The Road Through the Wall

Title: The Road Through the Wall

Author: Shirley Jackson

Summary: In Pepper Street, an attractive suburban neighbourhood filled with bullies and egotistical bigots, the feelings of the inhabitants are shallow and selfish: what can a neighbour do to triumph over another neighbour, what may be won from a friend? One child stands alone in her goodness: little Caroline Desmond, kind, sweet and gentle, and the pride of her family. But the malice and self-absorption of the people of Pepper Street lead to a terrible event that will destroy the community of which they are so proud.

Exposing the murderous cruelty of children, and the blindness and selfishness of adults, Shirley Jackson reveals the ugly truth behind a ‘perfect’ world.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: The first Jackson novel i have given less than four stars to. I’m not sure if i’m more disappointed in the book or myself.

It’s classic Jackson. She takes the suburban setting of Pepper Street with its various families, and simply following them in their daily routines shows them as slightly off. Exposing their idiosyncrasies and private relationships in subtle, slowly creepy ways. Children had budding malice, marriages had simmering hatred, families had rivalries and favourites, neighbours had polite distaste, and everyone had secrets.

I simply found, for my tastes, it wasn’t quite creepy enough. I think perhaps the book has not aged well; the concept of secrets and not all being as it seems beneath the surface of happy families is so common these days on TV and in film. The secrets and lies that have been explored and exposed in modern media has been so much more extreme, that Jackson’s attempt here just isn’t shocking.

The plot was minimal; it was much more of a character study with mini stories throughout. I liked this concept, but overall it didn’t leave me with the drive to keep reading. Long chapters with no arc or obvious advancement of the story didn’t help. Although i enjoyed reading when i did, i didn’t think about the book much when i wasn’t reading.

Talking of characters, there are a lot. Almost all were families, with all adults being referenced as “Mr X” or “Mrs Y”. I found it hard to keep track of most of them, relying on context to remember each character’s story and personality, rather than simply their names. It made for a hard slog, and often I’d be halfway through a particular section before realising who it was about and the full meaning of what was happening. There were only a handful of characters i remembered strongly enough by name alone, and for only this reason, they became my favourites. Though, with the nature of the book, i didn’t like any of the characters–and that’s a positive point as far as i’m concerned!

Although this is far from my favourite, it is so quintessentially Jackson. A slow-moving, quiet, unassumingly sinister tale. I would have just liked it to be a little more sinister.

TTT: If You Like Horror

TTTThis week has been the first topic in a good long while that has actually appealed to me. However, that didn’t make it easy. In fact, this was pretty difficult. I don’t think I read enough “super popular books” to have a base to recommend from. Nor do read enough in any genre to really have enough books to recommend. Well, with the exception of maybe one…

Lo, I present to you my top ten books to read if you like “super popular author” Stephen King, or the horror genre in general. There is a range of horror represented here, but all kinds of horror Stephen King has dabbled in (because really, what type of horror hasn’t he dabbled in?)

The Haunting of Hill House – A classic haunted house horror story with a psychological twist. This is possibly my very favourite horror novel, ever.

Haunted – Erring on the graphic line of the horror genre, but being no less creepy for it.

I Am Legend – Science fiction meets creature feature. The true horror in this book is its tense psychological terror.

Apartment 16 – Very reminiscent of Stephen King, generally. Demons and ghosts and creepy happening in this flat.

Prince of Thorns – A true horror in that this book deals with violent murder, rape and war in a post-apocalyptic Middle Age-like setting.

Pandaemonium – More of a horror comedy, i’m sure Christopher Brookmyre doesn’t know how to make his readers not laugh, even in the midst of, well, pandemonium.

The Midwich Cuckoos – Everyone in a small town falls asleep, during which time all the women become pregnant. Creepy horror at its very best.

Tiny Deaths – This as a book of short stories, all written around the theme of death. Some are more horrifying than others, but what’s more horrifying than facing your own mortality?

Party Monster – Is outrageous horror a thing? This book makes it a thing. Sex, drugs, murder and dismemberment with the Club Kids!

Florence and Giles – Starting off as a quiet and unassuming creepy house horror, this book evolves into something supernatural before dealing an altogether different twist.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle

WHALitCTitle: We Have Always Lived in the Castle

Author: Shirley Jackson

Summary: Living in the Blackwood family home with only her sister Constance and her Uncle Julian for company, Merricat just wants to preserve their delicate way of life. But ever since Constance was acquitted of murdering the rest of the family, the world isn’t leaving the Blackwoods alone. And when Cousin Charles arrives, armed with the overtures of friendship and a desperate need to get into the safe, Merricat must do everything in her power to protect the remaining family.

In her final, greatest novel, Shirley Jackson draws us into a dark, unsettling world of family rivalries, suspense and exquisite black comedy.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: I adore Shirley Jackson’s work. There is no simpler way of putting it. She writes such slow, careful, creeping horror stories. Not the kind to make you jump or wince, but the type of horror that crawls inside you and makes you cold. It’s atmospheric and psychological and entirely within the realms of possibility. And i love it.

I was hooked from the first chapter here, as our narrator Merricat walks through the local village, buying groceries, exchanging library books and pausing for coffee. It sounds so normal, but it is anything but. What struck me most was how she turned the unpleasant trip into a game–if she could make it to her next goal without being whispered about, stared at, or called out to, she would win. Head down, moving as swiftly as possible, she would pass through the village while imagining all of its inhabitants dead, consumed by rot. And Merricat would picture herself walking over their bodies, on a satisfying and peaceful trip through the village. Yes, i liked Merricat right from the start.

It was also during that first chapter that [SPOILER>>>] i decided she had been the one to poison her family. [/spoiler] I don’t think it’s meant to be a huge twist when that fact is revealed later in the book–it is more a surprise that they are openly talking about it, as comes across as an unspoken acknowledgement for most of the story. Merricat very much lives in her own world, using her own made up “magic” to keep herself and the family safe. But when her magic starts to fail and Cousin Charles shows up, Merricat doesn’t admit defeat.

It may be the fact that Merricat is our narrator, and an unreliable one at that, but i really did dislike Charles and the villagers. But Merricat is the protagonist, and as the reader, i was behind her 100%. I wanted Charles gone and the villagers punished. In fact, i wanted it so much that this book kept me up until midnight last night. I had to keep reading, i had to get to Charles’ comeuppance. It is actually so, so rare for a book keeps me up at night, and i really relished it.

The only think i really disliked about the book was a lack of detail or information on certain things. Mostly regarding the village and why all the locals hated the Blackwoods so, so much. It was alluded that the Blackwoods had never really been popular; shutting their property off with a fence, thinking themselves better than the others in the village. But so much of the villagers’ anger focuses on the poisoning, an incident that was so self-contained i can’t understand why it alone would be enough to incite such hostility. Of course, we see all this via the unreliable narration of Merricat, so the reader is either misinformed, or Merricat herself doesn’t have all the information.

The ending was… enough to satisfy me. It felt a little like it trailed out and went on just a smidgen too long, for my own tastes, but the situation was apt. Despite all that happened, Merricat and Constance are simply more entrenched in their solitude and safety than they were at the start of the book. The last couple of chapters also gave me more appreciation for the minor characters, who genuinely did care, despite their inability to help.

It’s a book with no firm conclusion, no cut and dry happy ending, and leaves me with more questions than answers. But then, that’s exactly the kind of conclusion i love.

This knocks one square off my Bookish Bingo: Set in a small town.

TTT: Authors

TTTI found this one pretty easy. There aren’t too many authors I read just because—without knowing more about the book itself. My original list had about 13 names, and it wasn’t too hard to cut that down to 10. These authors are ten names that have me reading any book by without question.

Christopher Brookmyre – Comedy, crime, satire, well-rounded characters. The day a Brookmyre book doesn’t make me laugh out loud will be a very sad day indeed (and a day that will never happen).

John Wyndham – Insightful science fiction. This man has not written a word I haven’t loved.

Patrick deWitt – I can’t even categorise deWitt’s genre… sharp, witty contemporary. Is that a thing? With only two books written, i’m already 100% hooked.

Stephen King – Horror. As King has said himself: he is the literary equivalent of a bigmac and fries. It’s not the most nutritious meal, and you don’t want to eat it every day, but it’s bloody tasty when you have it.

Shirley Jackson – Horror. Jackson is more classic horror. More chills and meaning. More genuinely scary.

William Golding – Another author who is hard to pigeon hole, because his subject matter and message vary so much from book to book. He is consistently well-written and interesting, though.

George Orwell – Intelligent, insightful and ahead of his time. I’ve only read a couple of Orwell’s books so far, but I look forward to more.

Aldous Huxley – I file Huxley close to Orwell, but not because of Brave New World and 1984, as you might expect. Mostly because they strike me as two people who would have interesting conversations—they both have worthwhile and intelligent things to say.

J D Salinger – Some authors are just in a genre of their own, and I think Salinger is one. He has such a way with words, so simple, but so unique for his characters. He gets across concepts and personality so swiftly that it looks easy.

Ursula Le Guin – Science fiction that holds such imagination and exploration. I adore Le Guin a lot. I can’t get enough of her work, and hold very high—and possibly unfair—expectations of her.

TTT: Quotes

TTTI am all over this week’s topic. I love quotes. I love it when a short section, thought, moment or phrase from a book just stands out to me. When something makes me stop, makes me smile, makes me go, “Yes!” Or causes me to pause and think, and wonder and alter my thought process. I love it when something, some feeling, some concept, is summed up so neatly in a handful of words.

I am slightly obsessed with quotes, and more of my favourites can be found at my goodreads account or my twitter.

I usually expound upon my choices for Top Ten Tuesdays, but this week I am going to stand by the wise words of my dearest Zellaby, and let the quotes speak for themselves…

“Some quotations,” said Zellaby, “are greatly improved by lack of context.”

― John Wyndham, The Midwich Cuckoos

“Naturally, I never told him I thought he was a terrific whistler. I mean you don’t just go up to somebody and say, ‘You’re a terrific whistler.’”

― J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

“Of course, I’m being rude. I’m spoiling the ending, not only of the entire book, but of this particular piece of it. I have given you two events in advance, because I don’t have much interest in building mystery. Mystery bores me. It chores me. I know what happens and so do you. It’s the machinations that wheel us there that aggravate, perplex, interest, and astound me. There are many things to think of. There is much story.”

― Markus Zusak, The Book Thief

“He would say that God had given him a tail to keep the flies off, but that he would sooner have no tail and no flies.”

― George Orwell, Animal Farm

“A fool tries to look different: a clever man looks the same and is different.”

― John Buchan, The 39 Steps

“Proud and insolent youth,” said Hook, “prepare to meet thy doom.”
“Dark and sinister man,” Peter answered, “have at thee.”

― J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan and Wendy

“Fear,” the doctor said, “is the relinquishment of logic, the willing relinquishing of reasonable patterns. We yield to it or we fight it, but we cannot meet it halfway.”

― Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House

“If you read one book a week, starting at the age of 5, and live to be 80, you will have read a grand total of 3,900 books, a little over one-tenth of 1 percent of the books currently in print.”

― Lewis Buzbee, The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop: A Memoir, a History

“Have you got any soul?” a woman asks the next afternoon. That depends, I feel like saying; some days yes, some days no. A few days ago I was right out; now I’ve got loads, too much, more than I can handle. I wish I could spread it a bit more evenly, I want to tell her, get a better balance, but I can’t seem to get it sorted. I can see she wouldn’t be interested in my internal stock control problems though, so I simply point to where I keep the soul I have, right by the exit, just next to the blues.”

― Nick Hornby, High Fidelity

“If you expect nothing from anybody, you’re never disappointed.”

― Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

TTT: Female Heroes

TTT I hate the word “heroine” like i hate the words “actress” and “comedienne” and the connotations that they are somehow lesser than heroes, actors or comedians. Why the need to distinguish the sex between two people who are doing the same thing? So yes, this is a list of my favourite female heroes.

One of the obvious choices is Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games, and as much as i love her, i figure at least 80% of people writing for this topic will include her in their list. So i picked 10 others. As it is, i had to cut this list down to 10, so. Sorry Katniss!

Mrs Twit from The Twits. She was a nasty piece of work, but what I love about her is that she was just as nasty a piece of work as her husband. They have a hate-hate relationship, but in terms of the tricks they play on each other, Mrs Twit gives as good as she gets.

Liesel Meminger from The Book Thief. She’s an independent, strong-willed and intelligent young girl in a harrowing and terrible situation. But she manages finds friends, love, connection and joy.

Phyllis Watson from The Kraken Wakes. She’s a smart woman who sees the dangers coming years in advance, and plans accordingly without even involving her husband. When shit finally hits the fan, it is her plan that sees them through in the end.

Eleanor Vance from The Haunting of Hill House. Although in many ways Eleanor is timid, easily manipulated and cares far too much what people think of her, she can, when the mood strike her, be hot headed, strong-willed and fiercely independent. In some ways I pity Eleanor, because I don’t at all see things how she does, but in the end she stood by her own (perhaps misguided) opinions and did what she wanted.

Melanie from The Girl with All the Gifts. From the start of the book, where she does not have all the information as to what situation she finds herself in, to the the end of the book, where she is the one who puts all the pieces together. Melanie is a thoughtful 10-year-old girl, who gives this book the kind of hopefully bleak ending I love.

Amy Dunne from Gone Girl. Don’t get me wrong—i don’t like Amy, but I have to admire her. She was smart, she was patient, and she was thorough. She got shit done, and as situations evolved, she rolled with the punches and altered her plans. I hate her, but damn it I respect her.

Jane Fleming from All Fun and Games Until Somebody Loses An Eye. From repressed and tedious wife, mother and grandmother to arse kicking, gun toting, rescuer. This granny certainly kens the score.

Angelique de Xavia from A Big Boy Did It and Ran Away. She’s an innocent looking petite lady who wouldn’t stand out in a crowd. And she can kick your arse from 20 feet away before you blink.

Jasmine Sharp from Where the Bodies Are Buried. Failed actress turned private investigator, she’s willing to work outside the law and dig up long-buried secrets to get the job done.

 

This last one contains SPOILERS for The Wasp Factory. You have been warned…

 

Frank Cauldhame from The Wasp Factory. More of an anti-hero, but the twist that Frank was born a female and pumped full of drugs and lied to for most of his life made so much of his character work for me. The hatred of women he was surrounded by and the macabre nature of his hobbies. It made me like him.

TTT: Character Spin Offs

TTTWanting more from a book, a book that leaves the reader craving more, is a sign of a great book for me. And for me that will most often come in the form of characters. Characters make or break books as far as i’m concerned, and characters that I love or hate and want more of, will always make a book. These are some of the most intriguing characters i’d love to read more about in some capacity.

1. Zellaby and Lord Henry from The Midwich Cuckoos and The Picture of Dorian Gray, respectively.
This a towfer, but it’s also something i’ve wanted for a long time. A book entirely about Zellaby and Lord Henry sitting down over a pot of tea and talking philosophically. I want it so much, one day, I may just write it myself.

2. The women from The Godfather.
As much as I enjoyed this book, the sexism made me rage. All I wanted was a book from the female characters’ POVs, essentially showing that they were the ones really running the show. That they were so in control, they could pull the men’s strings without the men even realising it.

3. The ‘kraken’ (because they’re aren’t actually called that) from The Kraken Wakes.
I like stories where the villains have their own, valid, motivations. When it’s not as simple as good and evil, when there is grey area. And in books like that—like The Kraken Wakes—i find myself wanting to know more about the other side of the story.

4. Wednesday from American Gods.
I just found him immensely interesting. How in control, self-assured and mysterious he was. He was weaving this plot, knowing where all the pieces were and guiding them into the places he needed them to be. I would love to have experienced that from his point of view. Also, I just generally want more of him.

5. Clarisse McClellan from Fahrenheit 451.
This peculiar young girl who effortlessly helps turn Guy Montag’s life upside down. She’s in, what, two or three scenes early in the book and then she disappears. We never really find out much about her or what happens to her, but I would very much like to.

6. The deaf-mute in a top hat from Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters.
My favourite line in the entire story:
“An instant later, a silk hat materialised in the air beside me, considerably down and to the left, and my special, only technically unassigned cohort grinned up at me – for a moment, I rather thought he was going to slip his hand into mine.”
How could I not want, just, more of this man?

7. The Triffids from The Day of The Triffids.
Another, perhaps, misunderstood evil creature. Though they did plant themselves (a pun! Ha) on Earth and lay in wait for years before striking when the human race was at its weakest, so maybe not so misunderstood. Still, I love an interesting, complex, plant-based villain. I’d love to read their take over of Earth from their point of view.

8. Tim Vale from One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night and Be My Enemy.
Brookmyre is so bloody good at characters, even his secondary, supporting, fucking fleeting characters are so rich. I’d take more of any of them, really. But Mr Vale… a “security expert”… his back story is just dripping with potential, and I am more than eager to read about it. Also not impossible that he could, in theory, get his own book…

9. The house from The Haunting of Hill House.
I can include inanimate objects on this list, right? Though, ‘inanimate’ might not be a word that describes this house. The mystery surrounding it, the horrors it has contained. I want to experience that with the house, too, not only its inhabitants. Would it be less scary? More? Would it answer my questions, or raise further ones? I don’t mind what the answers to these questions are, but i’d be fascinated to find out.

10. IT from IT.
This villain I would just want to know more about. Its supernatural nature is evident, but no solid answers on what it is or where it is from are ever answered, only that it has been living in, feeding from and influencing the inhabitants of the town for hundreds of years. This is one of my favourite books, and it’s already pretty darn long, but I would welcome more.

TTT: Classics

TTT My second Top Ten Tuesday in a row. This is not what i had planned… but, but, but, classics! When i enter a bookshop, “cassic literature” is always the section i head to first. Unless i feel like enjoying the anticipation, in which case i’ll save it till last… Either way, the point is it’s my favourite section. I don’t know why. It’s not that more modern books aren’t good, or that i don’t enjoy them. I do, often. There are just SO MANY new books, i can’t keep up with what’s being released when by who and what else did they write? I just don’t seem to care enough. The classics–the classic classics, not the “modern” classics, never change. They will always be there, no matter if i take my sweet time getting around to reading them.

With my love of classics in mind, here is a random list (and really, it was really hard to make this random and not organise it in some way!) of 10 that i particularly love…

 

class01

 

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
I haven’t read much Oscar Wilde. A few short stories and Dorian Gray. And i adored Dorian Gray. Actually, i adored Lord Henry, but whatever.

 

 

class02

 

The Time Machine by H.G. Wells
I bought this on a whim when i saw it in a charity shop and devoured it in a day. I loved the concepts and imagination. Pity i didn’t have the same feeling about War of the Worlds.

 

 

1637352

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
I loved the original 1963 film, so when i found out it was based on a book, of course i had to read it. Both book and film are creepily atmospheric while leaving the ending open enough for the reader to come to her own conclusions.

 

 

class04

Nineteen Eighty Four by George Orwell
I wanted to say this will never be surpassed at the ultimate dystopian, particularly in terms of ‘this could really happen/this is already happening’… but to be fair, i read this over 10 years ago, and i don’t trust my memory enough. I remember enough to know i loved this book, though.

 

 

class05

Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
This book isn’t perfect, but any negatives are overshadowed by the amazingness of the entire rest of the book. It was so refreshing to read a lot of what was discussed in this book. I would make this compulsory reading for every human alive, if i could.

 

 

class06The Seeds of Time by John Wyndham
Absolutely any John Wyndham book could have been included in this list. There isn’t a word the man has written that i haven’t loved (not that i’ve actually read them all yet–i’m pacing myself!). Picking this one felt like a cheat, because it’s a book of short stories; it felt like i was adding more Wyndham than choosing a novel would have done.

 

 

class07The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
This one i didn’t love instantly; I hated it the first time i tried to read it. But the second time was so completely different. I loved Salinger’s understated writing style. He doesn’t give everything away, and makes the reader work a little. And Holden Caulfield is so simplistically philosophical, it was hard not to like him.

 

 

class08
Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
This was my first Christie and my first Poirot. I picked this one because i already knew and loved the who, how and why. Turns out i love smart and egotistic detectives, and Poirot has become a firm favourite.

 

 

clas09Lord of the Flies by William Golding
I had wanted to read and study this at school, but my class did An Inspector Calls, instead. I eventually read this of my own accord many years later and loved it. So many concepts being explored under the premise of a group of children fending for themselves on a deserted island. I found it fascinating!

 

 

PP&WPeter Pan and Wendy by J.M. Barrie
This was a classic i had been long overdue in reading by the time i got around to it. All my life i knew i was the namesake of Peter Pan’s friend, but never did i bother picking up the book that made my name popular. I’m glad i eventually did. And i think i got more out of this book about the essence of childhood as an adult than i ever would have in my youth.

The Haunting of Hill House

1637352Title: The Haunting of Hill House.

Author: Shirley Jackson.

Summary: Four seekers have come to the ugly, abandoned old mansion: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of the psychic phenomenon called haunting; Theodora, his lovely and light-hearted assistant; Eleanor, a lonely, homeless girl well acquainted with poltergeists; and Luke, the adventurous future heir of Hill House. At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable noises and self-closing doors, but Hill House is gathering its powers and will soon choose one of them to make its own…

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: Let me take a moment to bemoan the synopsis on the back of the book: Theodora is not Dr Montague’s assistant. She is, like Eleanor, invited by Dr Montague because of her connection to “abnormal events”; she is only an assistant in the same capacity as Eleanor. I would have gone with something more like, “Theodore, an independent young woman in touch with everyone’s emotions”, personally.

Regardless of the poorly written synopsis, this book is wonderful. I love it. This is the second time i have read it, and i think this time i saw a lot more of the psychological aspects of the book, rather than the supernatural terror that may or may not occur.

I came to this book backwards: I watched the (1963) film first, after stumbling upon it on television late one night. I loved it, because it bloody terrified me. The one scene, in the bedroom, with the banging… I was hooked. It wasn’t until years later, when a friend actually bought me a copy of the book, that i actually got around to reading it. The book is just as good as the film; the 1963 film is faithful to the book and is one of my (if not the) favourite book to film adaptations. (The 1999 film is a load of shite, please don’t waste your time!)

Where to start? The writing. The first and last chapters set the tone perfectly for drawing you in and easing you out. This story isn’t the story of Hill House, not really. It’s the story of a group of people staying at Hill House for a little over a week, and what happens to them while they are there. Plenty more has happened before they arrive, and plenty more will gone on after their departure; this is just one story of many for Hill House.

The real terror comes, not from spooky things that happen, but from the characters; their thoughts and actions and feelings around and about the things that happen. This book is not (necessarily) a straight up ghost story. There are levels to the reading of the book. You can take and leave haunting aspects as you like; everything could have an explanation, if you looked hard enough for one. I prefer a middle of the road interpretation, choosing to believe there is something nefariously otherworldly about Hill House, but that the characters’ psychology (and psychosis?) also have a significant part to play.

Eleanor is the main character, and she’s a very interesting one. I don’t want to say too much because, out of everyone, it is her character that (for me, at least) sheds doubt on the extent of the haunting of Hill House. She’s an innocent, troubled and entirely contradictory woman who i find infinity fascinating.

I think the fact that there are several ways of reading and interpreting the story, and that fact that it’s written so well, is why i love it so much.

I feel like i have rambled on a lot without actually saying much. Whatever, read the book, it’s good!