Tag Archives: Shirley Jackson

Hear Read This is Back… And We Would Love You To Get Involved!

I hope all your turkey and trifle are settling down. I have to say I feel ridiculously full after two Christmas dinners and I have another coming on Wednesday with my mother. I may explode. Anyway, I thought I would pop a quick post up between reviews and my forthcoming best of 2015 lists to tell you the exciting news that the podcast Hear Read This is coming back very soon. First with an A Little Life special and then a new series in 2016. Hoorah.

Now if you are wondering what on earth I am talking about, firstly shame on you though you now had a backlog of podcast listening, let me explain. Many of you will know I host The Readers with Thomas, and before with Gavin, where we talk all sorts of book based banter every fortnight. Interspersed with that I also make the podcast You Wrote The Book where I interview an author (the latest one is with Michel Faber which the recording of was one of my highlights of the year, one of my fav authors – whose books I do not seem able to review – who was wonderful to spend time with) and chat about their books and the like for 25 minutes or so. On top of that once a month I have been known to join Rob and Kate of Adventures with Words along with Gavin to record Hear Read This; a podcast where four hosts discuss two books over one episode… well we used to.

We have had a break but have decided, after recording a very fun (for us anyway) Christmas special of Adventures with Words that we will be back in January with a bit of a twist for the return. Firstly we will only talk about one book a month; warts, spoilers and all. We shall still sing a books praise (A Month in the Country) or slate it from the roof tops (The Martian) or bicker and differ if the case demands it we will just go into it all in more detail. The other change is that each month we will each suggest a book and you get to vote for which one we read. Here are this months choices…

Which could possibly be my choice?

So which is it to be? Will it be some good old gothic with ghosts, apocalypses and more in Shirley Jackson’s The Sundial? A thrilling, dangerous and illicit love affair in Patricia Highsmith’s cult classic Carol? A collection of mythical beasts from all over the world in Gods, Memes and Monsters? Or will it be a world in where the Nazi’s won the war as envisioned by Philip K Dick with The Man in the Castle? You can choose by voting on the Hear Read This post here. And I would love, love, love you to vote – though I can’t tell you which one is my choice, though some of you may guess.

You have until the special A Little Life episode of Hear Read This with Rob and myself, where we come at the book from almost polar opposite opinions, which will go live soon. The winning title, along with how else you can be involved, will be announced on New Years Day, so you (and Rob, Kate, Gavin and I) can get spending your book vouchers asap and get reading! So which book is it to be?

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Other People’s Bookshelves #52 – Claire Fuller

Hello and welcome to the latest Other People’s Bookshelves. If you haven’t seen it before this is a series of posts set to feed into the filthy book lust/porn and either give you a fix of other people’s books and shelves. This week we are off to spend some time with author Claire Fuller, whose debut Our Endless Numbered Days has just come out and will be one of the books I will rush to when I finish judging Fiction Uncovered. So anyway, let’s settle with a nice cup or glass of something and find out more about her…

I live in Winchester, occasionally with my teenage children (when they’re not at university or with their dad) and my husband, Tim, who’s a university librarian. I studied sculpture at art school in the 1980s, and still get my chisels or my pencil out now and again. But mostly I’m a writer. Our Endless Numbered Days (Fig Tree/Penguin) is my first novel and I also write a lot of short stories and flash fiction, most of which are posted on my website: www.clairefuller.co.uk. I read a lot: before I get up and before I go to sleep, and I have one of those contraptions to hold my books open so I can read at the table while I’m eating.

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Do you keep all the books you read on your shelves or only your favourites, does a book have to be REALLY good to end up on your shelves or is there a system like one in one out, etc?

In the last couple of years I’ve let myself give up on books I’ve not been enjoying, and these ones go to the charity shop. All other books get kept. Luckily, at the moment we have spare shelf space – my husband recently built some more shelves – so keeping books isn’t a problem. When I’ve finished a book I leave it on the dining-room table and it gets mysteriously filed away. It’s like one of those returns trollies they have in real libraries. I’m not sure what we’ll do when all the shelves are full. Build some more?

Do you organise your shelves in a certain way? For example do you have them in alphabetical order of author, or colour coded? Do you have different bookshelves for different books (for example, I have all my read books on one shelf, crime on another and my TBR on even more shelves) or systems of separating them/spreading them out? Do you cull your bookshelves ever?

Three and a half years ago, Tim moved in with me, bringing with him over two thousand books. I must have owned five hundred, and we spent about a week sorting them all and when we came across duplicates, deciding which one to get rid of. The only book where we kept both copies was The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers because before Tim moved in we’d both read it at the same time. I’ve always liked the idea of having my books filed properly so I could easily find things but I never got round to it when I lived on my own. But now all the paperback fiction is organised alphabetically, non-fiction is by genre, and hardback fiction has its own shelves because of the size issue. Like I said, I leave the filing to Tim, because I haven’t got the patience to move everything along in order to squeeze in a new paperback.

What was the first book you ever bought with your own money and does it reside on your shelves now?

I think it was probably Freefall by William Golding. I won the art prize at school a few times for which I received a book token, so I would go to my local bookshop in Thame, and browse. I probably chose it because of its cover. The bookshop used to be called The Red House; it’s still there but it’s now The Book House. I still have the original copy of Freefall, but I can’t remember anything about the story. I should probably re-read it.

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Are there any guilty pleasures on your bookshelves you would be embarrassed people might see, or like me do you have a hidden shelf for those somewhere else in the house?

[Simon – the photo of the Scrabble dictionary (above) is to go with this answer] There’s nothing on my shelves I would be embarrassed by, or at least if there is, I’m hoping it will disappear through sheer quantity of books. Although, I’ve just remembered that I do have a book which lives in a drawer. It’s put away not because I’m embarrassed by it, but because of the state it is in. I really should buy another.

Which book on the shelves is your most prized, mine would be a collection of Conan Doyle stories my Great Uncle Derrick memorised and retold me on long walks and then gave me when I was older? Which books would you try and save if (heaven forbid) there was a fire?

My first choice, if I’m allowed, would be the book my daughter wrote when she was about four. Actually, she dictated it rather than wrote it and she drew the pictures. She also made the jacket for it out of clay, which is not very practical. It starts, ‘The fairies lived on the mountain’. But of the published books I own, that’s such a hard thing to choose. Perhaps one of those my Dad bought me when I was a child (The Pocket Oxford Dictionary from 1975 or Complete Poems for Children by James Reeves, illustrated by Edward Ardizzone) or the first paperback American publication of We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson, which Tim gave to me.

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What is the first ‘grown up’, and I don’t mean in a ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ way, that you remember on your parent’s shelves or at the library, you really wanted to read? Did you ever get around to it and are they on your shelves now?

My Dad was in a mail-order book club when I was growing up in the 1970s, and I remember the excitement when the parcel arrived. I doubt this came from the club, but the first book I remember reading from his shelves was Small Dreams of a Scorpion by Spike Milligan. I must have been seven or eight. This isn’t a funny book; it’s full of sad poems about Milligan’s depression and hospitalisation and I can still recite some of them today. My Mum, who’s German, had very few books, but there was one she kept from her time when she was a nanny. It was a book about childhood illnesses and it was in German, so I couldn’t understand it, but I remember poring over the vivid and gruesome photographs of boils and rashes.

If you love a book but have borrowed the copy do you find you have to then buy the book and have it on your bookshelves or do you just buy every book you want to read?

I do sometimes borrow books from the library and those that I love I always mean to buy so I can read them again, but then another book comes along and makes me forget. Like Waterlog by Roger Deakin; I wish I owned that.

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What was the last book that you added to your bookshelves?

It was Aquarium by David Vann. I was lucky to be sent an advance copy by the publishers – one of the perks of being a writer. This is one I’ll definitely be keeping. Tim has filed it away beside all the other David Vann books I own.

Are there any books that you wish you had on your bookshelves that you don’t currently?

I’ve met lots of lovely debut authors since becoming one myself, and I’d love to get round to buying and reading all of their books. Some I have read, and others have made it as far as my ‘to be read’ list, which is a start. To name a few – The Ship by Antonia Honeywell, Summertime by Vanessa Lafaye and Ridley Road by Jo Bloom.

What do you think someone perusing your shelves would think of your reading taste, or what would you like them to think?

Someone perusing my shelves might think I know a lot about French film, read many works of Scandinavian fiction in which nothing much happens, and that I have a love of the nouveau roman movement from the 1950s. But unfortunately they would be getting me muddled up with Tim. If they knew which books were mine they might think I read fairly broadly – contemporary authors, some narrative non-fiction, many books from the past forty years – but that I could probably try harder with the classics.

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A huge thanks to Claire for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves! If you would like to catch up with the other posts in the series of Other People’s Bookshelves have a gander here. Don’t forget if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint as without you volunteering it doesn’t happen) in the series then drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of Claire’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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Poor Souls’ Light; Seven Curious Tales

Almost a year ago I told you about a collection of short stories entitled The Longest Night; Five Curious Tales. These were just the right sort of ghostly tales you need around Christmas and saw some authors I love such as Jenn Ashworth, Alison Moore and Emma Jane Unsworth who collectively self published it and went on spooky nights here there and everywhere telling these tales and discussing ghost stories. Well guess what? It has only come back for a second year. Last year it was five tales in homage, of sorts, to M.R. James; this year it is seven tales in homage (again of sorts) to Robert Aickman. Now as you know I have some issue with Aickman’s tales, so when I realised that I did a small wince before getting going…

Curious Tales, 2014, paperback, fiction, ghost stories, 140 pages, kindly sent by Emma Jane Unsworth

Having read Aickman I can see how the stories by Jenn Ashworth, Alison Moore, Johnny Mains, Tom Fletcher, Richard Hirst, Emma Jane Unsworth and M. John Harrison are all inspired by his works as they all have elements of the supernatural and the ‘weird’ about them. If, like me (as you may have seen recently), you find Aickman and the ‘weird’ a little too, erm, weird then fret not.

Even when the element of the strange rather than supernatural or ghostly is there, even in the most Aickman like tale Blossom by Mains which really plays homage to The Hospice the story of Aickmans I most loved, it never goes to the point where the plot is spoiled by the weirdness or the reader feels somewhat played unfairly by the author. I admit there was a scene in Blossom which had me thinking ‘WTF?’ yet Mains handles it really well and the plot gets even darker after with a real sting in the tales tail.

The rest of the tales veer more to the traditional edges of the ghost story. For example with both Alison Moore’s The Spite House and M. John Harrison’s Animals deal with haunted houses though in very different ways. One is very much about a house haunted by its past and something it lived through, the other is very much about how a house feels about someone who returns to it and the imprints of how those who lived in it felt about the returned person. I enjoyed both of these especially the element of the house as a character within the narrative, or almost with its own narrative itself.

The cottage could be quiet, especially in the early evening, when the lane, with its fringe of trees against the setting sun, filled up with shadows. She heard what she thought were movements, half drowned by the sound of the radio she kept in the kitchen, even in the day. ‘It must be the central heating,’ she thought, but soon it became clear that these sounds were actually voices. Whatever room Susan was in, she heard them somewhere else.

Emma Jane Unsworth’s Smoke takes on the tale of someone becoming haunted by something, indeed something that follows them afterwards wherever they go. I am not being funny but the idea of seeing something ghostly and then it following you to the ends of the earth/your bed, or in this case around Europe, is something I find truly creepy and Unsworth nicely plays with that primal fear. Tom Fletcher also plays with the primal fear of being followed yet in The Exotic Dancer it is the case of a stranger following you with their eyes and their intent. Fletcher’s tale too is incredibly creepy and the setting of an old canal tow path and the industrial edge of a town/city is spot on. It has reminded me how much I want to read his novels.

In a collection where there isn’t a dud note you shouldn’t really have a favourite, yet I had two. As you might have guessed I really enjoyed them all, Richard Hirst’s and Jenn Ashworth’s tales just edged it; I think Ashworth’s in particular should be put forward for every short story award going. Now both of them have a couple of twists so I don’t want to spoil them so I will tread carefully. Hirst’s And The Children Followed is set around evacuees in one of the World Wars, it is vague about which not that it matters, as a recently bereaved (and going off the rails) young woman grieves for a sibling. I will say no more than that on the plot but as the tale goes on and the dread and horror mount I was instantly reminded of Shirley Jackson’s short story The Lottery, you will gasp at the end. Ashworth’s story I actually want to say almost nothing about, other than it will turn a ghostly tale on its head for you and have you asking all sorts of questions. That is all, oh and it’s bloody marvellous with the games it plays and how she cleverly lets it unfold and toys with the reader in the best o f ways, marvellous.

I embrace her but she only shivers and pulls away to turn all the radiators on the house onto their highest setting. I wait for her in our bedroom, worrying about my cough and my breath, which is starting to smell like mushrooms, even to myself. She will not come up, but begins again to scrub the kitchen floor.

All in all a great collection again from the Curious Tales crew/collective, one that I would heartily recommend you get your mitts on and get reading over these dark winter nights. I have often said that I think modern ghost stories are very difficult to get right, this collection proves me completely wrong and I am thrilled.

If you are looking to get a copy you best hurry as there is a limited run of just 500 of them in print. I am not sure what the plan is on eBooks. For more info and to buy it head to the website here where you can also find out about some live events ahead this month and next – erm, massive hint guys bring it to Liverpool at some point or else, I know just the place! Now I am in the mood for more ghostly tales, so which ghost stories and collections would you recommend I go and hunt down?

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Filed under Alison Moore, Curious Tales, Emma Jane Unsworth, Ghost Stories, Johnny Mains, M. John Harrison, Review, Richard Hirst, Short Stories, Tom Fletcher

Books That I’ve Bought of Late

I have been thinking about the books that I should be sharing on the blog, aside from the ones that I review of course. By that I mean the books that come in to Chez Savidge Reads. I used to do regular-ish posts of the books that the publishers were sending me yet whilst this came from enthusiasm, I was saying mere days ago how when I come home to a pile of parcels it still feels like Christmas, I have noticed that there seems to now be almost a sense of showing off the latest free books incoming around the blogosphere. All a bit icky and not something I am not interested in perpetuating despite my genuine enthusiasm.

So I have decided that I will tweet and Instagram select moments of postal joy, on the blog however I will review the ones I read AND share with you the books I have bought. I love book shopping, my bank doesn’t part of why blogging has been so amazing, since having a more regular salary (less freelance living) I have been enjoying ‘payday treats’ only sometimes more than just on payday. Here are the books that I have bought in the last few months and the reasons why (some are so flimsy it is shameful)…

Books Bought

The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith – I know, I know. I haven’t even read the hardback I have of The Cuckoo’s Calling but I admit sometimes I can fall for the hype. This may well not get read until some point next year but it was half price, oh thinking about it it’ll probably be less than half price in paperback. Oops. Least I have the hardback set though, so far, meaning I will have to by the next. Oh…

The Girl Who Saved The King of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson – I don’t know about you but I hate, hate, hate food and household good shopping. I have been offered to not have to do this, however I would end up with food stuffs and household trinkets I don’t like I am sure of it. So when said big shop happens every weekend, if particularly stressful I treat myself to a book. This was bought on one such trip when I had become infuriated by the bananas and so went off to buy something, anything. And I am going to Sweden so it made sense. I haven’t read Jonasson’s debut, it is on my devil’s device which I seem to have misplaced/forgotten where I put it.

The Rental Heart by Kirsty Logan – I am a big fat liar. The publisher sent me this pretend you haven’t seen it, I have clumsily mis-shelved it.

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou – Isn’t it awful that the death of an author can lead you to finally getting your hands on their work. My mother has been telling me to read Maya Angelou for ages and ages, it sadly took her passing to make me actually go and buy a copy. I will be reading this as soon as my holiday week starts.

Things I Don’t Want To Know by Deborah Levy – Can you say you are a big fan of an author after only reading two of their books? If so I am a HUGE fan of Deborah Levy and this is meant to be an answer to George Orwell’s Why I Write which I have inherited from Gran. I may read them back to back especially.

The Maid’s Version by Daniel Woodrell – This is the lovely Kate of Adventures with Words choice for the next episode of Hear Read This. I know nothing about it, but that can be quite exciting to have in your reading diet from time to time.

The Sundial by Shirley Jackson – Shirley Jackson is one of the many, many authors I often think ‘ooh I must read more of’. Yes, there are lots of those. This is apparently a newly reprinted old tale of hers that Penguin have brought back from the depths of time. Simon of Stuck In A Book has done a glorious review of it, and two others in Shiny New Books, which sent me off in search of it. Who doesn’t think a gothic family household at the end of the world sounds amazing? See, everyone agrees, instant must read.

The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark – Gavin has chosen this for next months Hear Read This along with Kate’s choice as we have been and are doing novellas over the summer. I have read this and loved it however didn’t have a copy, so a reread is a perfect excuse to by my own copy. I have to say any time I see a Penguin Modern Classic I want to buy them all.

The Absent Therapist by Will Eaves – After loving Charles Lambert’s With A Zero at It’s Heart so much and it being such a ‘different’ read I asked for recommendations along those lines. David (who should have a blog himself frankly) said that he had recently read this and it would be right up my street. I have been meaning to read Eaves for a while too.

Eeny Meeny by M. J. Aldridge – I apologise profusely, I cannot remember who was raving about this as a brilliant crime thriller, it might have been on Twitter or Instagram but safe to say they made me buy it. It was before it was announced on the new Richard and Judy book club list, just saying.

The Girl With All The Gifts by M. R. Carey – So I bought this as M. R. Carey was coming to read at Waterstones in Liverpool (where it has apparently sold the most copies in any store) and I have heard great things. I then got a shift at work which meant I couldn’t go. So it awaits a read, maybe he will come back again?

The Year of the Ladybird by Graham Joyce – Graham Joyce told me and Gavin about this when he joined us on The Readers Book Club. I am intrigued as to how he makes a holiday park in the British summer time heatwave of the 1970s spooky. I have a feeling it will be very good.

Randall by Jonathan Gibbs – Spur of the moment buy when lovely lady said ‘oh you have used all ten of your stamps so you get ten pounds free’, you get a stamp every time you spend ten pounds. Having loved A Girl is a Half Formed Thing by Eimear McBride I have been meaning to try more of Galley Beggar Press’ novels, this apparently is a pastiche of the art world so should be fun. Note – only after I got home did I realise a) I only got that loyalty card 5 weeks ago b) I have another Galley Beggar Press book at home waiting to be read. But hey, life’s short.

Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes – The next choice for my book club and since I have suddenly discovered Barnes is actually an author I think I really like I am very excited about reading this.

Red Moon by Benjamin Percy – I blame supermarkets again. This is apparently a ‘spin on the werewolf novel’ and I do love werewolves, those ghosts and dragons I am all a fan off. It had also been a rather trying time in the ‘baked goods’ aisle, so a treat was once more needed.

The Ravens by Thomas Bannerhed – I have been picking up and putting down this book every time I have gone into Waterstones lately. The cover is stunning and it sounded like one of those ‘out in the countryside where things are more raw, rough and grubbier’ kind of novels which I love. Every time I have looked at it the copy has been battered so I have resisted. New ones came in, it is set in Sweden and so will be going with me in a week and a bits time. Job’s a gooden.

Beastings by Benjamin Myers – “A girl and a baby. A priest and a poacher. A savage pursuit through the landscape of a changing rural England.” I think that this is definitely going to be one of those ‘out in the countryside where things are more raw, rough and grubbier’ kind of novels which I love. And also like the above is from a small press so I purchased it even though I have not yet read Pig Iron which I have renewed from the library twelve times, true story.

So that is my haul. I have just realised I have missed the second hand copy of Persepolis which I bought myself today. I hadn’t been in any second hand shops for ages and was on the hunt for the second and third of Camilla Lackberg’s books however I only found the fourth and fifth, amazingly I didn’t buy them wasn’t I good? I am planning a big (baggage allowance allowing) second hand spree in Washington with Thomas which I can then go and read by his pool everyday on my mini tour of America so expect to hear about those then.

By the way, before I ask you all some questions, I am aware Other People’s Bookshelves has gone quiet recently. I have sent lots of the forms out am just waiting for the pictures and responses but if you fancy taking part please email me via savidgereads@gmail.com with Other People’s Bookshelves in the title! Back to today’s post though. Which books have you bought recently? Have you read any of the ones that I have grabbed lately?

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The Tooth – Shirley Jackson

Well that’s what you get for scheduling posts isn’t it? Yesterday I promised you not one but two reviews and this then didn’t go live, but it means I am a few days ahead so that’s ok and really I do think that Shirley Jackson’s collection ‘The Tooth’, which is another of the mini classics Penguin are publishing that I mentioned yesterday. Like with Carson McCullers ‘Wunderkind’ I thought that Shirley Jackson’s ‘The Tooth’ was going to be a novella and instead found a gripping and rather dark collection of tales instead.

All the five tales included in ‘The Tooth’ actually come from Shirley Jackson’s extended collection of short stories ‘The Lottery & Other Stories’ which was originally published in 1949. Having previously read ‘We Have Always Lived in the Castle’ I have to say I had high hopes that this mini-collection would be full of dark little tales that unnerved me and they didn’t disappoint. It’s a collection that unnerves you as the tales all have a familiarity with the real world going on as normal in the back ground while the lead characters undergo trying horrors and eerie moments.

I would say that of the collection it is both the title story ‘The Tooth’ and ‘The Lottery’ which are the most famous of his short stories. ‘The Tooth’ being a very unnerving, especially as I don’t like anything to do with teeth so this one actually bothered me a lot, tale about Clara Spencer who must travel to New York City in order to have a tooth seen too. On her way there a stranger, Jim, keeps appearing in wherever she goes and things get stranger and stranger from there. It’s an interesting look on one person’s perception of reality and in some ways how we see the world differently when we are undergoing pain or stress.

‘The Lottery’ was again a tale that bothered me. In a small village people are randomly chosen, hence the name of the tale, to be stoned to death by friends and family. It’s an odd tale because what would be a horrific and scary act for the villagers is almost seen as a time of celebration and catching up. It’s a tale that seems to be about the façade of people and how really you never know what your neighbours and friends might be thinking, could they actually be evil. It chilled me in a way none of the other stories quite did. The theme of identity and society both in the two tales previously mention both merge in ‘The Intoxicated’ in which Jackson uses the setting of a house party to show some undertones of darkness slowly but surely as two guest’s converse.

I think it was actually ‘The Witch’ which is one of the shortest of the bunch (along with ‘Charles’ which is only a page shorter) which I was most shocked and slightly disturbed by and there for I enjoyed the most. However being so short I can’t give too much away and shall simply say is the tale of a boy who whilst entertaining himself on a coach plays i-spy and ends up getting much more than he bargained for. I loved how dark it was and it seemed to encompass the whole feeling of the collection in ten pages, and it’s a great collection I would highly recommend. 9.5/10

This collection has bowled me over far more than reading ‘We Have Always Lived In The Castle’ which I enjoyed but might have read to much hype about. I am going to have to read ‘The Lottery & Other Stories’ without a doubt. I did wonder though, and maybe you can help, will any of the other stories be as good as these ones of have they taken the best ones from the collection? Any other Shirley Jackson books I should be looking out for?

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Filed under Books of 2011, Penguin Books, Penguin Classics, Review, Shirley Jackson

We Have Always Lived in the Castle – Shirley Jackson

As it was Halloween during the weekend just past I wanted to read something that was sufficiently spooky or ghostly or chilling. I found what I thought would be the perfect read free with The Times last week as I mentioned. The book in question was Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle which is a book that after seeing wonderful reviews of by Claire, Simon T, and Kim I have been on the hunt for this book along with the fact that Shirley Jackson is supposed to be a mistress of the chilling.

“My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cup mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead.”

Even the start of We Have Always Lived in the Castle is quite a chilling one told by the youngest daughter of the Blackwood family Merricat (from Mary Katherine) as she tells us that in a crumbling old building, we presume a castle, surrounded by woodland live her, her sister and her aging Uncle Julian (who seems to have Alzheimer’s and even believes Merricat is dead) as outcasts from the nearby village. In fact in the opening chapters we see how the village treat her like some kind of leper, they will chide and tease her but they won’t come near her for fear of her family name and past.

I won’t give too much away about the book suffice to say there is a great mystery around her families death and one that as you read along you gain more snippets into until you find out one shocking twist which did actually make me let out a small gasp. The sinister tone of the book is underlying for most of the book and in some ways becomes much darker on the arrival of their cousin Charles who Merricat takes and instant dislike to before things come to a rather dark and dramatic head.

Whilst a chilling tale about… well that would give everything away so lets just leave it at that. Whilst being a chilling tale this is also a book very much about how society can cast out those who are different through gossip and rumour. It also looks at how a child can block out horrific events and cope with huge loss. Merricat is a fascinating and insightful character who copes with bad things by using three magic words, burying household items, sending herself on a winged horse to the moon, talking long walks and talks with her cat and attaching family heirlooms to trees as rituals to ward of evil and possibly block out the past.

Though this is a relatively small book its not one you can read quickly as there is so much to take in both in terms of storyline, back plot and the relationships between the characters as well as the descriptions of all that surround them from the house itself to the wood and village beyond. It also looks at some big subjects as I mentioned and though I personally had a slow and unsure start with it by the end I was gripped and it packed a punch that will stay with me for quite some time. I am glad I gave this a go and am very eager to read much more Shirley Jackson. Where to go next though?

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Filed under Penguin Classics, Review, Shirley Jackson

Books for a Break Away

Now I am off up north on my own this weekend which involves (as the trains have gotten so ridiculously expensive already in the lead up to Christmas) two almost six hour journeys each way. However the fact I will be seeing my 1 year old twin cousin’s makes the trip very much worth it, though the prospect of looking after them on my own for a day or two is slightly daunting. So being in the fortunate position that I can read on a coach (some people can’t and I feel for them) I am planning on using this as perfect binge reading time and so have had to ponder over what to read for 12 hours.

Now taking books on your travels is always a tough call. You don’t want to be weighed down for a start, though that hasn’t quite worked as you will see below shortly. There is also the worry of what sort of book you will be in the mood for and with twelve hours free who knows? It also doesn’t help that I will be starting a new book tomorrow and so as a rule I always take a few books and this time I decided to take five with me. After much mulling and wandering through my bookshelves (so not planned reading its all been random) I decided on the following…

Travel Reading To Go?

  • 1984 – George Orwell (ok one bit of planned reading as this is for book group on Thursday)
  • We Have Always Lived in the Castle – Shirley Jackson (a short book for Halloween evening and have heard some rave reviews)
  • The Elegance of the Hedgehog – Muriel Barbery (been tempting me for ages)
  • Small Island – Andrea Levy (one of my tomes have been meaning to read)
  • The Year of the Flood – Margaret Atwood (something new which I have been meaning to read)

Now if you would like to get your hands on a ‘chilling’ tale for Halloween you can (I have just finished a Halloween related book to discuss tomorrow) get the Shirley Jackson for free (well 90p), as I did, with The Times as its available until the end of today. Just to give you a tip off as its alost a tenner new in the shops.

The Times & Jackson Giveaway

Speaking of newspapers etc, I am taking some bookish magazines with me such as Books Quarterly which Waterstones publish and I love, plus the wonderful Persephone Biannually which I have half read already (lovely to see lots of you in it). I am also taking a catalogue or two as Persephone and Oxford Classics aren’t just book catalogues but glossy wonderful and delightful magazines that give you much more than a blurb.

Bookish Magazines

So all in all the twelve hours should fly by before I know it! How do you choose the books you take away with you on holiday? Do you have a selection or just one and hope for the best? What bookish magazines do you simply have to get every issue of?

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