Tag Archives: Jack The Ripper

Un-Reviews #1

I have always felt that if I haven’t finished a book to its full conclusion for whatever reason then I can’t review it, or write my ‘book thoughts’ on them as I prefer to call it. This therefore means that anyone who reads the blog is only getting reviews of the books I do finish which are therefore going to be more positive. Thanks to something my Readers co-host Gavin told me, and I have now stolen, I have decided to do ‘un-reviews’. These will be honest, whilst constructive, posts featuring a few titles  I have tried and tested and some brief ‘book thoughts’ on why they didn’t work and why.

So without further ado here are the first titles that I have tried this year and just haven’t worked for whatever reason…

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

I will admit that I don’t think the hype around this book helped, in fact it had very much put me off, yet some of you said I should give it a whirl and see, so I did. I knew the book was going to be about baseball, though ‘not all about just baseball’, because that was what put me off in the first place. Some of you said it didn’t matter but sadly it did to me. I was floundering quickly and then when I realised this seemed like it was going to be a ‘coming of age’ and ‘college life’ story I was officially lost. The writing wasn’t bad, in fact it almost won me over, but not quite and after 60 or so pages I just thought ‘no, should have stuck to my instincts’. It’s selling like hotcakes apparently so I don’t think it matters that this book did very little for me.

The Autobiography of Jack the Ripper by James Carnac

This is an interesting one. I have a strange small obsession with Jack the Ripper, in part because I find the Victorian era so utterly fascinating but in the main because no one really knows who did it. Well a written confession was discovered a year or so ago in a dead man’s possessions when they were being sorted. I imagine a few crackpots might have done such a thing but historians are puzzled by this one as the author seemed to have specific and in depth knowledge of the facts and small things people simply wouldn’t know, not even some of the police at the time. With a premise like that I knew this book was for me… but the font (see below) drove me bonkers! I understand the original document was composed on a type writer but that didn’t mean it had to be presented that way in the book. Maybe the publishers wanted the authentic feel, sadly it hurt my eyes and took all the joy from trying to read it and so I had to give up. (If anyone mentions how on a certain device beginning with a K you can change the font you might get blocked from commenting ha, ha.)

The Sealed Letter by Emma Donoghue

A book I have tried twice. First up in January when I fancied something Victorian and I loved the idea of a tale centred on a true ‘scandalous divorce’ so I thought this would be an instant winner with me. I didn’t like the main character Helen who has an affair, so I stopped and thought ‘try that again later’. I did when I was having my latest book clear out and again struggled with Helen, and then struggled with the other characters in the book Fido, Helen’s lover, and Helen’s husband. They were all rather dislikeable but not in a good way. Helen in particular riled me, she was devious and manipulative but not in a grippingly good way. I would imagine this would be a brilliant ‘neo-Victorian’ novel if you have yet to read Jane Harris or Sarah Waters (in fact I felt this was Emma Donoghue wanting to be Sarah Waters), if you have read them this does seem a tad pedestrian. I liked ‘Room’ a lot so I think maybe I had too high expectations, Donoghue + Victoriana = definite hit,  which might not have helped. It felt a little rushed, like Donoghue had to have a new book out as soon as possible after ‘Room’ and I had a sense it was going to be overly long, so I stopped. Maybe I should try ‘Slammerkin’, which is oddly what I thought this was a reissue of, oops.

Alice by Judith Hermann

I picked this book up from the library based on the cover which I think is stunning. I had no prior knowledge of the author or the subject of the book, as fate had it was announced as one of the longlisted titles for this year’s Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. My excitement mounted a bit. The prose is beautiful, simple, spare and very haunting so much so I was really torn about giving up on this book, but I was, if I am very honest, getting really bored. ‘Alice’ reads like a selection of short stories in a woman named Alice’s life with which you build a picture of her as a person, and indeed her own life. The times we meet Alice though are always at a pivotal point of loss, be it a friend, ex-lover, relative etc and this gives an overriding feeling of melancholy to the novel, which was apt whilst quite draining to read, but also means in each story you know where this is going, someone is going to die, Alice is going to be there and react… and? And it was the ‘and?’ that was the problem. I didn’t feel this was going anywhere and while I loved the idea of the book I could spot how the author was doing all the background mechanics and yet Alice wasn’t coming fully formed but all those dying around her were. After three of the stories read almost exactly the same I called it quits. I was torn though as the writing was beautiful.

So those are the books that I have started but not finished this year. Only four in three months isn’t that bad actually is it? I hope you like the new feature, I don’t imagine it will be too regular but these posts will be popping up from time to time in the forthcoming months/years. Let me know your thoughts on the feature plus… Which of these have you read and do you agree or disagree with my brief book thoughts? Have you given up on any books lately, let’s make this a confessional, and if so why?

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Victorian Based Books…

One of my favourite things to read, which Essie Fox’s ‘The Somnambulist’ reminded me of especially after talking with her about it, is a good Victorian novel and yet weirdly I have seemed to have strayed from them in the last few years. I don’t just mean the originals like the wonderful Wilkie Collins who I have binged on in the past (though I have been considering some of his novels I haven’t yet read and as you will see I have been debating trying Charles Dickens again what with his birthday having come and gone) but also the contemporary novels by authors like Sarah Waters and many more. I did have a brief binge on one after reading Essie’s, which I will be discussing tomorrow, but I think once I have finished of the wonderful letters between Nancy Mitford and a bookshop I think it is time to gorge myself on all things Victoriana. I love the dark atmosphere and sense of mystery that the period brings and it seems perfect at the moment as Britain seems to be having a big freeze. I already have three books lined up for the weekend…

‘The Sealed Letter’ is the only Victorian fiction, though contemporary, I have at the top of the TBR so far. I had to get this from the library as I forgot I had lent it to someone and suddenly fancied it. It will be my second and a half read of any Emma Donoghue, I got half way through her short story collection ‘The Woman Who Gave Birth To Rabbits’ when someone selfishly (joking) ordered it for themselves and so back to the library it went. ‘Room’ is obviously her most famous novel but with ‘Slammerkin’ and others it seems Emma likes this period so I am hoping it is good.

The other two books are non-fiction. ‘The Maul and the Pear Tree; The Ratcliffe Highway Murders, 1811’ by P.D James and T.A. Critchley was been inspired read by the fascinating experience that listening to the audio book of Judith Flanders ‘The Invention of Murder’ is proving to be. In the first several chapters I have listened to the case of the Ratcliffe Highway murders and not only how they were the case of the first real serial killer, but also how they changed the way the police worked. I couldn’t get enough and so pulled out this book dedicated just to that and seeing the wonderful P.D James playing a cold case detective for real, fabulous.

‘The Autobiography of Jack the Ripper’ either the official memoirs of Jack or simply the mad ramblings of James Carnac arrived by surprise the other week. I am one of those many people fascinated by this case because of course no one ever found out who Jack the Ripper was – in the case of James Carnac’s writing it could be that he really was him or that he was a bit mad and wrote a very grisly and almost too knowing novel about Jack. I am going to play detective and try to decide the truth, I have ordered a few Jack the Ripper books to read alongside this one. Does that make me a bit morbid having a grim fascination with it all?

Oh and if you are wondering what I will be reading all these on, check out this reading chair (which the books were photographed on) below, doesn’t it look like a wonderfully modern contemporary version of a Victorian chaise longue? It’s very comfy I have many wonderful hours ahead.

I am now mulling over which classic Victorian novel to dip into at some point too. I have some of Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s lesser known works, some more Wilkie Collins (and I believe his biography by Peter Ackroyd is on the way) or do I take the plunge into Dickens? After all Susan Hill makes a compelling case on Dovergreyreader today, do visit. What would you recommend? Are you a fan of books set or written in the Victorian era and which are your favourites? You may inspire me.

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The Baker Street Phantom – Fabrice Bourland

There was quite a lot of buzz when ‘The Baker Street Phantom’ by Fabrice Bourland came out last year. I remember seeing posters for it absolutely everywhere in London and being intrigued by the idea of a supernatural 1930’s twist on a Sherlock Holmes-esque tale of murder and mystery.  However the hype seemed to get a little too much, it was appearing here, there and everywhere and being given away in London hotels. So I mentally popped it into my ‘maybe one day’ pile of never ending books I might read. Then I saw Sakura’s review of it and thought ‘ooh maybe I will give that one a go’. It happened to be in my library just the other week and so I picked it up.

Gallic Books, fiction, 2010, paperback, translated byMorag Young, 185 pages, borrowed from library

The premise of the novel is quite a simple on. We have two detectives Singleton and Trelawney who have recently arrived in London from Canada, where the crimes weren’t taxing enough for them, where they have set up a shared abode in Bloomsbury. There has been a particularly nasty spate of murders in the last few months and when a woman comes to call, who happens to be Arthur Conan Doyle’s recently widowed second wife, with a mystery of ghostly activity at none other than 221 Baker Street. Why the duo must of course investigate. Is it reminding you of anything at all?

“My friend James Trelawney and I never imagined for a moment what would follow when there was a knock at the door of our rooms in Montague Street towards the end of the morning of Friday, 24th June 1932. We knew no one in London and since Miss Sigwarth, our landlady, had let someone come up without calling up from downstairs in her shrill voice – something we had asked her not to do – it probably meant that the visit was professional. It was not a moment to soon. Three months had passed with nothing to fill our days and the wait was starting to get James down.”

I admit that at first I thought ‘The Baker Street Phantom’ wasn’t going to be a book I could finish, it seemed a rip off of Conan Doyle and I wasn’t initially impressed. However it was becoming one of those books where at the end of every chapter you think ‘oh, I will just read one more’ and I was glad I did because as the book goes on, and the spirit of Sherlock Holmes (I know, he’s a fictional character but I bore with it, so others should) appears, we enter the world of spiritualism that Conan Doyle himself became part of. This became a homage both to Conan Doyle and his invention Holmes.

It also became a book about Victorian books and the sensational, a period and genreI adore, but sadly this did detract away form something which could have made the book all the more successful – for me at least. You see my slight issue with the book was that for a book in the 1930’s it lacked that period’s atmosphere. It was so focused on Conan Doyle, Dickens, Wilde, Jack the Ripper, Jekyll and Hyde etc that it became steeped in the Victorian and let me wanting. It seems silly that someone who loves Victoriana so much would say that, but I didn’t really feel I was in the 1930’s London which I would have liked too. I wouldn’t have minded the book being a bit longer in order to gain that atmosphere either.

The book does get far fetched but do you know what, sometime we all just need a book that’s escapist, entertaining and a romp. This is just that sort of book. The character Singleton actually seems to completely encapsulate the book when he discusses the crimes as they go on “A literary crime… supernatural powers… spiritualist séances going wrong.” If that’s your sort of thing then you will no doubt enjoy this. I did.

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