Fellside

fellsideTitle: Fellside

Author: M.R. Carey

Summary: You will find Fellside somewhere on the edge of the Yorkshire moors. It is not the kind of place you’d want to end up, but it’s where Jess Moulson could be spending the rest of her life.

It’s a place where even the walls whisper. And one voice belongs to a little boy with a message for Jess. Fellside will be the death of you – if it doesn’t save you.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: After the brilliance that was The Girl with All the Gifts, it was inevitable i would read Carey’s second novel. I was prepared for different; different setting, different genre, different vibe… I was not prepared for not-quite-as-good.

This book is a slow burner, setting up the characters, moving them into positions, and setting out several story lines before things really get going. And while that didn’t make the book that exciting, it was still very readable. It was easy to fall into the world and learn more about the characters.

Talking of characters, Carey does a brilliant job with all of them. They all have their faults, but they all have things to appreciate about them; they’re all realistic. Which i’m sure i’ve said dozens of times in various reviews, is the most important thing for me. Jess, the main character, was probably the character i liked the least. It’s not that i hated her, it’s just that she was the most lacking in character. For the protagonist I found her far too reactive (or simply inactive), rather than proactive. She let things happen around her and only did things in response to others. Dr Salazar, the prison doctor, i adored. He felt the most caring in a lot of ways, despite the fact that he was such a push over. I was waiting and hoping all the way through for him make a stand. Sylvie Stock was a self-centred bitch; i loved to hate her. The prisoners, the guards, the lawyers… all of them had their layers and were interesting to read about. The characters, i think, are what i enjoyed most about this book.

The different story threads were intriguing, and I enjoyed following them all. I’d just be getting into one over a few chapters, then it would change back to another one and i’d forget all about the previous to find out what was happening with this one… it was a good way to keep me reading and keep the book engaging. I loved the way the stories slowly began to overlap and then weave together, and how that affected the characters and their motivations. It was some pretty well executed storytelling.

But still, this book was not above three stars for me. I have quite a lot i wasn’t too impressed with, but to talk [read: rant] about them at any length or in any detail would involve pretty big spoilers. Suffice to say… there were no surprises for me in the book. From the very beginning I could guess how and where things were leading, if not the specific details. The trial, the little boy, the roles characters would play in the narrative… i called it all accurately and early enough that none of it was a revelation to me. Generally, i found the book a little too formulaic. The plot–its twists and turns–were very standard, if you know what to look for.

Mostly, though, i wasn’t a huge fan of the supernatural aspect of the story. That’s not a fault of the book, just a way in which we didn’t get on. I love books that could be real, that have their plots rooted in reality in some way. I loved The Girl with All the Gifts because it was science fiction; it gave its horror a biological basis. I find pseudoscience more palatable than the outright supernatural. And i would likely have enjoyed this book more if it had leaned more towards an ambiguous interpretation of certain aspects; the classic ‘is it real or was it all psychological’ get out clause.

I will likely read more of Carey’s work, but will hope for more in the vein of Gifts than Fellside. And with The Boy on the Bridge, a book set in the Gifts world, due out next year, i am cheerfully optimistic!

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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!