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Book Club: ‘The Secret History’ by Donna Tartt ****

I was thoroughly delighted to finally get around to reading Tartt’s critically acclaimed ‘The Secret History’ published back in 1992, which fast became a bestseller and cult classic, and I am very glad it was a novel both Kirsty and I were able to treasure.

Somewhat reminiscent of a Greek tragedy, The Secret History follows young Richard Papen’s stay at an elite Vermont college with a closely knit group of Greek classicists prior to the revelation of a murder that we are aware Papen has played some part in. Tartt discloses early on through introduction to Papen vague details concerning the death of Edmund “Bunny” Corcoran, a student among the group Papen later joins. We are immediately aware of such murder taking place, albeit ambiguously, therefore taking the novel in the direction of playing an almost inverted detective thriller. Thus, we are inclined to follow the events which take place onwards in order to come to an understanding as to why Bunny’s death took place, rather than how

Rich and aesthetic in detail, Tartt has crafted keen imagery with regards to the dynamics of both the group and ‘gleam’ of setting. My expectations were far surpassed by the likes of how certain sequences are described, especially concerning Hampden College and the behaviour of the Greek students. The characterisation is by far impressive and superb, and I thought Papen quite Nick Carraway-esque with regards to his isolation and loneliness. Much like The Great Gatsby – which is, in fact, referred to in the same sense directly by Papen – Papen seems to be the social outcast, the ‘external character’ whose perspective we are forced to inherit and through whom we perceive all of these characters. Not only is there an immense sense of pure scandal and unmistakable psychoanalysis, but there is also a riveting narrative and although I was never fond of Richard at any moment during the novel, I did learn to appreciate the structure of his narration and his ways of documenting events. I did find the character development particularly tremendous on Tartt’s part as despite my indifference to most of the characters she crafted – with the exception of Julian, perhaps, and maybe Henry – I was thoroughly enthralled by them all. I also thought Tartt’s diction with regards to the classic philosophoical discussions between them all entirely bewitching, and it made me regret leaving classical studies at A-Level.

More than anything I am thrilled both Kirsty and I enjoyed this book, and I cannot wait to read more of Tartt’s work and delve into more of her stories. The effort and tremendous feat with which she has poured into this novel makes it both a work of masterly talent and overwhelming opulence. I think Kirsty and I will both be picking up another work of hers very soon indeed, and I very much look forward to reviewing another one of her novels in the near future.

Purchase from the Book Depository

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‘Audition’ by Ryū Murakami **

Ryu Murakami’s ‘Audition,’ Paperback; 2009.

In part due to my recent declaration to renew my avid horror genre reads, I imagined it would be the appropriate starting point to begin with Murakami’s Audition, published originally in 1997 and further translated by Ralph McCarthy in later 2009. Unfortunately, I wasn’t as impressed with Murakami’s story. Although somewhat successful in its vile and repulsive imagery – thus rendering the isolation of the story almost perfected in its surrealism and horrification – it almost felt too flat in its execution. The plot follows middle-aged Aoyama, a documentary film-maker in Tokyo after the tragic death of his wife, Ryoko. During quite a heartfelt procession of overcoming said tragic passing, he is abruptly encouraged by his teenage son Shige to remarry and the thought begins to consume his mind. He feels compelled to find the ‘ideal’ wife, which further prompts him to – with encouragement from his fellow colleague Yoshikawa – hold ‘auditions’ for a fabricated movie idea in order to come into close contact with a splurge of females and therefore potential spouses.

As morally questionable as this sounds, it is this plotline which acts as the main drive for the novel and subsequently leads to the enamouring of Aoyama with a 24-year-old woman named Yamasaki, who seems a little ‘highly-strung’ and troubled. We are informed of several foreshadowing elements surrounding Yamasaki’s supposed past, yet Aoyama is blinded by his insatiable lust to care for this girl who seems to have undergone such suffering.  Inevitably, it is this error which causes the horrifying and most tragic cataclysm.

As most know, I am an undeniable fan of Japanese literature, and find it infinitely engaging. Similarly to film, I find Asian horror emphatically more chilling than Western, which is why such titles tend to surface among my favourites in both horror literature and cinema. Albeit a debatable genre, I personally believe horror should have the capacity to scare through the metaphoric ‘cold hand on the shoulder’ affect, in place of somewhat comical splattering of gore and guts. Usually I am satisfied by Japanese tales as they tend to either substitute gore for eerie material – few may recount the long-haired ghost girl from the Ring and the similarly begrudged woman in The Grudge – or justify such by disclosing severe psychological issues behind.  Audition is, quite simply, a psychosexual thriller, so although we are prone to repugnant amounts of explicit torture, Murakami has nevertheless attempted to employ some narrative behind it with regards to Yamasaki’s backstory. Yet this never appears to lead anywhere, and personally I felt quite offended by how little we are told of Yamasaki’s intentions.  I squirmed during moments I felt when the novel appeared to tread slightly among misogynistic waters, with the lunacy of Yamasaki and little attention to other female characters (let alone Aoyama’s forgiven yet blatant infidelity to his previous wife) adding a darker and objectifying tone to the novel. Two other titles of Murakami’s, Coin Locker Babies and In the Miso Soup are on my ‘to read’ lists as other pieces of Japanese horror, but to suffice to say  I am a little underwhelmed and slightly unnerved by the prospect of reading them. Perhaps I will look more towards other Japanese horror novelists to satisfy my appetite for the spooky.

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‘Selected Poems’ by Emily Dickinson ****

My goodness, it has been far too long since I last posted a review. I am pleased my first of 2014 is one I absolutely adored!

A beautiful present from Kirsty, I had never before read anything of Dickinson’s, and now I find myself wanting to read most and to subsequently scavenge for more of her work.Selected Poems, Emily Dickinson Her poems are incredibly beautiful — often quite short in length, yet impressively wonderful and extraordinary. Her themes can range from simple joys and passing happiness to more harrowing themes, and it was a pleasure to read through them all with her. My favourites are as follows: Compensation, Hope, Day’s Parlor, In The Garden, Mother Nature, The Railway Train, The Chariot and Parting, which is one I’d love to finish with:

“MY LIFE closed twice before its close;
It yet remains to see
If Immortality unveil
A third event to me

So huge, so hopeless to conceive,
As these that twice befell.
Parting is all we know of heaven,
And all we need of hell.”

I truly adored each and every poem, and I look forward to reading more of Dickinson in future. It is wonderful to start my reviews with a collection of such heavenly poems.