7

Gothic Novels

There is little that I enjoy better in winter than curling up with a startling Gothic novel.  Below are five of my favourites.

1. Florence and Giles by John Harding
‘In a remote and crumbling New England mansion, 12-year-old orphan Florence is neglected by her guardian uncle and banned from reading. Left to her own devices she devours books in secret and talks to herself – and narrates this, her story – in a unique language of her own invention. By night, she sleepwalks the corridors like one of the old house’s many ghosts and is troubled by a recurrent dream in which a mysterious woman appears to threaten her younger brother Giles. Sometimes Florence doesn’t sleepwalk at all, but simply pretends to so she can roam at will and search the house for clues to her own baffling past. After the sudden violent death of the children’s first governess, a second teacher, Miss Taylor, arrives, and immediately strange phenomena begin to occur. Florence becomes convinced that the new governess is a vengeful and malevolent spirit who means to do Giles harm. Against this powerful supernatural enemy, and without any adult to whom she can turn for help, Florence must use all her intelligence and ingenuity to both protect her little brother and preserve her private world. Inspired by and in the tradition of Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, Florence & Giles is a gripping gothic page-turner told in a startlingly different and wonderfully captivating narrative voice.’

2. Dracula by Bram Stoker 9780141199337
‘A chilling masterpiece of the horror genre, “Dracula” also illuminated dark corners of Victorian sexuality. When Jonathan Harker visits Transylvania to advise Count Dracula on a London home, he makes a horrifying discovery. Soon afterwards, a number of disturbing incidents unfold in England: an unmanned ship is wrecked at Whitby; strange puncture marks appear on a young woman’s neck; and the inmate of a lunatic asylum raves about the arrival of his ‘Master’, while a determined group of adversaries prepares to face the terrifying Count.’

3. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
‘”I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will.” Bronte’s infamous Gothic novel tells the story of orphan Jane, a child of unfortunate circumstances. Raised and treated badly by her aunt and cousins and eventually sent away to a cruel boarding school, it is not until Jane becomes a governess at Thornfield that she finds happiness. Meek, measured, but determined, Jane soon falls in love with her brooding and stormy master, Mr Rochester, but it is not long before strange and unnerving events occur in the house and Jane is forced to leave Thornfield to pursue her future.’

97818440887994. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
‘Working as a lady’s companion, our heroine’s outlook is bleak until, on a trip to the south of France, she meets a handsome widower whose proposal takes her by surprise. She accepts but, whisked from glamorous Monte Carlo to brooding Manderley, the new Mrs de Winter finds Max a changed man. And the memory of his dead wife Rebecca is for ever kept alive by the forbidding housekeeper Mrs Danvers… An international bestseller that has never gone out of print, Rebecca is the haunting story of a young woman consumed by love and the struggle to find her identity.’

5. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
‘For lucidity and compactness of style, James’s short novels, or novelles, are shining examples of his genius. Few other writings of the century have so captured the American imagination. When “Daisy Miller,” the tale of the girl from Schenectady, first appeared in 1878, it was an extraordinary success. James had discovered nothing less than “the American girl”–free spirited, flirtatious, an innocent abroad determined to defy European convention even if it meant scandal . . . or tragedy. But the subtle danger lurking beneath the surface in “Daisy Miller” evolves into a classic tale of terror and obsession in “The Turn Of The Screw.” “The imagination, ” Henry James said to Bernard Shaw, “has a life if its own.” In this blood-curdling story, that imagination weaves the lives of two children, a governess in love with her employer, and a sprawling country house into a flawless story, still unsurpassed as the prototype of modern horror fiction.” “The Turn Of The Screw” seems to have proved more fascinating to the general reading public than anything else of James’s except “Daisy Miller.”‘

Which are your favourite Gothic novels?  Are there any which you would recommend to me?

8

Digital December

I completely missed Poppy’s wonderful Novella November month due to University commitments, so I thought I would write a little post entitled ‘Digital December’, featuring the best Kindle books which I have read to date.  Whilst I still do most of my reading from physical books, I do very much enjoy owning a Kindle, and find it invaluable, particularly for lectures and holidays.

1. Notes from the Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky
‘Published in 1864, Notes from Underground is considered the author’s first masterpiece – the book in which he “became” Dostoevsky – and is seen as the source of all his later works. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, whose acclaimed translations of The Brothers Karamazov and Crime and Punishment have become the standard versions in English, now give us a superb new rendering of this early classic. Presented as the fictional apology and confession of the underground man – formerly a minor official of mid-nineteenth-century Russia, whom Dostoevsky leaves nameless, as one critic wrote, “because ‘I’ is all of us” – the novel is divided into two parts: the first, a half-desperate, half-mocking political critique; the second, a powerful, at times absurdly comical account of the man’s breakaway from society and descent “underground.” The book’s extraordinary style – brilliantly violating literary conventions in ways never before attempted – shocked its first readers and still shocks many Russians today.’

2. Starter for Ten by David Nicholls 9780340734872
‘The debut bestseller from the author of the phenomenally successfully ONE DAY and Man Booker longlisted US. STARTER FOR TEN is a comedy about love, class, growing-up and the all-important difference between knowledge and wisdom. It’s 1985 and Brian Jackson has arrived at university with a burning ambition – to make it onto TV’s foremost general knowledge quiz. But no sooner has he embarked on ‘The Challenge’ than he finds himself falling hopelessly in love with his teammate, the beautiful and charismatic would-be actress, Alice Harbinson. When Alice fails to fall for his slightly over-eager charms, Brian comes up with a foolproof plan to capture her heart once and for all. He’s going to win the game, at any cost, because – after all – everyone knows that what a woman really wants from a man is a comprehensive grasp of general knowledge …STARTER FOR TEN is a comedy about love, class, growing-up and the all-important difference between knowledge and wisdom. Are you up to the challenge of the funniest novel in years?’

3. The Happy Foreigner by Enid Bagnold
‘Fictional account of the author’s experiences working as a volunteer driver in France during the First World War. Contrasts the duties and demands of the heroine’s external life, with the freedom and excitement of her internal life during a whirl-wind romance with a French officer.’

97818483162184. The Elements of Eloquence: How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase by Mark Forsyth
‘In an age unhealthily obsessed with substance, this is a book on the importance of pure style, from the bestselling author of The Etymologicon and The Horologicon. From classic poetry to pop lyrics and from the King James Bible to advertising slogans, Mark Forsyth explains the secrets that make a phrase – such as ‘Tiger, Tiger, burning bright’, or ‘To be or not to be’ – memorable. In his inimitably entertaining and witty style he takes apart famous lines and shows how you too can write like Shakespeare or Oscar Wilde. Whether you’re aiming for literary immortality or just an unforgettable one-liner, The Elements of Eloquence proves that you don’t need to have anything to say – you simply need to say it well.’

5. Binocular Vision by Edith Pearlman
‘Edith Pearlman’s Binocular Vision are the collected stories of an award-winning author who has been compared to Alice Munro, John Updike and even Chekhov Tenderly, observantly, incisively, Edith Pearlman captures life on the page like few other writers. She is a master of the short story, and this is a spectacular collection.’

6. Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn 9780385722438
‘Ella Minnow Pea is a girl living happily on the fictional island of Nollop off the coast of South Carolina. Nollop was named after Nevin Nollop, author of the immortal pangram, * The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. Now Ella finds herself acting to save her friends, family, and fellow citizens from the encroaching totalitarianism of the island s Council, which has banned the use of certain letters of the alphabet as they fall from a memorial statue of Nevin Nollop. As the letters progressively drop from the statue they also disappear from the novel. The result is both a hilarious and moving story of one girl s fight for freedom of expression, as well as a linguistic tour de force sure to delight word lovers everywhere. *pangram: a sentence or phrase that includes all the letters of the alphabet”.’

7. The Complete Works of Katherine Mansfield
Says it all.  Absolutely stunning.

97800995296518. Bright Star by John Keats
‘John Keats died in penury and relative obscurity in 1821, aged only 25. He is now seen as one of the greatest English poets and a genius of the Romantic age. This collection, which contains all his most memorable works and a selection of his letters, is a feast for the senses, displaying Keats’ gift for gorgeous imagery and sensuous language, his passionate devotion to beauty, as well as some of the most moving love poetry ever written.’

9. Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey
‘In a work that beautifully demonstrates the rewards of closely observing nature, Elisabeth Bailey shares an inspiring and intimate story of her uncommon encounter with a “Neohelix albolabris” a common woodland snail. While an illness keeps her bedridden, Bailey watches a wild snail that has taken up residence on her nightstand. As a result, she discovers the solace and sense of wonder that this mysterious creature brings and comes to a greater under standing of her own confined place in the world. Intrigued by the snail s molluscan anatomy, cryptic defenses, clear decision making, hydraulic locomotion, and mysterious courtship activities, Bailey becomes an astute and amused observer, providing a candid and engaging look into the curious life of this underappreciated small animal. Told with wit and grace, “The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating” is a remarkable journey of survival and resilience, showing us how a small part of the natural world illuminates our own human existence and provides an appreciation of what it means to be fully alive.’

10. Florence and Giles by John Harding 9780007315048
‘In a remote and crumbling New England mansion, 12-year-old orphan Florence is neglected by her guardian uncle and banned from reading. Left to her own devices she devours books in secret and talks to herself – and narrates this, her story – in a unique language of her own invention. By night, she sleepwalks the corridors like one of the old house’s many ghosts and is troubled by a recurrent dream in which a mysterious woman appears to threaten her younger brother Giles. Sometimes Florence doesn’t sleepwalk at all, but simply pretends to so she can roam at will and search the house for clues to her own baffling past. After the sudden violent death of the children’s first governess, a second teacher, Miss Taylor, arrives, and immediately strange phenomena begin to occur. Florence becomes convinced that the new governess is a vengeful and malevolent spirit who means to do Giles harm. Against this powerful supernatural enemy, and without any adult to whom she can turn for help, Florence must use all her intelligence and ingenuity to both protect her little brother and preserve her private world. Inspired by and in the tradition of Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, Florence & Giles is a gripping gothic page-turner told in a startlingly different and wonderfully captivating narrative voice.’

Are you a believer of the ebook?  Do you prefer reading physical books or digital copies?  Which are the best electronic books which you have read to date?

2

Literary Wishlist

As the festive season is almost upon us, what better way to look forward than to peruse bookshops for the literary treasures we are hoping to find beneath the tree.  As I do every year, I have written a Christmas book list and – perhaps unsurprisingly, as I am known as a bookworm extraordinaire – none of the following titles appear upon it

1. Free Love and Other Stories by Ali Smith
‘A teenage girl finds unexpected sexual freedom on a trip to Amsterdam. A woman trapped at a dinner party comes up against an ugly obsession. The stories in Free Love are about desire, memory, sexual ambiguity and the imagination. In the harsh light of dislocation, the people in them still find connections, words blowing in the street, love in unexpected places. Ali Smith shows how things come together and how they break apart. She disconcerts and affirms with the lightest touch, to make us love and live differently.’

2. The Story of Antigone by Ali Smith 9781782690160
‘”The crow crossed the sky, slow-beating her wings. Beat, beat, beat. It was night, not yet morning, and her feathers were so black that she coasted the air invisible above the city wall.”

Thus begins Ali Smith’s retelling of Sophocles’ tragedy, about a young Theban princess who decides to bury her dishonoured brother Polynices, against King Creon’s express orders with heartbreaking consequences.’

3. The Dumb House by John Burnside
‘As a child, Luke’s mother often tells him the story of the Dumb House, an experiment on newborn babies raised in silence, designed to test the innateness of language. As Luke grows up, his interest in language and the delicate balance of life and death leads to amateur dissections of small animals – tiny hearts revealed still pumping, as life trickles away. But as an adult, following the death of his mother, Luke’s obsession deepens, resulting in a haunting and bizarre experiment on Luke’s own children.’

4. The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan 9781846559167
‘The magical story of a floating circus and two young women in search of a home.  The sea has flooded the earth. North lives on a circus boat, floating between the scattered islands that remain. She dances with her beloved bear, while the rest of the crew trade dazzling and death-defying feats for food from the islanders. However, North has a secret that could capsize her life with the circus.  Callanish lives alone in her house in the middle of the ocean, with only the birds and the fish for company. As penance for a terrible mistake, she works as a gracekeeper, tending the graves of those who die at sea. What drove her from home is also what pulls her towards North.  When a storm creates a chance meeting between the two girls, their worlds change. They are magnetically drawn to one another, and the promise of a new life. But the waters are treacherous, and the tide is against them.’

5. The Looking Glass House by Vanessa Tait
‘Oxford, 1862. As Mary Prickett takes up her post as governess to the daughters of the Dean of Christ Church, she is thrust into a strange new world. Mary is poor and plain and desperate for change but the little girls in her care see and understand far more than their naive new teacher. And there is another problem: Mary does not like children, especially the precocious Alice Liddell.  When Mary meets Charles Dodgson, the Christ Church mathematics tutor, at a party at the Deanery, she wonders if he may be the person to transform her life. Flattered by his attentions, Mary begins to believe that she could be more than just an overlooked, dowdy governess.  One sunny day, as Mary chaperones the Liddells on a punting trip, Mr Dodgson tells the story of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. But Mary is determined to become Mr Dodgson’s muse – and will turn all the lives around her topsy-turvey in pursuit of her obsession.’

97815942051946. The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee by Marja Mills
‘”To Kill a Mockingbird “by Harper Lee is one of the best loved novels of the twentieth century. But for the last fifty years, the novel s celebrated author, Harper Lee, has said almost nothing on the record. Journalists have trekked to her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama, where Harper Lee, known to her friends as Nelle, has lived with her sister, Alice, for decades, trying and failing to get an interview with the author. But in 2001, the Lee sisters opened their door to “Chicago Tribune “journalist Marja Mills. It was the beginning of a long conversation and a great friendship. In 2004, with the Lees blessing, Mills moved into the house next door to the sisters. She spent the next eighteen months there, sharing coffee at McDonalds and trips to the Laundromat with Nelle, feeding the ducks and going out for catfish supper with the sisters, and exploring all over lower Alabama with the Lees inner circle of friends. Nelle shared her love of history, literature, and the Southern way of life with Mills, as well as her keen sense of how journalism should be practiced. As the sisters decided to let Mills tell their story, Nelle helped make sure she was getting the story and the South right. Alice, the keeper of the Lee family history, shared the stories of their family. “The Mockingbird Next Door “is the story of Mills s friendship with the Lee sisters. It is a testament to the great intelligence, sharp wit, and tremendous storytelling power of these two women, especially that of Nelle. Mills was given a rare opportunity to know Nelle Harper Lee, to be part of the Lees life in Alabama, and to hear them reflect on their upbringing, their corner of the Deep South, how “To Kill a Mockingbird” affected their lives, and why Nelle Harper Lee chose to never write another novel.’

7. The Book Collector by Alice Thompson
‘Alice Thompson’s new novel is a Gothic story of book collecting, mutilation and madness. Violet is obsessed with the books of fairy tales her husband acquires, but her growing delusions see her confined in an asylum. As she recovers and is released a terrifying series of events is unleashed.’

8. The Thing in the Gap-Stone Stile by Alice Oswald 9780571236947
The Thing in the Gap-Stone Stile, Alice Oswald’s first collection of poems, announced the arrival of a distinctive new voice. Shortlisted for the T. S. Eliot Prize, the book introduced readers to her meditative, intensely musical style, and her breath-taking gift for visionary writing.’

9. Alice by Christina Henry
‘Alice has been in the mental hospital in Old Town for years. She doesn’t remember why. All she can remember is a tea party long ago. Long ears and blood. Until one night she escapes, free to uncover the truth about what happened to her all those years ago. When Alice escapes, something escapes with her. And the truth she so desperately seeks is so much stranger than any madman’s ranting. From the author of the Black Wings novels, the first in a dazzling and mind-bending new series, inspired by the twisted and wondrous works of Lewis Carroll.’

 

Which books are you coveting for Christmas this year?

Purchase these books from The Book Depository

11

A Literary Christmas

What better way to kick off December than with a little creative project?  Some of you may remember that I posted a literary picnic idea a few months ago, and I thought it would be fun to resurrect the concept in a more Christmassy setting.

Picture the scene: it is Christmas Eve.  The presents are wrapped and nestled beneath a splendid and tastefully decorated tree.  You are sitting in front of a roaring fire in a comfortable armchair, watching the flames flickering as you look forward to supping on mulled wine, eating mince pies, and listening to the dazzling conversation around you.

Five authors are due to arrive any moment, and you are in charge of the guestlist.  Who would you invite – no stipulations; the authors can be either dead or alive – to your festive soiree?

12

Independent Publishers: My Favourites

Whilst in new bookshops, I consciously try to purchase novels which have been published by independent publishers.  Without the existence of such presses, I would have missed out on reading an awful lot of captivating, thought-provoking, and memorable books, some of which have been instant favourites.  What better way to celebrate independent presses than to showcase a few of them, and recommend some books to pick up, which they have carefully and lovingly published?

1. Sort Of Books – ‘publish few but wonderful books’.  Established 1999.
Recommended picks: The Summer Book by Tove Jansson, Sightlines by Kathleen Jamie, The Post Office Girl by Stefan Zweig

2. Persephone Books – ‘Founder Nicola Beauman’s original concept was to publish a handful of ‘lost’ or out-of-print books every year, most of them interwar novels by women’.  Established 1998, London.
Recommended picks: Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski, Saplings by Noel Streatfield, Someone at a Distance by Dorothy Whipple

3. Notting Hill Editions – ‘Taking its cue from the vivid contribution of the short text to European cultural life and judging that the moment is right to reinvigorate the essay, Notting Hill Editions is devoted to the best in essayistic nonfiction writing.’
Recommended picks: Beautiful and Impossible Things: Selected Essays by Oscar Wilde, My Katherine Mansfield Project by Kirsty Gunn, Essays on the Self by Virginia Woolf

4. Dalkey Archive Press – an Illinois-based publisher, with offices in London and Dublin.
Recommended picks: The Faster I Walk, The Smaller I Am by Kjersti Skomsvold, Blindness by Henry Green

5. Peirene Press – ‘an award-winning boutique publishing house with an extra twist, based in London. We are committed to first class European literature in high-quality translation.’
Recommended picks: Beside the Sea by Veronique Olmi, The Mussel Feast by Birgit Vanderbeke, The Blue Room by Hanne Orstavik

Which are your favourite independent publishers?