Gothic Nightmares: Fuseli, Blake and the Romantic Imagination is the book of an exhibition I never went to. I’ve had it for so long I’ve forgotten where I got it. I first started reading it about ten years ago but didn’t get very far with it because it is too big to carry around and I don’t read much at home. And finally I’ve finished it, thanks to my miracle morning routine.
Fuseli’s The Nightmare is one of my favourite pictures and there are several others in this collection that I was taken with. I’m not such a fan of William Blake. The book explores Fuseli’s position on the divide between neoclassical and romantic art. The use of neoclassical forms in new ways with new themes to produce something that reflected the changing times of the end of the 18th century and beginning of the 19th.
I enjoyed looking at the pictures and learning a bit more about art history. Maybe one day I’ll know what it all means.
At the moment I am mostly reading non-fiction, because I’m working on a novel and it seems to go better if I don’t get caught up in stories. However, I am reading a few novels and The Thirst by Jo Nesbo is one of them.
Jo Nesbo is one of my go-to easy reads. I know what I’m getting and I know I’m going to enjoy it. I’ll get swept up in the story, and it will be engaging without being hard work. The Thirst did exactly what I wanted from it when I bought it.
A rapist and killer that Harry Hole failed to catch in the past is now active again and seems to have raised his game. There are plenty of twists. The identity of the killer is known from fairly early in the book; he even has point of view chapters, but even so, Nesbo manages to cast doubt at various points, making the reader question what they think they know.
I like way the theme of addiction in the Hole novels. Hole is an alcoholic which is a cliche for detectives these days, but it is lifted by Nesbo with the parallel with addiction to his work. Is alcohol really Hole’s addiction? Or is it his coping strategy for his addiction to chasing serial killers? This has been present in all the novels, but becomes much more central in The Thirst. Harry has retired and is now a lecturer at police college. He doesn’t drink. His life is satisfying and orderly and things are going well. But the reappearance of this killer and his return to the chase throws everything into disarray. All the elements in his life that represent success are threatened.
I feel like it could have done with a bit of an edit. It was overly long in places. Even so, I enjoyed it and if you’re already a fan, it won’t disappoint. If you’ve never read any Jo Nesbo, I’d start at the beginning of the series.
The Death House by Sarah Pinborough
Published 2015, Gollancz
This is one of the free books I picked up at FantasyCon 2015. I’ve not read anything by Sarah Pinborough before but I have heard her speak at events.
In a post-apocalyptic future some people have developed a genetic mutation that reveals itself in the teenage years. It is so serious that children have regular blood tests and those that show the markers are removed from society. They are taken to homes where they are fed and watched until the illness presents itself and then they are taken to the sanitarium.
The Death House is the story of Toby and Clara who meet in the house and develop a sweet teenage relationship. It is beautifully written and the interactions of the characters are engaging and moving.
The trouble is I had expectations that something gory and gruesome was going to happen and it never did. I liked the book and I will read more of Sarah Pinborough’s work; she’s a great writer. I guess I had it in my mind that she was a horror writer of a more physical sort. The Death House is a lyrical horror of a more subtle type.
I’m delighted that /Garbage-File has reviewed my collection of short stories, Fragments, and deemed it well worth your money. If you like psychological horror that is gore-free but leaves you feeling decidedly uncomfortable, then this is for you.
My favourite bit was when the reviewer described one of my stories as ‘car-crash reading’. 🙂
It’s available for about £1 from Amazon or Smashwords.
Fragments is a collection of deliciously disturbing tales of psychological horror, featuring ghosts, supernatural creatures, and most terrifying of all, humans.
Fragments is now available via Amazon for the Kindle or via Smashwords for all e-reader formats.
C.R. Smith and I published Fragments a couple of years ago but originally it was only available on DriveThru.com as a .pdf. Not the best format for reading stories, especially ones so creepy you’ll need to be safely tucked up in bed, so we’ve created it in as many formats as we can.
If you read it, I’d love to hear your comments. Leave me a review where you purchased it, or a reply on this blog.
The Treatment is the second in Mo Hayder’s Jack Caffrey series. Caffrey is still obsessed with the paedophile next door and the mystery of what happened to his brother all those years ago.
Caffrey gets a case that seems a little too close for comfort. A family is held prisoner in their own home for a weekend. No one notices because they were supposed to be going on holiday. Instead, the mother is restrained and locked in a cupboard, the father is restrained on the landing while the son is abused. Then the perpetrator takes the child out of the house and is seen by a passerby. The police sweep the area but can’t find anything.
Whilst investigating this case, Caffrey is also trying to work out what happened to his brother. The cases are linked and Caffrey gets information that takes him out to a remote farm in Suffolk. Some of his actions are ill-advised and Caffrey is risking his job to pursue his obsession.
An extra complication is that Caffrey is dating one of the women that was a victim in the last book, Birdman, and she’s dealing with her experiences in a very public way. His secrecy and obsession with his brother isn’t making things between them better.
The plot twists and turns and the killer is hidden in plain sight. There are a few plausible candidates and Hayder shows how easy it can be to miss what is really going on. I wasn’t keen on the heavy-handed use of dialect for the character of Caffrey’s boss but that was the only thing that spoilt my enjoyment of the book. The resolution of all the plot lines was brutal and I found it very affecting.
Birdman is Mo Hayder’s debut novel and the first to feature Jack Caffrey, a handsome yet troubled detective. I enjoy a thriller and Mo Hayder is easy to read. Which should not be confused with easy to write.
Someone is murdering women and sewing live birds into their chests. Disturbingly, Hayder is able to present several plausible suspects. There’s a lot going on in the book aside from the investigation; there’s Caffrey’s struggle with the unresolved disappearance of his brother, and his overlapping romantic relationships. The plot is handled well and the real murderer is introduced early and hidden in plain sight.
Caffrey’s resolution of the crimes opens up some questions for the reader. Caffrey takes a personal path that might feel very satisfying of a need for retribution, for terrible crimes to receive terrible punishment. Birdman is a blend of horror and thriller and it is the horror ending we’re presented with; the evil that has risen is wiped out of existence. Only then can we sleep safe in our beds. But Caffrey is an officer of the law; he’s meant to serve it, not take it in his own hands. It’s an uncomfortable presentation of what a person might do when their sense of right and wrong is complicated. On reflection, this is a more thoughtful book that it appears, and I enjoyed it a lot.
I’m terribly aware how heavily skewed my reading is in favour of white men. It must have an impact on my writing, and my language, and my worldview, and I’d like to have more diversity in my reading. I read widely in terms of genre, but not so much in terms of author. There are blog challenges similar to the ‘100 books in a year’ challenge which I could do, except that it’s a tough year and I don’t want to take on anything I know I will turn into a chore. That doesn’t mean I can’t pay more attention though.
Whenever I look for contemporary female SFF writers Lauren Beukes is always at the top of the list. The Shining Girls is a story about a time-travelling serial killer. Harper stumbles across a house in the 1930s and to stay in the house he has to match girls with the trophies in the house. Kirby was attacked by Harper but got away. She becomes obsessed with finding out more about her assailant. What she discovers can’t possibly be true. Until he comes for her again. She got away and Harper has to correct his mistake.
The time-travelling element is an interesting twist on the serial killer horror story and the construction of the novel means that you don’t get all of the pieces until the end. It’s cleverly done. The characters are interesting. Harper is complex. Beukes conveys him in a way that shows how he is compelled by house. You could almost think he doesn’t have any choice. But she also shows how his personality makes him so compatible with the house, as if it drew its own to it.
Kirby is a brilliant heroine. She’s likeable, dogged and smart. Her previous traumatic experience makes part of her want to hide away and part of her want to fight back which I found very realistic. I thought it was a sensitive depiction of the complicated and contradictory feelings people have after being made a victim. And Kirby has more trouble in her life than that. It doesn’t define her and she still has to cope with all the other shitty things life hands her.
It was really good. I enjoyed it, would recommend it, and will be reading more work by Lauren Beukes.
Lately the urge to review books has sprung up again. I’ve read some good stuff lately (and some not so good stuff) and I’d like to record it.
So, first up is Poppet by Mo Hayder. I’ve only read one of her books before, Pig Island, and it was ok but not great. What really made me want to read this book was the cover art. I saw a couple of posters on the tube and it stuck in my mind. It is arresting. I love the face of the poppet. It’s creepy but also kind of beautiful. (I’ve just put the picture in the post and I can’t stop looking at it).
Poppet is the seventh of Hayder’s Jack Caffery series. I haven’t read any of the others but it doesn’t matter because Caffery is only one of several POV characters. The main character is AJ, who works in an institution for the criminally insane. Two of the inmates die and some others harm themselves in horrific ways. It is initially set up as a supernatural horror, but then segues into the horror of what other people do to each other. That’s my favourite kind.
To start with the patients are afraid of the ghost of a former matron who punishes the wicked with biblical quotes and does horrible things to them. AJ is annoyed with himself for starting to believe this stuff and decides to get to the bottom of it. His investigation points to one of the inmates, who makes poppets of the inmates and staff, who has horrible personal habits, and who murdered his parents in an especially gruesome manner. This inmate is released and AJ goes to the police, fearing he will try to kill the head of the institution.
Jack Caffery is working on a missing person case that a colleague has covered up and is trying to find a way to give closure to the family whilst protecting his colleague. His boss insists he takes this case but it’s so weird that doesn’t take it as seriously as he should. The actual evil is something else again and Hayder puts in a couple of other plausible red herrings before the big reveal.
I’m so glad I picked it up. This is a better book than Pig Island in terms of characterisation and writing. It is an equally easy read but is more gripping. The twists and turns are exciting and surprising, yet make complete sense in the context of the book. I liked it a lot and will read more of her books.
I picked up The Dead of Winter by Christopher Priestley in the 99p kindle sale. Priestley has a column in the British Fantasy Society magazine and I was interested to read his work.
This is a classic style ghost story. A young boy, Michael, is orphaned and sent to live with a mysterious benefactor in a creepy, isolated house in the fens.
Michael’s benefactor is a sickly man whose wife died and who now lives there with his brittle sister, and some humble and friendly servants. From the start, Michael sees things that can’t be explained, scary things that others don’t see.
As he tries to work out what is going on, he unravels the terrible secret at the heart of the house.
I found this novel short and not very scary. It was ok, but very much a Victorian ghost story which isn’t really my thing. When I went looking for the picture for this post I stumbled across another review that said the book was aimed at children, specifically eight to ten year olds. Seriously, these things should have some sort of label on them. But, with that perspective, the things I didn’t like about the book make a bit more sense. If you know someone with pre-teens who like a bit of horror, this would be very suitable.