark them down as the good guys. It did not matter that many of the mothers, when dosed with sevoflurane, would still not admit to their plans to whore their daughters or beat their sons…these things were in the future, a wretched future that Bing and Mr Manx worked hard to prevent,’ p.p. 209

As a teenager, Bing killed his father with a nail gun and, it is insinuated, raped his own mother before killing her as well. He is institutionalised until his is no longer deemed as a threat to society. Upon release, he puts in a good 30 years service with the chemical plant and dreams of bigger things. Bing is a horror that masquerades behind suburban banality.

I think that this would be a good point to mention that Manx himself is not a paedophile. Unlike Bing, who horribly violates the mothers of the children they kidnap, Manx is not motivated by sexual desire, just the very real desire to make unhappy children happy, put simply. Ultimately, Manx is using Bing to procure children for Christmasland and he does not concern himself with Bing’s extra-curricular activities.

In some ways, Manx reminds me of Willy Wonka; a figure who offers unhappy kids a future where they have complete control of their own lives, away from the negative influences of the outside world and from adults, more often than not, more concerned for themselves than the well-being of their offspring. What unhappy kid would refuse a trip to Christmasland?

All in all, I thought NOS4R2 was excellent. I thought it was an intense, bleak, thoughtful, empowering and exhilarating insight into the trials that Vic McQueen faces throughout her life gearing us up for her ultimate battle with Manx.

We are shown what it is to be good, selfless and generous, and the terrible consequences of being ruled by your own infernal desires.

Some things I noticed: 

-NOS4R2 reminded me of this episode of the X-Files; where a serial killer of children is revealed to have been the Santa at an all-year-round Christmasland-esque theme park.

-When Lou, Tabby and Wayne smash the Christmas ornaments at The Sleigh House, thus releasing the souls of the children kidnapped by Manx, it reminded me of a scene in Black House by Stephen King and Peter Straub. In this scene, Jack and co release children from some kind of hellish, other-worldly workhouse; children that have been kidnapped by Alzheimer’s-riddled child-killer Charles Burnside for a demon-like master. Kinda similar to Bing…Doctor_Sleep

-I was also geekily thrilled at all the references to other Joe Hill characters such as Craddock, of Heart-Shaped Box fame, and also True Knot, a band of murderous pensioners to be featured in Stephen King’s upcoming Doctor Sleep. My boyfriend and I have always thought that Scott Glenn would make a great Craddock in a film adaptation of HSB…

Some last things:

Here is a great video of Joe Hill reading from the first chapter of NOS4R2.

Guardian Books Podcast with Joe Hill 

Thanks for reading!

Upcoming Reviews

So I was perusing Twitter last night, as you do, when I came across a tweet from This is Horror, a UK-based horror review site, requesting a reviewer for one of their new titles. The title in question is Roadkill by Joseph D’Lacey. The synopsis on TIH runs as such:

”Two vehicles, stripped to the bare essentials, accelerate to 180 miles per hour on a deserted highway. Their journey along this dead straight stretch, known as the Final Five, will decide the fate of the drivers – forever. Only a hundred seconds separate them from the finish line as they hurtle towards their destiny, dreaming of glory.

But this is one highway they’ve never travelled before and neither of them knows what they’ll find out there. One thing is certain: every road has its obstacles.” Roadkill by Joseph D'Lacey

Sounds…intense! I look forward to reading and reviewing it. Watch this space, folks.

For those living in the area, there is also a launch party being held next weekend in Waterstones Coventry for Roadkill. All details here.

In other news…

My Stephen King fanzine has been completed and is available to buy right now! The price is £1 plus 60p p+p. See article below this for more details.

I am also desperate to get my hands on a copy of NOS4A2 by Joe Hill but unfortunately my finances are unlikely to stretch that far this month. Very frustrating! I will bide my time…

The Dragon Lady and the Mother Goddess Archetype.

SPOILER ALERT!

(Soon to appear (amended) in print in my very own self-published Stephen King fan-zine! Watch this space!)

Paul Sheldon, author of the best-selling Misery Chastain series, finds himself in a very precarious situation. After finishing his new novel ‘Fast Cars’ (his long-sought escape from Misery’s world) and inebriated after a bottle of celebratory champagne, Paul drives off in the snow. You can probably guess what happens next.

At the bottom of a ravine, Paul lies broken and bloodied in the wreck of his car. Lucky for him, a mysterious stranger comes to his aid and administers life-saving CPR…

…his rescuer is none other than former nurse and self-proclaimed number one fan, Annie Wilkes.

This signals for Paul the start of an ordeal unrelenting in its sadism. Book16

For me, Annie is a very interesting horror character. At first glance the narrative may seem to paint her as just another one dimensional psychopath but as Paul’s suffering intensifies, the complexities of her characterisation and representation are revealed to the reader.

Annie, represented as the archetypal ‘mother goddess’ initially, is caring, nurturing and patient. She rescues Paul from the snow blizzard, resets his shattered limbs, feeds him painkillers (the origin of which remains a mystery) and selflessly nurses him back to consciousness in her own home.

It soon becomes clear that Annie does not fit any particular ‘mother goddess’ archetype. She is quick to anger, abusive, possessive, obsessive and driven to acts of extreme violence at the slightest provocation.

One notable transgression has terrible consequences for Paul when Annie punishes him by chopping off his foot with an axe and cauterising it with a blow torch (this scene was executed rather differently in the 1990 film adaptation).

Paul, a man used to fast cars, hard living and women on tap, soon realises he is in a hell of jam long before the foot-chopping even begins.

To Paul, Annie represents an ancient savagery that existed before the birth of ‘civilisation’; an elemental force of nature designed to punish and destroy the unfaithful:

‘The image of Annie Wilkes as an African idol out of She or King Solomon’s Mines was both ludicrous and queerly apt…like an idol, she gave only one thing: a feeling of unease deepening steadily toward terror. Like an idol, she took everything else.’

Paul has seemingly awoken a malevolent deity determined to devour and destroy his life as he knows it.

Annie further destroys the ‘mother goddess’ archetype when Paul discovers that in her nursing days, she was alleged to have killed a number of patients under her care; gaining her the nickname of ‘Dragon Lady’ in the press.

Inevitably, Annie does have some weaknesses. One is Liberace. The other is Paul and the Misery series. Annie’s obsession with the fictional Misery Chastain see her buy into a world with entrenched gender norms; i.e. helpless maiden, smitten (male) rescuer. This is obviously directly at odds with her behaviour regarding Paul. But, she is manipulated by Paul to a certain degree; he flatters Annie by calling her his ‘favourite nurse’ and plays upon her social awkwardness (or naiveté) in order to get the things that he wants or make her look stupid.

Paul often denigrates Annie by calling her a ‘bitch’ and in the final climatic scene alludes to rape as the ultimate punishment: ‘I’m gonna (sic) rape you, all right, Annie. I’m gonna rape you because all I can do is the worst I can do’.

The rape threat is a metaphorical allusion, as he does not actually rape Annie (as you can read in the book); having been emasculated in several horrifying ways, all Paul has is his manhood and defending it is worth risking his life.

Obviously, the word ‘bitch’ has strong cultural connotations; one is that it is often used to describe women who are strong, uncompromising and uninterested in pleasing men.

But ultimately, Annie does want to please Paul. She wants Paul to love her as much as she loves him. The power of the idol lies in the unwavering obedience and blind devotion of the hapless worshipper.

Whilst King’s representation of mental illness may be a little clumsy in parts, I think he is successful in creating a character that not only rebels against the ‘mother goddess’ stereotype that is often attached to women, but also horror genre conventions that relegate women to passive and undemanding roles.

This is especially apparent in film where many female characters meet their maker by the most pointlessly violent means, or through sadistic sexual torture.

Annie smashes ‘traditional’ horror conventions by existing within her own right as a female character who is seemingly indestructible. Paul’s attempts to kill Annie are often thwarted by her unworldly levels of precognition (alluding to her representation as some kind of all-knowing being).

However, Annie is not infallible, and she does meet her death at the hands of Paul.

We sympathise with Paul, as we should, as he’s had his goddamned foot and thumb cut off and cauterised with a blow-torch! But we are not surprised because the good guy always wins, right? Especially when there are some crazy women that need putting in their place.

Ultimately, Annie’s (somewhat deranged) ‘love’ for Paul was her undoing; we can also sympathise with her, too.

Anyway, I still love Misery despite my minor observations.

 

Some idle ruminations on feminist fiction

So I have been reading a lot more over the last few weeks which is excellent, given my February slump. Sometimes you just got to do things that aren’t that fun, like work. I guess sometimes I just don’t feel like reading, especially when I have got a lot on my mind.

I am going to see Margaret Atwood in Bristol this summer! This is very exciting. I am a relatively new Atwood reader, having only read Oryx and Crake & Year of the Flood last autumn. I received The Handmaid’s Tale for Christmas and I recently just finished The Blind Assassin, which was fantastic. I also started The Edible Woman but I haven’t really enjoyed what I’ve read so far. It’ll be worth a second glance sometime soon, I am sure. 

I am surprisingly not that well-read in terms of what could be considered (modern) classic feminist fiction.

I read The Color Purple at school (the sense of despair at the injustices of life in particular is something that has stuck with me as I’ve gotten older; but also the sense of unparalleled optimism and the love of friends that shines through the brutality that Celie experiences).

I think one of my favourite books of all time is Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. You just have to read it, trust me.

Written in 1937, it tells the tale of Janie Crawford, an African-American woman in Florida who throws off the shackles of society to become the mistress of her own destiny; taking lovers, leaving lovers, becoming financially independent.

I am definitely going to have to take a look at it again as I read it so fast the first time; I literally couldn’t stop reading it from the moment I bought it.

I have yet to start Beloved by Toni Morrison, which I acquired nearly a year ago.

I am mid-way through The Bloody Chamber by feminist favourite Angela Carter. I’ve never read anything by her before. I have to say that I am finding it akin to a sumptuous banquet of words that you just want to rub your face in. If you read some of the stories out loud, the prose would drip off your tongue like honey. Flesh, fur, hair, jewels, roses, snow, blood, ocean…and tigers! Dogs! Horses! Monkey butlers! Strange mechanised doppelgängers!

It’s almost arousing.

I took a little break from my crime fiction extravaganza recently as it was getting a little bit intense but I feel ready to start again soon! Once my eBay purchases arrive…

If anyone has any feminist fiction recommendations then please comment and let me know!

 

March Round-Up!

1. Everybody Talks About the Weather…We Don’t: The Writings of Ulrike Meinhof:

A fascinating insight into the life of Ulrike Meinhof; from her humble beginnings as a Christian, pipe-smoking pacifist to militant, extreme left-wing terrorist.

Meinhof started her career as a journalist for left-wing German magazine konkret with her then husband Klaus Rainer Röhl, living in Hamburg with her twin daughters, mingling with the intellectual set of the time.

Ten years later, she had abandoned her bourgeoisie existence, her family, and was a leading figure in the RAF (Rote Armee Faktion, or the Baader-Meinhof Gang) alongside Andreas Baader and Gudrun Ensslin; notorious for their acts of politically motivated violence. 220px-Ulrike_Meinhof_als_junge_Journalistin_(retuschiert)

The actions of the RAF had arguably evolved from the hotbed of student activity that had existed in West Germany in the late 1960’s. Student protests against the visit of the Shah of Iran to West Germany had resulted in the death of student Benno Ohnesorg at the hands of a police officer (later found out to have been a Stasi agent), leading student figure Rudi Duschke was shot in the head by anti-communist Josef Bachmann, and the appointment of Kurt Georg Kiesinger (a former Nazi party member) as chancellor of West Germany triggered widespread protests and a re-examination of the collective psyche of the German people post WW2.

The RAF believed that actions spoke louder than words, but was their integral message lost in the inevitable sensationalist press coverage that followed their activities? The collection of Meinhof’s work gives us an insight into not only her personal development from journalist to terrorist, but also an insight into the development and motivation of the movement itself through her articles, which invariably fell apart  as a result of infighting and personal clashes.

Altogether an interesting examination into one of the most turbulent periods in modern European history.

 

2. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn:

On the morning of Amy and Nick Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary, Amy inexplicably goes missing. Nick is the prime suspect in the eyes of the world, some of the things he says and does in the aftermath of Amy’s disappearance betray a distinct lack of concern, or rather, indifference. The discovery of Amy’s diary further damages Nick’s reputation as her detailed entries reveal she was afraid of him…

…but all is not as it seems. 8442457

A complex dissection of the minutiae of marriage. How well do we really know our partners? Will our seemingly inconsequential actions today have terrible repercussions in the future?

Definitely a page turner for me.

 

3. The Wire in the Blood by Val McDermid:

Nobody writes serial killers like Val and the second book in the Tony Hill/Carol Jordan series is no different. A razor sharp dissection of celebrity life and what horrors lie beneath the thin veneer of fame.

Jacko Vance, celebrity, chat-show host, dedicated and tireless charity volunteer and former Olympic hopeful, is the prime suspect in the murders of young teenage girls.

For anyone reading who isn’t familiar with UK news, the parallels between the fictional Jacko Vance and the very real (and very dead) Jimmy Savile are not accidental. Val McDermid interviewed Jimmy Savile as a young journalist in 1977 and was deeply unnerved by the experience.

Hiding in plain sight, Jimmy Savile was able to abuse vulnerable young people. The NSPCC and Metropolitan Police state that they have received complaints from over 450 victims, making him one of the most prolific sex offenders in UK history. {6E09B9D6-3B15-49E9-8562-B200CA1E8ABD}Img100

Using her experiences interviewing Savile, McDermid then created Jacko Vance, who hiding  in plain sight, rapes and murders young women. Whilst not all similarities are exact (as far as we are aware, Savile did not murder any of his victims) Wire in the Blood never-the-less leads us into a world where men can, and do, get away with murder.

Whilst McDermid has been criticised in the past for the violence enacted against women in her books, I think it’s very important to remember that acts of terrible violence ARE enacted on women, every day, all over the world; it is an inescapable truth in many women’s lives. I think fiction can work to draw attention to issues such as violence against women.

Val McDermid talks about this here.

Women’s Aid have some statistics that you may find interesting.

 

 

 

World Book Night 2013

In all the excitement of my daily life (…) I completely forgot to mention the fact that I have been chosen as a giver for WBN13!

I will be giving out 20 copies of The Reader by German author Bernhard Schlink.

I read a bit of The Reader while I was at university studying German and Politics, but in German. I am very excited to get a chance to read it again (in English, of course) and share my love of reading with all that will take a copy off my hands. 413094_10151539805755203_1290295507_o

I was also a giver for WBN12; I gave out copies of Misery by Stephen King, which went down very well.

I did actually feel that this years short-list was a bit disappointing compared to 2012; but it depends on your tastes, of course. I personally would have liked to have seen more horror/crime on the list. I often feel like horror gets marginalised in these kinda things. I think ‘Interview with the Vampire’ by Anne Rice would have been a good addition, or ‘Different Seasons’ by Stephen King. They are both excellent introductions to the genre, in my humble opinion.

The fact that members of the public can apply and essentially get books for free to distribute amongst their friends and families (some who may not be big readers or can’t afford to buy many themselves) is a great thing and should be celebrated accordingly.

Long live World Book Night!