The Galaxy, and the Ground Within

Title: The Galaxy, and the Ground Within

Author: Becky Chambers

Summary: When a freak technological failure halts traffic to and from the planet Gora, three strangers are thrown together unexpectedly, with seemingly nothing to do but wait.

Pei is a cargo runner at a personal crossroads, torn between her duty to her people, and her duty to herself.

Roveg is an exiled artist, with a deeply urgent, and longed for, family appointment to keep.

Speaker has never been far from her twin but now must endure the unendurable: separation.

Under the care of Ouloo, an enterprising alien, and Tupo, her occasionally helpful child, the trio are compelled to confront where they’ve been, where they might go, and what they might be to one another.

Together they will discover that even in the vastness of space, they’re not alone.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: I was automatically approved for a review copy of this book by NetGalley, and despite the utter hassle getting an epub onto my nook has become these days, for the fourth (and final) book in the Wayfarers series I would have endured worse. With the previous book being a slight disappointment for me compared to the first two, I approached this one with a little more caution. I needn’t have. It is absolutely bloody fantastic.

The Galaxy, and the Ground Within feels like it brings together elements from all three of the previous books. The adventures of space similar to Angry Planet, the limited number of main characters akin to Common Orbit, and the feeling of isolation from a Spaceborn Few. It takes those elements and makes something wholly new and wonderful.

All five of the main characters are loveable, another common trait for this series of books. Roveg was my standout favourite, though. For someone with a literal hard shell, he was so soft at heart. Similarly, Ouloo, the host of where this group are stranded for several long days, only wants everyone to be happy and does everything she can to make that happen. Pei and Speaker were fascinating, both individually, but especially together; their tentative relationship and the juxtaposition of both their species’ histories. Tupo is the glue holding all the other characters together, simultaneously a moody teenager and a ball of curious energy, xe was definitely my second favourite character.

With an unforeseen hiatus from their travels and stuck for several days on a pit-stop planet with nowhere to go, every single character goes on a journey regardless. They learn from each other, about each other, and give each other advice. There is a blast of action at the start of the book, and some tense action at the end. The middle is a quiet and meaningful meander from one to the other. The characters gradually give up more of themselves and their stories as they get to know one another, and on the whole it was just so peaceful.

Of course, there is the amazing world building that Chambers writes so well. Details and information dotted and sprinkled throughout, always adding depth and interest to the characters; the various species, cultures, and social norms; as well as to the story as a whole. The book touches on important topics as commonplace as dietary requirements, accessibility, and language, to equally important but more philosophical topics such as the concept of home, the merits of war, and the erasure of an entire species.

This book is just… so… lovely. It left me with a feeling of such warmth. A group of such diverse folk in a difficult situation, all making the best of it, being nice and considerate to each other. What does it say about the real world (or perhaps my perceptions of it), that a book about people simply being kind to each other affected me so much?

They say that sometimes a book finds you exactly when you need it. I think for me this was one of those books at one of those times. I didn’t want this book to end. I felt safe while I was reading it, and dragged it out far longer than I needed to. But I just absolutely adored this book. I’m sad to see this series end, but look forward to revisiting it again in the future.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Title: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Author: Douglas Adams

Summary: One Thursday lunchtime the Earth gets unexpectedly destroyed to make way for a new hyperspace bypass. For Arthur Dent, who has only just had his house demolished that morning, this seems already to be more than he can cope with. Sadly, however, the weekend has only just began, and the Galaxy is a very strange and startling place.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3.5/5

Review: After failing spectacularly at reading during 2020, i have set my sights incredibly low for 2021. I have a goal of six books, and the low-pressure of ensuring those books are whatever i want. Graphic novels, short story magazines, and novellas? Yes please.

Which brings me to my first book of 2021: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I’ve seen the film, so I knew the basic plot. Science fiction is pretty much my favourite genre (if you’re making me choose!). I know it’s light-hearted and silly. And, obviously, it’s short. I started reading it on the first of January with the only aim to finish it by the end of the month. Yay me–I managed it!

Overall, I really enjoyed it. It has plenty of chuckle and snort out loud moments (nothing quite as strong as a laugh). The dialogue was perfection–so simple, with characters repeating themselves and stating the obvious and just… being real, i suppose. It was (pardon the pun) down to earth, relatable, and made for easy reading.

The characters are fun, and while the book as a whole is quite cheerful, it does touch on a couple more serious things. Namely Zaphod’s discovery that he has messed with his own brain and memories, and Marvin the robot’s depression. My favourite character by far is our main lead, Arthur Dent. He’s just… so… frank? Restrained? Unassertive? British? He somehow both doesn’t at all keep up with the new world around him, and also keeps up so well he gets ahead of it a time or two. And, of course, there’s my favourite line:

Arthur blinked at the screens and felt he was missing something important. Suddenly he realised what it was.
“Is there any tea on this spaceship?” he asked.

For a book set in space, it is very British, and I can’t deny I love that about it.

My main issue with the book is how hard it’s trying. To be silly, to include random facts, and to elbow in little stories. I enjoy silly random facts and stories as much as anyone who picks up this book knowing what they’re getting into. But. But i like them to be relevant to the story, not just a random aside. This links in strongly with my dislike of footnotes; I just think if it’s important enough to mention–put it in the main body of the bloody story. This book bypasses that issue by putting random snippets not at all important in the main body of the story. It did feel like being forced to read footnotes and i kind of hated it.

Of course, only having one female character and all the action happening at the very start and very end of the book didn’t help either.

But still, overall it was a good read. As light-hearted and fun as i’d expected, if not quite as outstanding overall as i’d hoped. I’ll probably give the next book in the series a go, mostly because i have no idea what happens in the sequels, and that could be even more fun.

2020 End of Year Review

Title: 2020

Summary: A bit of a mess.

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆ 1/5

Review: January 1st is the anniversary of when I started this blog. January 1st 2021 marks Marvel at Words’ eighth birthday. It has been tradition on the blog to mark the occasion and start the year with an end of year survey, going over the books I’ve read and bookish accomplishments over the last 12 months. Thing is, 2020 was a bit of a mess, all told—I’m sure everyone reading this can relate—and I just… didn’t read books.

I can’t really articulate why I didn’t read books. I was just not in the mindset for it. I didn’t even manage to finish a book before things really started kicking off with the virus and lockdown, let alone in the midst of it all. I just found it impossible to fully let the real world go and immerse myself into the fictional world on the page. I started several books, but didn’t get very far with them at all before abandoning them.

My one saving grace was Northern Lights and its audiobook. The one, single book I read in 2020. But even that took me an immense amount of time to get through, compared with how long it has taken me to read books in the past. I listened to one or two chapters a week, mostly while also occupied with pages in a sweary colouring book. Although I did finish it, in many ways it still felt like a chore.

I didn’t buy very many books at all in 2020 either, which means there will be no 2020 book buying analysis coming. I bought a staggeringly grand total of five books in 2020. Even with that low number, as I only read one book, my to-read pile has continued—albeit slowly—to grow.

While there is not much bookish-related activity to look back on in 2020, I thought it would be good to set some bookish intentions for 2021. I refuse to continue to not read books. Books are things that have brought me so much joy in the past, and I am determined to reclaim that. While I cannot force the reading mojo upon myself, I will do what I can to encourage it, rather than giving up on it altogether. And so my intentions are simple and few:

Read six books – I set myself what I thought was the low-low goal of 12 books in 2020. One a month, I though. Easy peasy, I thought. Six books in 2021 feels like a mountain compared to the one book I did manage in 2020. But it’s a mountain I am motivated to climb. I am putting no pressure on myself as to what kind of books or the speed at which I should be reading them. I want the focus to be on enjoying the act of reading, rather than the number or variety of books.

Write six stories – This is a complementary goal to the reading. If I’m not feeling in the right mood to read, perhaps I can feel motivated to write. So, six stories. As short and silly and pointless as they want to be. Because as much as I want to read words, I want to be making them as well. And I want to share them here. As with the reading, I’m putting no pressure on myself. These stories can be about anything, as as short or as long as the muse makes them.

That’s it. Those are my intentions. Minimal, low-pressure, and hopefully high-fun. Because that’s my intention for 2021… to find the joy in things again.

Northern Lights

Title: Northern Lights

Author: Philip Pullman

Summary: Lyra Belacqua lives half-wild and carefree among the scholars of Jordan College, with her daemon familiar always by her side. But the arrival of her fearsome uncle, Lord Asriel, draws her to the heart of a terrible struggle – a struggle born of Gobblers and stolen children, witch clans and armoured bears.

As she hurtles towards danger in the cold far North, Lyra never suspects the shocking truth: she alone is destined to win, or to lose, the biggest battle imaginable.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3.5/5

Review: The first book I’ve finished in 2020! Yes, it’s July. This year has been and continues to be A Struggle. Reader’s block is absolutely a thing. After starting and not finishing several books, I decided to give an audiobook a try. It came with its own problems, but I finished the thing, so it’s a win.

I had seen the recent BBC adaptation of this book, so knew the plot. I was actually counting on that to help me with actually finishing the book. And in fact, in some ways, it helped me enjoy the book more. Knowing what was coming, namely the tragic end for one of the characters, made moments earlier in the book and leading up to it hit much heavier than they would have. I was actually crying at a couple of points, understanding the meanings behind things and how certain aspects played out.

The book was actually quite dark, which I enjoyed. There were a few moments where I winced, thinking of younger readers experiencing the clear violence and trauma. But I do think it’s important that the book doesn’t shy away from it, either. It’s exploring the importance and anguish of the fantasy concept of having a daemon, and allows the reader to understand and connect with that deeply.

For me the characters were mostly very clear cut good or bad. Which is fine, though I prefer the morally grey. I loved Lyra, our lead character. She has such passion and intelligence and determination. I loved Roger, her best friend and side kick, and how they would obviously do anything for each other. I loved Iorek Byrnison, the armoured bear, with his wisdom and kindness and strength. I hated Lord Asriel and the size of his ego–he might have been intelligent, but he was cruel. I hated Mrs Coulter and her false affection and manipulation. I didn’t hate, but found myself disliking Lee Scoresby and his brash American-ness. Though I am hoping some characters will become more complex and interesting over the course of the sequels.

What I enjoyed most were the main themes of the story. Daemons and the connections humans share with them. Dust and where it comes from and how it affects people. Parallel universes and trying to reach them. These and the characters I loved will be what draws me back to listen to the sequels. I’m quite excited about them, now I have no idea about where the story goes.

Audiobooks: Awesome or Awful?

Audiobooks: Awesome or Awful?I tried an audiobook once, years ago. I didn’t like it. I didn’t like the voices the narrator put on for the characters. I didn’t like the emphasis he used in sentences. It was all just wrong. I quickly gave up and never bothered again. Five minutes of one audiobook and I decided I didn’t like any of them.

But then.

This year I haven’t yet been able to finish a book. I’ve started several, but just… can’t… finish them. Turns out 2020 is messing with my mind too much and I haven’t been motivated or focused enough to actually want to read much.

So, I thought about audiobooks again. I thought about the fact I’d dismissed them outright, years ago, after trying and not getting on with one. I thought about the fact the one audiobook I tried was a book I was already very familiar with. I thought, what’s the harm in trying again?

I ended up choosing a book I had tried to read many, many years ago, but hadn’t read more than a chapter. I chose a book I recently watched and enjoyed the television adaptation of. I chose a book I didn’t really have any investment in or strong feelings on.

I’m just over halfway through and I’m actually enjoying it!

While I listen I usually cook, or wash pots, or do some colouring in. It’s actually really therapeutic. I will definitely be finishing this series via audiobook, and am looking forward to finding more audiobooks that work for me in the future!

Now the thing that annoys me about audiobooks is that amazon has the market cornered via audible, with so many books recorded exclusively for them. I am not an amazon fan, and avoid the company as much as possible. Wordery is my favoured alternative, along with local independent book shops.

If anyone has any audiobook recommendations—books you think work well or even better as audiobooks—please let me know.

And more than that, if anyone knows of any decent alternative to audible, I am desperate to hear about them! I’d love for my library to go digital, but alas, currently I am still left putting compact discs on hold.

2019 End of Year Book Survey

The first day of the year is the anniversary of this little old blog, and today it turns seven years old. I’ve always posted this survey as a way of marking the occasion and feeling proud of another book blogging year in the bag.

In 2019 I had big ambitions, but didn’t stretch far enough for them. That’s fine. I didn’t give up on things completely, and instead I put my focus in other places. I read 22 books, six of which were short comic books. I wasn’t hugely active in the bookish community this year. So removed a few more questions from this survey than usual, because it seemed easier than fumbling for answers I just don’t have.

Thanks, as always, to The Perpetual Page-Turner for hosting this annual shindig. Drop me a comment below and let me know if you’ve done this survey too!

2019 Reading Stats

Number of books read: 22
Number of re-reads: 1
Genre read most: Science fiction just pipped it with 10, but fantasy was a close second with 8. Or we could just say SF&F with 18?

Best in Books

Best book you read in 2019?
A lot of strong contenders this year. Lots of fours stars. But there were only a could of books I gave five stars to, so the title of “best” has to go to The Motherless Oven.

Book you were excited about and thought you were going to love more but didn’t?
Sadly, Record of a Spaceborn Few. Still a lovely book in many ways, but I didn’t have the all consuming love for it that I had for the first two in the series.

Most surprising (in a good way or bad way) book you read?
Maybe House of Many Ways, because I’d been a little disappointed with Castle in the Air and so had put off reading it, but it was wonderful!

Book you “pushed” the most people to read (and they did)?
I didn’t really push any books on people this year, though my partner finally started the Wayfairs series and has devoured them, so I’m quite chuffed about that.

Best series you started in 2019? Best sequel of 2019? Best series ender of 2019?
Started: The Motherless Oven, obviously.
Sequel: The Ask and the Answer. I can’t believe how quickly I read that.
Ender: The Wheel of Osheim. Gosh, I still miss Jalan and Snorri so much.

Favourite new author you discovered in 2019?
Probably B. Mure. I was captivated by Ismyre and can’t wait to read the next two books in the series later this year.

Best book from a genre you don’t typically read/was out of your comfort zone?
I think I stayed pretty firmly within my comfort zone this year, with only two outliers. Of those two, I preferred Little Fires Everywhere.

Most action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable book of the year?
The Shining. Because even though I’ve read it before, I couldn’t get enough of it. I put it down, but only for a short reprieve from the tension!

Book you read in 2019 that you would be most likely to re-read next year?
As a rule, i’m not one for re-reading books. But if I had to revisit one of them, I’d have to choose Ismyre for its quiet, beautiful, calmness.

Favourite cover of a book you read in 2019?
If this book gets no much other love from me, it will certainly get the best cover… it’s the reason I bought it, after all! No Matter the Wreckage.

Most memorable character of 2019?
A tough one. There were some wonderful characters, but no one stands out and says, “Pick me!” But i’m going to pick Charmain from House of Many Ways, because she was fun, and lovely, and stubborn.

Most beautifully written book read in 2019?
Definitely Ismyre. It’s beautiful visually, but the story is also beautifully soft and quiet and wonderful.

Most thought-provoking/life-changing book of 2019?
Hmm. The Motherless Oven was definitely a thought-provoking series, trying (if you want) to figure out the deeper, hidden meanings behind the seemingly random parts of the world.

Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2019 to finally read?
Has to be Doctor Sleep. I bought it as soon as it came out in paperback, but it wasn’t until I saw the trailer for the film in October that I thought, “Shit, I should read that!”

Favourite passage/quote from a book you read in 2019?
I can’t decide—it’s a tie:

Everyone’s lost. Any direction will take you where you’re going. You just have to hope that’s where you want to be.

Mark Lawrence – The Wheel of Osheim

What was better – a constant safeness that never grew and never changed, or a life of reaching, building, striving, even though you knew you’d never be completely satisfied?

Becky Chambers – Record of a Spaceborn Few

Shortest and longest book you read in 2019?
Shortest: The Goddess Mode comics, which were about 20-30 pages each.
Longest: The Wheel of Osheim at 672 pages.

Book that shocked you the most?
Even That Wildest Hope, because it was very weird, and I love that shit; I never knew what to expect!

OTP of the year (you will go down with this ship!)?
I have to choose Todd and Viola from The Ask and the Answer. It’s not necessarily a romantic relationship, but their connection, trust, and belief in each other is unshakable and I love them for it.

Favourite non-romantic relationship of the year?
Jalan and Snorri in The Liar’s Key and The Wheel of Osheim, obviously. BFFs for liiiiiife!

Favourite book you read in 2019 from an author you’ve read previously?
Rocannon’s World, because Ursula le Guin is flawless.

Best book you read in 2019 that you read based SOLELY on a recommendation from somebody else?
The Goddess Mode series. My partner bought them for himself as they were released and he thought i’d enjoy them… which… yeah, I did.

Best 2019 debut you read?
Not sure how many debuts I did read, but the best has to be Even That Wildest Hope, because I love to read something different!

Best world building/most vivid setting you read this year?
The will always be Becky Chambers, and this year that’s Record of a Spaceborn Few. While I didn’t love it as much as previous books, that wasn’t for lack of incredible world building.

Book that put a smile on your face/was the most FUN to read?
I’ll say Women of Wonder, because it was great to read female-written science fiction short stories, and because in there were some aspects that haven’t dated well, but it was almost more interesting for that.

Book that made you cry or nearly cry in 2019?
Oh, The Ask and the Answer, no question. Sobbed my heart out a couple of times.

Hidden gem of the year?
Ismyre. It’s just. So. Freaking. Lovely.

Book that crushed your soul?
No Matter the Wreckage crushed the part of my soul that wants to fall in love with poetry…

Most unique book you read in 2019?
Most certainly Even that Wildest Hope. It was like nothing I’d ever read before, and while I didn’t love every story in the collection, every story stayed with me in some way.

Book that made you the most mad (doesn’t necessarily mean you didn’t like it)?
Okay, I’ll say Goddess Mode, because we got them individually as they were released and they are full of adverts and urgh.

Blogging Life

Favourite post you wrote in 2019?
My Book vs Film post about The Shining, because I had a lot of fun with that, putting my film degree to some use, finally!

Favourite bookish related photo you took in 2019?
Another tie, because I really love both of these photos so much… Little Fires Everywhere and House of Many Ways:

Most challenging thing about blogging or your reading life this year?
Mid-year I got a new job which freed up some time for me, and I really wanted to use that to do more with my blog. But I felt the pressure a little too much, as well as taking on other commitments, and if anything I’ve actually done less with my blog. Which is disappointing, but on wards and upwards.

Most popular post this year on your blog (whether it be by comments or views)?
By views: The Wheel of Osheim
By comments: Record of a Spaceborm Few

Post you wished got a little more love?
Book vs Film: The Shining, because I enjoyed writing it and I want to make it into a series.

Did you complete any reading challenges or goals that you had set for yourself at the beginning of this year?
My Goodreads reading challenge, but that’s it.

Looking Ahead

One book you didn’t get to in 2019 but will be your number one priority in 2020?
The Chrysalids by John Wyndham and Sea of Dust by Robert C Cargill have been near the top of my to-read pile for ages, but kept getting pushed down in favour of other books, so I’m going to try to actually read them this year!

Book you are most anticipating for 2020?
Can’t wait to get a paperback copy of To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers when it’s released in April.

One thing you hope to accomplish or do in your reading/blogging life in 2020?
Just write more. I wrote very few non-review posts in 2019, which is fine, but I want to pick them back up again 2020.

The Book of Forks

Title: The Book of Forks

Author: Rob Davis

Summary: Castro Smith finds himself imprisoned within the mysterious Power Station, writing his Book of Forks while navigating baffling daily meetings with Poly, a troubled young woman who may be his teacher, his doctor, his prison guard . . . or something else entirely. Meanwhile, back home, Vera and Scarper’s search for their missing friend takes them through the chaotic war zone of the Bear Park and into new and terrifying worlds. With The Book of Forks, Rob Davis completes his abstract adventure trilogy by stepping inside Castro’s disintegrating mind to reveal the truth about the history of the world, the meaning of existence, and the purpose of kitchen scales.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: The third and final book in Davis’ The Motherless Oven trilogy, I couldn’t wait to get my hands and eyeballs on it. I was sad my copy didn’t come with a bookplate, as I had hoped to frame and display all three, but the book is obviously more important.

This book has as much weird and wonderfulness as the first two. With the main characters venturing out beyond the boarders of The Bear Park, where (almost) all of them have lived for their entire lives, we get to see new places and new ways in which these worlds are strange, bizarre, and fascinating. Guerilla postmen, exploding people, diseases as gods, and rotting corpses on the street. And of course we see more of Castro’s book (can you guess what it’s called?), which explores the history and nature of this world in all its peculiarness.

The art, as ever, is beautiful. Simple, but with such amazing detail. The faces are definitely my favourite, varying from plain and unobtrusive in wider panels, slightly more detailed in more medium panels, to perfectly detailed with amazing subtleties in expression and character in the really close panels. I could look at the faces alone for quite a while. Pages from Castro’s book are presented as a kind of divide between chapters and two alternating storylines, which worked well, and I loved the layout and illustrations, as well as the contrasting white-on-black of those pages.

People accept whatever absurdity surrounds them as reality. And yet, to question this absurdity is to become absurd.

I five-star loved the first two books in this series, but unfortunately this book didn’t hit me with quite the same amazement. I really enjoyed this one, it just… It’s longer than either of the first two, but it also feels like less happens for some reason. I think the story races to its conclusion, trying to tie all the threads together, but is also trying to cram in a lot of new things (Castro’s personal story, his book, the other death states, the postmen…). It just doesn’t fully work. And as much as i enjoyed the pages from Castro’s book, they were often a little… much. Whole pages of text in a graphic novel, and switching from panels to full bodies of text and back again made for slow progress, an inconsistent reading pattern, and loss of focus. I loveloveloved Castro’s insightfulness and theories on the strange things the characters in this world accept as normal, but this book made me realise I loved them in context and in brief. Entire pages with numerous (useless) footnotes failed to keep my interest as high.

Overall I do love this series, and it will certainly be one I’d love to revisit. Likely i will choose to read this installment in two halves–the story told in panels, then all the pages from Castro’s book separately. I think I would enjoy it a lot more that way.

Doctor Sleep

Title: Doctor Sleep

Author: Stephen King

Summary: Following a childhood haunted by terrifying events at the Overlook Hotel, Danny Torrance has been drifting for decades.

Finally, he settles into a job at a nursing home where he draws on his remnant ‘shining’ power to help people pass on.

Then he meets Abra Stone, a young girl with the brightest ‘shining’ ever seen. But her gift is attracting a tribe of paranormals. They may look harmless, old and devoted to their Recreational Vehicles, but The True Knot live off the ‘steam’ that children like Abra produce.

Now Dan must confront his old demons as he battles for Abra’s soul and survival…

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3.5/5

Review: I re-read The Shining before i dived into this book, and I’m honestly not sure if that was a good thing to do or not. Immediately it’s obvious that King’s writing style has improved in the years between books. It’s just more natural and I was instantly drawn into the world, the familiar characters, and the aftermath of The Shining. My hopes were quickly set quite high.

The Shining is a tough act to follow, and obviously King knew that. Doctor Sleep felt quieter, to me… and I liked that. It’s not trying to out shine (pun intended!) its predecessor, but do something different while expanding on the supernatural lore of ‘the shining’, as well as the nature of addiction. And the first half of the book had me hooked. Seeing Danny Torrence as a boy, dealing with the trauma from The Overlook and the ghosts that followed him (figuratively and literally); growing up and dealing with the trauma less-well, turning to drink. The story really gets going when Dan finds himself in Frazier, knowing this is where he needs to be.

This book has a lot more characters than The Shining. The Shining was limited to the Torrances–a family of three–and a few supporting characters(/ghosts), but Doctor Sleep has Dan, Dan’s friends and colleagues, Abra and her family, as well as the numerous members of the True Knot. They are a lot to keep track of at first, but the main players soon stand out. Billy, the first person Dan meets in Frazier, was an instant favourite for me. He was just so pure and lovely, and i was immediately thinking, “he’d better survive this book!” Another favourite was Concetta, Abra’s grandmother. A poet, a strong and independent woman, and just so level headed and no-nonsense.

Less-great aspects to the characters were the fact that it was the men who see all the action. It’s Dan, his AA BFF, and Abra’s dad who road trip around and confront some bad guys. All the friends Dan makes in Frazier are blokes. We get Abra, who’s strong and sassy and takes no shit. I loved her. But we also have her mum, who’s shown as being very emotional and reactive, compared to her husband. Even Wendy, Dan’s mum and determined fighter from The Shining, is reduced to a woman who needs to be protected by her young son and who smokes herself to death… she deserved so much more. And there’s Rose the Hat and Snakebite Andi… the crazy evil ladies. And of course at least one of them needs a sexual abuse back story that’s passed off as character development. In fact there were several points were all the female characters (bar Concetta; she was too old, but yes including 14-year-old Abra) were unnecessarily sexualised. Might have just been a throw away line… no big deal, you might say… expect there’s no point to it! It’s a throw away line with no purpose but to frustrate the shit out of me and give a hard side-eye the author.

As much as it was interesting to learn more about ‘the shining’ and Abra’s abilities, what I really loved most about the book was the exploration of the human horrors. So, very much what i liked about The Shining, now i come to think about it. Dan’s alcoholism, the depths he finds himself in and his struggle to claw himself out, his AA journey and the friends he makes along the way, and most of all the secret he keeps for so, so long and how it ate at him. It was that story line and its conclusion that i was most invested in and most emotional about.

The True Knot were a fascinating new aspect to the book. An old group (in more ways than one) of people with certain abilities themselves, who travel around the country and feed off of the ‘steam’ that children with ‘the shine’ possess. Rose the Hat, their leader, was especially intriguing and equal parts wonderful and terrible. The group’s entire history and way of life was interesting, and I would love to have read more, perhaps got to know a few more characters. Where the True Knot fell down for me, is as the horrifying bad guys. Yes, they were the bad guys, and yes, they were horrifying… but at no point did i think they’d have a chance of winning. As the reader, i know we know the bad guys aren’t going to win, but the stakes have to be high enough that i worry for the good guys. I was never worried for the good guys. Splitting the group up, a botched kidnapping, along with Rose the Hat’s constant poor decisions and gradual decline into rage and irrationality… the stakes were never high enough.

When i re-read The Shining i had to put the book down and take breaks because it made me so anxious and only increased the tension with every page. In contrast, i found myself putting Doctor Sleep down and not picking it back up for several days at a time. I was enjoying it, sure, but the successful outcome for the good guys was so clearly inevitable that the ride to get there wasn’t that enticing.

The last niggling thing… Abra’s emotions. The rage and the strength were clear throughout the book, and that alone would be interesting to explore. That would make Dan’s advise to her at the end of the book perfect and fitting. No, the thing that niggles me is that smile, those cocky lines, and her enjoyment. She didn’t simply get angry and need to break something… she got angry and wanted to hurt someone. By about two thirds of the way through the book alarm bells were ringing for me. Abra was so, so powerful, but every time she grinned, got sassy, or expressed pleasure in her actions I recoiled a little bit. Honestly, Abra was the scariest thing about this book. I really thought that would have been addressed more than it was at the end of the book. If King isn’t planning another sequel that deals with a grow up Abra turned bad, then this book really dropped the ball on her character.

Overall I did enjoy this book, mostly Dan’s story and battle with alcoholism, and seeing him make a life for himself. I would be interested in another book with an adult Abra… to see how adulthood treats her, like we’ve now seen for Dan. For all the things i’ve moaned about, the things i loved about the book, i loved.

Book vs Film: The Shining

I’ve written about film adaptations before, and how sometimes they can be better than their source material. But recently I decided I wanted to go a little deeper, and write more full-on analyses of books verses their cinematic counterparts. I do have a film degree, so I’ve decided to put it to use by creating this series. Don’t know how often it will be–at my whimsy, currently. But this was fun to write, and I want to do this again. So I will.

In an attempt to keep things fair and orderly, I’m breaking the comparison down into four broad sections: tone, characters, story, and craft. With The Shining, at least, I feel that these are the main areas to cover. When I do more of these in the future, I may end up adding or taking away sections. I’m open to improving the formula.

Book: The Shining Author: Steven King Year: 1977
Film: The Shining Director: Stanley Kubrick Year: 1980

I’ve been a horror fan since I was a (very) young kid, getting my teeth into countless horror films and books before I was even 10. So, when I tell you I wasn’t impressed with The Shining when I first watched it (years before I first read the book), just know it wasn’t because I didn’t like horror or hadn’t already enjoyed a hell of a lot of horror films. I can’t remember the specifics of what I thought at the time, because it was so long ago. I just remember the film feeling pretty… empty and insubstantial. And I think I was put off reading the book for a number of years after that. But when I did read the book, I ended up loving it. I found it genuinely scary and several moments in particular have stayed with me since.

When I re-read the book this month, it rekindled my aversion to the film. The film is wildly popular, raved about by cinema critics, and touted as a classic… but I just don’t see it. I discussed it with a few people who also didn’t love the film so much, and decided, in the name of fairness, to give the film a second go too. When the notebook and pen came out, I knew a book vs film analysis was going to be written…

Tone
The tone is what I’m most impressed with from the film. It immediately sets the mood with chilling music and grand, scenic cinematography. And this holds up throughout the film. At a couple of points the music gets a little too high pitched, but overall the music is wonderfully creepy, building the tension and putting me on edge. There are some incredible shots in the film, and in fact the cinematography throughout the film is perfection. It’s one of the first films to have used a steadicam, and it’s used brilliantly. Following Danny racing around the empty hotel in his trike, long single-shot scenes across large rooms, and getting lost in the hedge maze… they look amazing and they also help emphasise the enormous space and how isolated the family are in it.

Of course, the book doesn’t have music or cinematography to help set the mood of the story, only words. But it manages it. The descriptions of the wind howling around the outside of the hotel; the feeling of going from a hotel full of people, to a family of three with lots of space to explore, then gradually to individual isolation from each other; there is also the internal struggles of the characters and how and why they deal with the deteriorating situation. The fact that the book manages to make hose pipes, topiary animals, and playgrounds scary is a sure sign it’s getting the horror right. It also excels at building the tension. At first there is ebb and flow—tension and release—but as the story unfolds the tension mounts until I could barely read a chapter without needing a breather.

Characters
The characters in the book are complex, multifaceted, and sympathetic. I felt for them all, in various ways. Danny’s innocence and emotional maturity, Wendy’s self-awareness and determination, Dick’s easy-going nature and effortless likeability. Jack is by far the most complex character, between who he wants and is trying to be, and who he finds it too easy to be when he stops trying. It is these characters, their histories, and their choices that add meaning and depth to the story. As well as helping to provide a satisfying, but still open to some interpretation, ending to the book.

Meanwhile, in the film… the characters leave a lot to be desired. Danny is a mumbling vacant child reduced to a bit part, Wendy too quickly becomes a simpering mess only capable of screaming and shaking her head, Dick is firm and defensive with no clear reason to want to brave the snowstorms to save the family.

And Jack. He’s not helped being played by Jack Nicholson, who is a strong actor, but has such a singular presence, that he seems to bring very little subtly to the role. His performance later in the film, when Jack has completely lost his mind and is hell bent on murder, is great. However, his performance is lacking at the start of the film; everything he says sounds sarcastic and I can’t tell if he’s supposed to mean what he says or if he’s just a dick character all around.

There is just so little insight into Jack as a character—his troubled childhood, his troubled adulthood, and his troubled fatherhood. We’re given facts—he’s an alcoholic on the wagon and he once dislocated his son’s shoulder—but there is no emotional investment into his character; we see none of his inner turmoil, which was so vital to the story in the book. There is also no investment into the relationship he has with Danny… in fact they don’t even interact other than a few lines and one very awkward, creepy scene where Danny sits on his knee. That relationship was so vital to every member of the family’s character in the book, but in the film it’s barely a footnote.

Ultimately, I didn’t care about any of the characters in the film.

Story
In the book the story is very much linked to the characters. What happens and why depends a lot on the characters’ motivations, beliefs, and choices. Danny knows the Overlook Hotel holds bad things, but loves his dad and understands he needs the job so makes no attempt to stop them from going. Jack being manipulated by the hotel and its ghosts into horrendous acts he would never have be driven to otherwise (or would he?).

The book also has great pacing, switching between character point of views, showing the family’s lives over months, gradually shrinking their world down until it’s just the three of them in the hotel… alone with its own malicious characters.

And of course, all that insight and build up pay off with an ending that is wonderfully weaved together in many ways (foreshadowing and threads of details all paying off), but also very open to interpretation (exactly how much did the hotel manipulate Jack, and how much was who he really was, deep inside?). It left me satisfied while also left me with thoughts to chew on.

The film’s story is much simpler… because it lacks the character depth, and leaves only the cold facts shown on screen. Man goes mad and tries to butcher his family. The end.

One part of the story I really think the film failed on was Tony. Tony is Danny’s “imaginary friend”. In the film he lives in Danny’s mouth and involves a crooked finger for some reason. That is… pretty much the extent of that. Without the full insight into Tony—who he actually is and his relationship with Danny—there seems little point to him in the film? He simply makes Danny seem a bit weirder for his shine… perhaps even possessed.

Another part of the story I can’t fully get behind is killing Dick of immediately after he gets to the Overlook. Now, killing him I’m not opposed to. In all honesty, I half think King chickened out of going that far in the book, after he set it up with Dick sorting his will out immediately before he gets the call from Danny. But. But having him trek all the way across the country, just to stick an axe in his chest the minute he arrives seems… frivolous. He comes to rescue Danny, but they never even set eyes on each other? There is no meaning in his death—it’s just for a bit of gore and to up the minuscule body count.

The pacing also seems very off in the film, with all the main action and turning points taking place in one 24 hour period. It’s very slow and steady for the most part, setting the tone and creeping into this eerie and peculiar place. Then everything happens in a single day. The woman in room 237, Lloyd, Jack drinking, Grady, the pantry, the bathroom… all in one night. It makes the story feel very uneven, and without the character and emotional depth it’s all just for show with no meaning behind it.

Craft
The book, while not King’s best writing, is pretty solid. It’s evocative, memorable, creepy in the right way, and is easy to read without being simplistic. The alternating points of view give a wide insight into the characters and the story, as well as help with pacing and plot progression. There is some subtle and some not-so-subtle foreshadowing, though all the threads play out well even if it was obvious what was coming—it’s how they got there that was the more interesting part.

I also love the parallels between the play Jack is working on and his state of mind. His thoughts on and feelings towards the play mirror that in reality, in a way. Those characters are a way for him to relate to himself and those around him. When he’s feeling in control of himself and genuine with his past, he is in control of his characters and has insight into their motivations. When he’s angry, out of control, and making excuses for his behaviour, he hates his characters and finds their actions insufferable.

Neither the book nor the film aged well in some respects, and namely the use of some choice language. They bother suffer, in that regard, of being a child of their time… but it’s still uncomfortable.

The craftsmanship of the film is a mixed bag. My favourite part is probably the reveal of the writing Jack has been working on. Spending hours and days alone with his type writer, tapping away… When Wendy rifles through the pages to find the same line, typed over and over again in different formats… pages and pages of it. That is the kind of detail and insight the film needed more of. It showcased Jack’s state of mind, without him even being in the room (read: without Nicholson’s eyebrows, stink eye, and sarcastic voice). The only problem is it comes too late in the game, and is conspicuous by its solitariness… there are no other interesting moments like this.

Letting the film down the most, in my opinion, is the acting. I’m not going to blame this all on the actors, either… partly to blame is the dialogue and the directing. A lot of the dialogue is awkwardly unnatural, with long pauses between speech and no natural rhythm of conversation. The best lines where the ones lifted directly from the book, honestly.

There were a couple of jump scares, with a scene cutting abruptly to a title card “Monday” along with a sudden jolt to a high pitched, tense musical note. And I just found those wholly cheap.

The film does have some iconic scenes, and I do believe that is mostly down to cinematography. The bloody elevator, the girls in the corridor, redrum, Jack frozen in the snow… and of course, “Here’s Johnny!” (but… who the fuck is Johnny??)… they’re memorable because they look good. Just a single frame captures the essence of the scene. And I do love the idea of Danny literally running circles around his dad in that hedge maze.

Final Thoughts
I can understand why the film gets talked about so much. Cinematically, it has done some really incredible things. Visually and musically alone I can see why it became a classic. The mood and build up created by the cinematography and soundtrack is incredible… but there is so little to the story of the thing. Ultimately the film feels hollow.

The film is highly over-analysed and theorised about, and I understand that, too… because there is so little of substance. I love an open or ambiguous ending, but the film leaves the audience with so little material to actually work with. Of course, anyone who actually wants the answers could simply read the book…

Ultimately, I would argue the film is very much full of style, but has no substance. It looks stunning, but scratch the surface and there is nothing of significance underneath. And I’ve found this with the other few Kubrick films I’ve seen. I would happily watch any of them again… on mute, in the background, while I was doing something else.

 

Winner: The Book

 

Do you agree? Have any arguments to add? Was there something I missed? Let’s have a friendly debate in the comments!