Category Archives: Susan Hill

I’m The King of the Castle – Susan Hill

Writing about certain books can sometimes be a trepidatious thing. Susan Hill’s I’m the King of the Castle is one such example for various reasons. There is the fact that this has become a modern classic to the extent that is had been on the English syllabus for years, which also adds the threat that some youths might head here and think I know what the heck I am talking about and use me as part of their exam answers (if only the internet had been in existence when I was at school, I am so old) or coursework. Then there is the fact that Susan Hill is one of my favourite contemporary writers and so I put pressure on myself. Really I have to ignore all that, think ‘sod it and hurrah’ and, because this is a blog diarising my reading thoughts and adventures and not some lit-crit site, just write about the book – which I loved.

9780241970782

Penguin Books, 1970 (2014 edition), paperback, fiction, 224 pages, bought by my good self

When Joseph Hooper inherits the decaying familial home, a Victorian mansion called Warings, he feels he is finally the ruler of his domain. This all changes when his father advertises for someone to come and take care of the house and keep an eye on Edmund (despite the cold relationship they have he can clearly see Edmund is turning into an odious little oik) at the same time. The arrival of Mrs Helena Kingshaw is a double triple blessing as not only is she ideal she is also very becoming and has a son, Charles, who can become a new playmate for his own boy. Yet Edmund has taken a similar stance to Warings, with his father away so often he believes he is in charge of the house, likes it that way and isn’t keen on change.

‘Oh – what is it, what have you found?’ She was anxious that he should like it here, should very soon feel at home.
Kingshaw thought, I didn’t want to come, I didn’t want to come, it is one more strange house in which we do not properly belong. But he had dropped the lump of plasticine. ‘Nothing, it’s nothing. It’s only a pebble.’
Walking behind his mother, into the dark hall, he managed to open out the scrap of paper.
‘I DIDN’T WANT YOU TO COME HERE’ was written.
‘Now let me show you to your rooms,’ said Mr Joseph Hooper.
Kingshaw stuffed the message fearfully into his trouser pocket.

Edmund plots and creates as many cunning and diabolical horrors as he can (one involving a stuffed crow was my personal favourite) to try and get rid of Charles, not understanding that Charles would like nothing more to run away from this place and soon starts to plan just that. After a first humiliating attempt to flee, Charles soon ventures into (the perfectly named) Hang Wood with Edmund in hot pursuit. Once lost in Hang Wood the roles of power reverse as they become lost and cracks in Edmund’s domineering persona start to break. But can Charles resist revenge and can a bully like Edmund ever really change?

Many people say that I’m the King of the Castle is a case study in the cruelty that children can inflict on each other. (And kids can be bloody horrid to one another, I was bullied mercilessly by some horrors –who weirdly couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to befriend them on Facebook a few decades later anyway, this isn’t a therapy session for me it’s a review.) In some ways, particularly with Edmund Hopper who I thoroughly enjoyed despising,  that is the case but I think there is a lot more going on with this novel than just that.

In Edmund and Charles I felt Susan Hill creates the typical bully and the typical, and unfortunate, victim. The question it made me ponder were if children are naturally born into those roles in life or if the environment they are brought up in, be it place or how they are treated. Yes that old chestnut, the nature vs. nurture debate. Is Edmund a rotten so and so because he is allowed to be and because his father had a bad relationship with his father? Has Charles been molly coddled by his mother as he has been moved from pillar to post? Is it class? Or were these two boys just born with brains that developed their psyches into such? I can’t answer any of those questions (sorry to all you students hoping to copy and paste, ha, I admire your tenacity though) but it didn’t make me think about them.

A theme I picked up strongly on, and I actually think is the more powerful message from this book (aside from don’t be a bullying menace) is the fact that children are too often not listened to enough. There is the old adage that children should be seen and not heard, this takes that further to a level of neglect or naivety as two parents ignore their children’s thoughts and feelings too busy caught up in their own. Yet how often does this happen in real life? Hill amplifies the expression children hear of ‘not now’ as Mr Hooper and Mrs Kingshaw are blinded by love/lust, or potentially money and status, I could never quite work Mrs Kingshaw out. How is a child left feeling when they aren’t heard?

This is one of Susan Hill’s masterstrokes with I’m the King of the Castle she has an incredible insight and empathy with younger people. Unlike the parents of the piece she doesn’t patronise, simplify or underestimate the lengths that both of these boys, who are polar opposites in character, will go to. She also looks at those moments of pure darkness and those of pure kindness without shying away from them and the effect of all this is quite something.

The boy looked towards the bed. His skin was already dead, he thought, it is old and dry. But he saw that the bones of the eye-sockets, and the nose and jaw, showed through it, and gleamed. Everything about him, from the stubble of hair down to the folded line of sheet, was bleached and grey-ish white.
‘All he looks like,’ Edmund Hooper said, ‘is one of his dead old moths.’

Finally, and most importantly for me, what made me love this novel is that it is overall simply a brilliant dark gothic yarn. It has a grumbling old house complete with collections of old moths, it has a brooding wood, it has an evil cunning child, psychological warfare, vengeful crows, a wicked sense of humour and an ending that will leave you feeling emotionally bruised and with questions that cause a sense of unease to linger on your psyche. It is not a book that wants to be nicely wrapped up and dependent on its reader will leave you feeling hopeful or a small sense of dread at what might come after. I was in the latter category, which probably says quite a lot about me.

Having read it I can completely understand why I’m the King of the Castle has become a modern classic and why it is being taught all around the UK, though I am thinking most parents should be given this around their first child’s ninth birthday too, just as a small warning. Ha! Not only is it a fantastic gothic story, it is one of the best insights into being and understanding a child’s mind that I have read. Yup, even better than Lord of the Flies, possibly because it is on a smaller and I think more intense scale. If you haven’t read it yet then I strongly recommend that you do.

I should add I chose this book for an episode of Hear Read This, if you would like to listen to Rob, Kate, Gavin and my additional thoughts head here. Who else has read I’m the King of the Castle and what did you make of it? Have any of you had to study that and how was it compared to reading it because you just wanted to?

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Filed under Books of 2015, Hear... Read This, Penguin Books, Penguin Classics, Review, Susan Hill

The Shadows in the Street – Susan Hill

I mentioned in passing the other day the fact I sadly still have yet to meet Susan Hill who, no pressure, is one of my favourite living writers. I am still waiting for the afternoon tea we once discussed (see comments here). Anyway, it was not seeing her that reminded me I hadn’t reviewed The Shadows in the Streets, the fifth in her Simon Serrailler series which I am devouring slowly as I don’t want them to run out. Susan Hill is one of those authors who seem to be able to turn her hand to any genre, and in her crime novels have become one of my favourites, even if we did have a few bumpy starts, and this was no exception to the rule.

Vintage Books, paperback, 2011, fiction, 384 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Lafferton is a city in which the levels of prostitution have been rising. This has not gone unnoticed by the people of the city especially as the girls seem to be grouping closer and closer to the centre of town, possibly due to a rise in younger girls who may have been trafficked in. One person has noticed this in particular and has decided to take advantage of the seeming abundance of women, buy killing them. Initially what seems to be a one off incident is followed by another and it seems Lafferton has a serial killer on its hands, yet it’s most esteemed (well in some circles) Detective, Simon Serrailler, is getting away from it all in the tranquillity of a Scottish island, his peace and quiet is soon to be shattered.

Prostitution and trafficking are two very tricky subjects to handle by any author. There is the danger of adding a moral compass to the subject or in some cases preach about it. Initially I was slightly worried that this may go down that route as Hill introduces a new Dean at Lafferton Cathedral along with his wife, who seems to have some very moralistic opinions of the work of these girls and their effect on the city’s image, I needn’t have feared though. We soon see through Cat Deerbon, the local GP and Simon’s sister, that this woman is not what Lafferton, its cathedral or people want as some kind of pompous vigilante.

In fact The Shadows in the Street really looks at the reasons behind why these women are prostituting through some of its characters. Yes, some of them are doing it for the next fix of a drug, which is often seen as one of the stereotypes, yet why have they got into a situation where they are dependent on drugs? Some of these women end up doing it in the hope for a better life be it through choice, or in some cases not. We see these women’s plight and how some of them manage to gain power and independence through it, whilst some end in a spiralling situation. In every case these are not just nameless one dimensional prostitutes, just as they are one just faceless victims of a murder, these women have their own stories and we empathise with their situation. I found this an incredibly powerful aspect of the novel.

Someone had left a newspaper on the bench. There was a photo of the girl in the green jacket. Missing Prostitute Chantelle Buckley, 17.
Abi looked away. Why did they have to do that? She wasn’t a prostitute first, she was a girl, just a girl, no need to label her. Would they do that to her? Abi Righton, 23, prostitute. She shook her head to clear the words out of it. That wasn’t her, she was Abi Righton, mother of two, Abi Righton any bloody thing, and the same with Chantelle, same with Hayles, same with Marie. Just people.

Of course this is a thriller and designed to be devoured and read addictively offering escapism and chills and thrills. Fret not, if you are worried this is all sounding too heavy, as Susan Hill also provides all these elements, as well as a thought provoking read at the same time. Firstly I should say that I had absolutely no idea who the killer was until just before the very end (just when Hill wanted me to I suspect) when it dawned on me and due to what was going on in the book, which of course I won’t spoil, I got that really sick worried feeling. I was that engrossed. Indeed I was engrossed throughout as Susan Hill seems to know how to make the chapters just the right length and have just the cliff hanger ending that you find yourself saying ‘oh just one more chapter then’ until the whole book is finished. Secondly she also has an incredible power to make a book ever so creepy, as those of you who have read her ghost stories will know, and uses this to great effect to rack up the tension in her thrillers.

He had not overtaken her, he was not someone making quickly for home, with no interest in her. He was there, keeping behind, and nobody else was in sight or earshot. To her left reared up the dark outline of the Hill; to her right, the railings of the park. Houses were on the far side of that – she could not even see any lights, people had gone to bed by now.
She prayed for someone to drive by, for the gnat whine of the scooter, a late-night van, even a police patrol, even just one person walking a dog last thing.
But there was no one, except whoever was now a couple of yards behind her and closing in. She could hear breathing, a soft pant, in and out, in and out. Quiet footsteps. Marie broke into a run. The footsteps behind her quickened too.

The other element I like in the Simon Serrailler series, apart from the lead obviously though he wasn’t in this one that much to be honest, is the way I have come to know his family. I have followed them as relationships have created stronger bonds or had them broken, I have followed births and deaths, love and grief. Not to spoil anything for anyone who might want to start at the beginning (which you will want to do if you are anything like me and need order in your life where you can get it) but in this series how one character deals with grief and how a new incoming member of the family tries to bring two members back together very touching. It adds another level to the series I think.

I really enjoyed The Shadow in the Streets and once again Susan Hill has proved that the Simon Serrailler (who of course is another Simon S so I am bound to like him) series is one which has both those brilliant elements of being gripping and being thought provoking. I am a huge fan of Susan Hill in whatever genre she writes, I do think that with her crime novels we get the best of her literary writing and character driven plots as well as the dark and gothic chilling tones of her ghost stories, a perfect combination.

I am now very keen to read The Betrayal of Trust and see what happens next in Lafferton, before that though I am being very brave and bringing Susan’s modern classic I’m The King of the Castle as my choice for the final episode of the first series of Hear Read This next month, eek – will my co-hosts like it? Will I? Back to Lafferton though, who else is a big fan of the Simon Serrailler series? Who has yet to try it and have I tempted you?

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Filed under Review, Susan Hill, Vintage Books

Printer’s Devil Court – Susan Hill

So I thought as it is Halloween and now here in the UK it is all dark and the witching hour approaches I would give you a second special rather apt post about ‘Printer’s Devil Court’, the latest ghost story from Susan Hill. I am sure many, many, many of you will have read ‘The Woman in Black’, which is one of my favourite ghost stories of all time, and then possibly gone on to ‘The Man In The Picture’, ‘The Mist in the Mirror’ (which I have yet to read), ‘The Small Hand’ or ‘Dolly’. Well unlike those other novellas, ‘Printer’s Devil Court’ is rather different as it is a Kindle Single, yes I have finally gone and bought an e-book… I know! More on that later, let us get to the ghostly tale.

Long Barn Books, 2013, Kindle Single, fiction, 44 pages, bought by my good self

Long Barn Books, 2013, Kindle Single, fiction, 44 pages, bought by my good self

As the short story opens we are greeted with a letter from a solicitors to the step son of the late Dr Hugh Meredith containing a manuscript he had written before he died, it is this that makes the tale of ‘Printer’s Devil Court’. It seems Hugh, who had become a country doctor had started his medical learning and career in London sharing  accommodation with James, Rafe and Walter in Mrs Ratchet’s lodgings of ‘Printer’s Devil Court’. Rafe and Walter are a rum pair, Hugh not knowing whether to trust them of not, one night however in trying to bond Rafe and Walter start to discuss doing some extracurricular experiments and research and in a bid to be more popular and liked Hugh foolishly decides to help, the consequences of which will change his life forever.

We have all seen it – the deep coma resembling death. People have been pronounced dead and taken to the mortuary or even to the undertaker and consigned to their coffin, only to have woken again.

I won’t give away any more than that small hint of what may or may not happen as I think it is well worth you going and discovering (especially on a dark night at a mere 99p) yourselves. Obviously it is a ghost story and all I will add is that it uses a rather well documented type of apparition and why such a spectre might appear.

I mentioned in a post earlier today that I love a ghost story that is short, sharp and builds on tension and chills rather than on blood and guts and gore. This is one of those kind of ghost stories, one that slowly chills you as you read and is also both slightly shocking and also quite sad too. I always think ghosts either haunt (yes I do believe in them) because they really loved somewhere or because they simply can’t rest which to me is rather sad. For me it also had elements of ‘The Woman in Black’, the initial solicitors letter, tales told of a night, the unascertainable time period which feels Victorian but could be anytime and the uneasy feeling that builds as you read on. Lovely spooky stuff.

So if you are looking for a quick frightening fix for Halloween or indeed just for the darker nights of you fancy a chilling thrill, then I would advise you to get your hands on ‘Printer’s Devil Court’. I am really hoping that Susan Hill will now release a few of these over the forthcoming months/year and then, and here I might have to cross my fingers for a very long time, we might just get a collection of Susan Hill’s ghostly tales in the years to come. Wouldn’t that be lovely?

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Filed under Kindle Single, Long Barn Books, Review, Susan Hill

The Savidge Reads Hall of Fame… Susan Hill

Time to introduce my second author into the rather grandly titled, even though it’s not, Savidge Reads Hall of Fame. Susan Hill is an author I have only been reading a little bit longer than I have been blogging, her first Simon Serrailler crime novel was actually my first post and set of book thoughts ever posted on the blog though it wasn’t the first that I had read of hers. Over the last seven or eight years I have been bowled over by how prolific and diverse a writer Susan Hill is, though I think I might be a little bit scared of her if I had the pleasure of meeting her in real life, and so she has become one of my favourite authors – and I still have lots of her books yet to read.

The first book I read by her was‘The Woman in Black’ all those years ago in 2003 believe it or not.

The reason that I initially read her was…  I had been to see ‘The Woman in Black’ for the first time at the theatre for a journalist press trip for a spooky Halloween feature and was completely spellbound (and absolutely petrified) and so I wanted to read the book behind the play and I loved it as much if not more. The rest, as they say, is history.

The reason that she has become one of my favourite authors, and I would recommend them, is… I think it would be the diverse nature of Susan Hill’s work, and I am aware with books like ‘I’m the King of the Castle’ ahead of me there is more to come. You have the wonderful Simon Serrailler series (another SS, always a fan of those ha) which fall under the crime genre, so thrill and have pace, and yet also give a real insight into the human condition. You also have her wonderfully atmospheric ghost stories and of course a huge diverse range of literary novels and short story collections, what more could you ask for in a favourite author. I also like the fact they all have a sense of darkness to them, or the ones I have read so far have had anyway. Am I allowed to say that whilst sometimes I may not agree with what she says I do love the fact that she is outspoken, I bet she is fascinating to have a chat with.

My favourite of her novels so far has been… Probably ‘The Woman in Black’ so far but I really like the Simon Serrailler series, even if I did have a bumpy start with them. I must also mention her non-fiction Howard’s End is on the Landing’ which is a wonderful, wonderful book about books, the power they have and the joy they are, writing and being a bit of a book hoarder if we are honest (no offense Susan, the best of us are I believe). You can also see when I reviewed it Susan left a lovely comment, we haven’t met up for tea and cakes yet though, ha!

If there was one of her works I had a wobble with, it would have to be… I gave up on the first Serrailler novel ‘The Various Haunts of Men’ the first time I tried it as I felt I was getting anything but a murder (nearly 100 pages in and no murder had been done) and that was what I wanted reading wise at the time. The second time though I came back to it with the knowledge that you get more than just murder and crime with the series. That said I almost fell out with them again at the end of ‘The Pure in Heart’ because of the ending which almost made me throw the book across the room (and I think that is why I didn’t write about it on here)… however in hindsight, and after calming down, I thought it was very clever. I can’t say why though for spoilers.

The most recent one of her novels that I read was… ‘Dolly’, her latest ghost story which I reviewed yesterday, and I think it is probably my second favourite of her ghost stories. It has that slight Victorian/Edwardian feeling about it and the ghostly tales of old. Wonderful autumnal night reading.

The next of Susan Hill’s works I am planning on reading is… Really it should be ‘I’m the King of the Castle’ because I don’t think you are meant to call yourself a Susan Hill fan if you haven’t read it, though I have to say that I might give her third novel ‘Gentlemen and Ladies’ a try soon. It is the oldest of her novels I have, though if anyone would like to buy me a copy of her debut novel ‘The Enclosure’ for the bargain price of around £100 that would go to the top of my TBR without hesitation. Actually all that said I am very behind with the Simon Serrailler series so maybe ‘The Shadows in the Street’ next?

What I would love her to do next is… If I could get Susan Hill to write anything next it would have to be a massive doorstop of a Victorian sensation novel with all the mystery, murder, ghostly revenge and asylums you could wish for. That, I think, would be amazing.

You can see a full list of Susan Hill’s works on the Savidge Reads Hall of Fame page, a special page on the blog especially for my favourite authors and links to the books of theirs I have read and reviewed and the ones I haven’t as yet. This will encourage me to read all the books by my favourite authors and may lead you to some new authors if you like most of the ones that I like, if that makes sense. There are some rules though, but you can find more of those on the Hall of Fame page.

So who else is a Susan Hill fan? Which of her novels have you read and loved? Are you a Serrailler, literary or spooky Susan Hill fan, or like me a fan of all three?

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Dolly – Susan Hill

It is always nice when you discover a book is coming out by one of your favourite authors that you had no idea about. In this particular instance it was even more exciting when the author herself, for it was Susan Hill, tells you so in a tweet. I had just tweeted about how excited I was about her latest Simon Serrailler novel ‘A Question of Identity’ coming out when she replied ‘you just wait for my new ghost story ‘Dolly’’ well I was of course both intrigued and thrilled. Firstly a new ghost story is always good and just from the sounds of the title alone, and the images it conveyed, I was really, really, really excited to read ‘Dolly’.

Profile Books, hardback, 2012, fiction, 192 pages, kindly sent by the publishers

Having been a big fan of both Susan Hill and her ghost stories, ‘The Woman in Black’ being one of my favourite ghost stories and books of all time, there was a slight worry with ‘Dolly’ that I might hype it up too much in my head. I needn’t have worried as I think ‘Dolly’ might be one of the uneasiest and creepiest stories I have read all year, and indeed in some time since I re-read the aforementioned ‘The Women in Black’ itself.

‘Dolly’ is set in the British Fens, a marshland South Western region perfect for a ghost story, as two cousins, previously unknown to each other, come and stay with their Aunt Kestrel for a period during their childhood. It is Edward, not his cousin Leonora, who tells us the tale of the uneasy and creepy things which happened in his aunts rambling old manor, Iyot House, over this time and how they lingered well into the future. These of course concern themselves with a doll or indeed two actually, though how I will not say as with all good ghost stories you should have absolutely no idea where the story is going and where the unease lies hidden in the pages awaiting you.

I can tell you though that ‘Dolly’ is a crackingly good ghost story. It is not one of utter jumps and horrors, it is far subtler than that and actually reminded of the great Edwardian and Victorian tales of mystery and unease (can I use the word unease any more?) where is isn’t just ghosts that can be scary, objects indeed can be supernatural too as can the ordinary if it has just a hint of the extraordinary  or unusual. Here we have what is really quite a traditional tale of a spooky old house with a rather creepy young girl, doll and a housemaid (Mrs Mullen is a little bit Danvers-esque, which of course I loved) but as Susan Hill herself has said “some of the traditional ingredients rarely fail – the old, isolated house, the churchyard – but best be sparing. One small hint, a shadow, one rustling sound and you can have the reader in your power.” And indeed in the case of ‘Dolly’ she does just that.

Having thought about it I think that ‘Dolly’ might just be my favourite of Susan Hill’s ghost stories so far after ‘The Woman in Black’ and interestingly they do share some of the same ingredients, yes the old house is very important as a device, as are the marshes and a good graveyard, we also have a sensetive male narrator and ‘Dolly’ also has that feel of timelessness about it. You can’t quite place when it is set, there are cars and in the ‘current’ narrative there is indeed facelifts and plastic surgery but it feels like a period where they just came in and so the main story in the past tense has that Victorian edge to it. Yet I should add here that is doesn’t feel like a carbon copy or ghost story by numbers, it’s quite a story of its own and I loved it. It definitely gave me the chills and unease I was hoping for.

If that doesn’t make you want to rush out and read it then try this brilliant trailer out for size (no more video’s for a while)…

Has anyone else read ‘Dolly’ yet and if so what did you think? If you haven’t and you fancy something creepy for the autumn nights then I heartily recommend you pick this up.

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Filed under Books of 2012, Profile Books, Review, Susan Hill

The Boy Who Taught The Beekeeper To Read – Susan Hill

As anyone who has followed my blog for any length of time will know, I am a big fan of Susan Hill’s works. Therefore when I spotted ‘The Boy Who Taught The Beekeeper to Read’ at the library, a title I hadn’t been aware of before (and isn’t it a brilliant title), I snapped it up. It wasn’t until I got home that I realised it was a collection of short stories.

Before I talk about the collection I should explain the slightly eccentric way I read short stories. Firstly I don’t read them like I would a novel, not just because of the order (which I will come to in a moment) I read it but because I might read one and not another for a few days or read three separately in one day by whim and one every evening after – there’s no rules. I also don’t read them in the order they have been put (apologies to the authors and editors who probably put a lot of time and thought into this) in the collection. I read the longest first followed by the shortest, then I read them in order except I always leave the title tale until the very end. The theory behind this last part is that the title tale is probably the best and leaves the book on a high note for me, it maybe this tale also reflects the overall feeling of a collection, though by no means always the case. Now that’s out the way I can get on with telling you how I felt about this collection and possibly the reasons why…

Chatto and Windus, hardback, 2003, fiction, 224 pages, short stories, borrowed from the library

If I were to go with an overall theme of ‘The Boy Who Taught The Beekeeper to Read’ it would be death and loss. This therefore gives the whole book a rather melancholic tone. It’s not a gloomy collection but it’s not all singing and dancing (yes, that’s a nod to her 1974 collection of short stories I have in Mount TBR). What we have is therefore a collection of tales at often pivotal, and emotional points in characters lives, their current situation or circumstances having been caused, in the main, being through deaths to varying degrees.

Because I started with ‘Father, Father’ and ‘Sand’ I think I was a little wrong footed from the off if I am honest. Both these stories of of mothers deaths and the effect on the daughter and unfortunately felt like the same story only one had been elongated. Therefore when I read ‘Elizabeth’ which once more brought up mothers and daughters I put the book down for a while. I am glad I returned though as after this hiccup, mainly my fault for reading in the wrong order I am sure, the stories became more varied and I started to get sucked into the atmosphere and tone of the book further.

You see the tales ‘The Punishment’, ‘The Brooch‘ and ‘Moving Messages’ reminded me that Susan Hills writing has a certain quiet brooding about it, this is also the case in both her Simon Serrailer crime series and famous ghost stories yet because they are longer there is a meatier side too, and sometimes with these short stories this is done so delicately that initially you think ‘and?’ but should you take some time out and have some space from them and the characters, atmospheres and settings they grow on you somewhat. ‘Need’ with its circus setting did this particularly well.

The last two stories I read had the most punch, maybe they felt the most modern and almost instantly had an overflowing number of things to say? The last story in the collection ‘Antonyin’s’ (the only story set outside England) confused me initially, as a man and woman unknown to each other sit in a restaurant day after day staring until she asks him to marry her, but the twist that came moved me. The title tale of ‘The Boy Who Taught The Beekeeper to Read’ was the one that blew me away. It’s not the longest, in some ways it’s the most simple of ideas – a young boy living in a mansion befriends ‘the staff’ and teaches him to read yet how long can this friendship last, actually choked me up and it  has resonated with me the most since, and not just because I read it last.

I cannot say ‘The Boy Who Taught The Beekeeper to Read’ is the best short story collection I’ve ever read because some of it was a little too short, a little too quiet and peeter out too quickly but overall it’s beautifully written and in parts packs an emotional punch amongst its brooding nature. Some people may find its quiet style a little old fashioned, I liked this, but regardless I would urge everyone to read this collection for the title story alone. I think it could become one of my favourite short stories and shows just why I am such a fan of Susan Hill’s writing overall.

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Review, Short Stories, Susan Hill

Mrs De Winter – Susan Hill

I think any classic novel is going to hard to write the sequel of, and especially one which has become a cult classic so close to the hearts of so many readers like ‘Rebecca’ has. There is the worry of revisiting those tales and those characters and them not being quite the same, a concern made all the greater when the writer of the sequel isn’t the person who wrote the original book. This is the predicament with ‘Mrs De Winter’ where the author, and one I am a big fan of, Susan Hill takes the characters and the story that was left behind from ‘Rebecca’ and tries to take it forward and breath life into it again. I was worried, I had seen several really bad reviews, and some rather good ones, so I admit that I did start the book with trepidation. Oh, before we go any further, if you haven’t read ‘Rebecca’ then maybe come back and see this post when you have, there may be some spoilers ahead.

Vintage, paperback, 1999, fiction, 304 pages, from my personal TBR

‘Mrs De Winter’ finds us once again with our unnamed narrator and her husband Maxim De Winter. They have returned after ten years of living on the continent for a funeral. Who is the funeral of? Well I actually don’t want to tell you that, let’s just say that it brings them back to England a place our narrator misses and Maxim does not. There is then the conflict of should they stay or should they go, before they decide they might stay. Only staying brings the past back to haunt them and ghosts, both supernatural and simply of memories from the past, that they thought had vanished long ago start to return to haunt them. That is really as much as I can say without giving any spoilers. It’s not helpful really is it, sorry. I bet you are all wondering what happened to Mrs Danvers too, I know that was the possible aspect of the story I was most excited about.

 
Susan Hill has the gothic atmosphere spot on, mind you I would have expected that after reading some of her wonderful ghost stories, its all very dark and the mystery slowly builds up. Her prose is rich and descriptive, if occasionally a little too descriptive. Whilst I loved the painting of the pictures of the English countryside, which our nameless narrator never seems to shut up about in this novel, I didnt need pages and pages about the scents in the air, the many varied different ways to describe the shades of autumn. It was beautiful, but it wasn’t why I had picked up a sequel to ‘Rebecca‘. I wanted ghosts and plot twists, I wanted that page turning element and the threads of dread to start, and after about 80 or so pages they did.
 
In fact it is when visiting the grave of the recently departed that our narrator (I do wish Daphne had given her a name now so I didnt keep having to type ‘nameless narrator’ over and over again) discoveres a huge, elaborate wreath with that infamous single letter ‘R’ that i did actually get that tingle of dread and the excitement of ‘ooh here we go again’. This is where Hill excels with this novel, there are some wonderful ‘uh-oh’ moments as we go along, its just a shame that rather than panicking and going mad (like I might), our narrator seems to stop in her tracks to have a look around and describe every thing instead. Yet, actually going back to Daphne, as I have been of late, I had forgotten how much the landscape and thesurrounding matter and are mentioned in her work. In that case ‘Mrs De Winter’ fits the bill completely and it is more my impatience as a reader to find out what was going on that was at fault. Maybe.
 
I do think, and this is one thing I completely disagree with that Susan Hill seems to be most critisised for having read the reviews after finishing the book, that she got the voice of the narrator spot on. She is a bit of a drip, lets be honest, she was in the first book and she continues to be in this one. In ten years she could have matured but she is married to Maxim who is almost insistant that she stays innocent naive and childlike. Plus she does get put through the mental wringer and I think that would make any one become a bit of a victim to be honest.
 
Sorry that this seems a rambling and rather inconclusive set of thoughts on ‘Mrs De Winter’. You see I do love Susan Hill’s writing, and I do love how she can weave a ghost story. I actually don’t think I could imagine anyone else being a more perfect writer, for me at least, to write the sequel. The only problem is I am not really sure what my thoughts on these sequels are. I think the fact that this is deemed ‘the sequel’ to ‘Rebecca’ is the problem. Change the name of the characters and the mentions of Manderlay and I think I would have loved this a lot more, though I really enjoyed it because it wouldnt have had the hype of the original attached to it.
 
To summarise (finally, I hear you cry) I really enjoyed ‘Mrs De Winter’, its a haunting and atmospheric tale, I just wish it wasn’t a sequel to such a famous novel and instead had been a story all of its own right. That might not make sense, or been seen as a cop out, but its the truth as I see it.

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