Posts Tagged ‘novella’

16th October
2009
written by Steph
We Have Always Lived in the Castle

Ooooh... spooky!

After finishing Jane Eyre, I found my appetite whet for more gothic novels.  I’ve also been in the mood to read more female authors lately, as I realized that I have had a slight bias towards male authors this year.  I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I sometimes feel like female authors will write a gentler or more soothing novel, perhaps more emotional focusing on the inner life.  A broad brush for both sexes, I realize, but one of the reasons I picked up Jane Eyre is because I was feeling testosterone overload in my reading.  The issues in the books I was reading weren’t specifically male or anything like that, there was just something about the style and the slant that was mentally wearing me down.  I am probably not expressing this experience very eloquently or coherently, and I fully admit that I am perhaps more sensitive in my reading whims than others so I may be the only one who feels this way and picks up on the subtle nuances between male and female writers, but I guess all of this is to say that Dracula was out when it came to picking a spooky book!  But the immortal prince’s loss was Shirley Jackson’s gain, as this finally gave me the push I needed to pick up We Have Always Lived in the Castle. I realize this book has pretty much exploded around the book blogging stratosphere of late, especially with the R.I.P challenge in progress, so at this point I suspect there are few if any of you who are not at least aware of its existence.  I can’t say much about the plot of the book since this is one of those books where it’s best to go in knowing as little as possible, as Jackson slowly reveals information to you at just the right pace.  But the basic idea is that the Blackwood family has always been social outcasts amongst the small village in which they live, but this has only increased since the majority of them were mysteriously poisoned with arsenic one night, leaving behind young Mary Katherine (Merricat), her sister Constance (who was charged and acquitted for the murder of her family), and their ailing Uncle Julian.  Through Merricat’s eyes, we learn of how the two Blackwood sisters live an extremely isolated life, cut off from almost everyone except out of necessity.  Then one day, their cousin Charles shows up quite unexpectedly, and for one of the sisters, quite undesirably, and all of a sudden, the fraying threads that have been keeping their life in tact begin to break apart and everything begins to crumble… (more…)
14th September
2009
written by Steph
It's oh so quiet... shhh, shhh!

It's oh so quiet... shhh, shhh!

Disquiet is a slip of a novel – the cover simply calls it “A Story” – so I will try my best to write a review befitting its size, rather than outstripping it. It made many “Best Book” lists in 2008, so when I saw it sitting on the New Fiction shelf at the library this past weekend, I figured it was worth a shot. If nothing else, it wouldn’t require much of my time! The writing is sparse and haunting, befitting the somber story that unfolds. An abused woman returns home to her ailing mother’s chateau in France, her two young children in tow. Her visit coincides with that of her brother and his spouse, who have tragically just given birth to a stillborn daughter.  The bulk of Disquiet (if such a thin tome can be said to have bulk) is spent circling around this family, plunged in different kinds of grief and agony, trying to keep their heads above the waves of despair and keep from drowning. Much of it is spent with bated breath, as Leigh’s writing imbues us with a sense of unease and uncertainty, as though if for all the misery, this is just the calm before the storm. In a relatively spare number of pages, Leigh quickly ratchets up the tension so that the eventual release provided by a thunderstorm of emotions and events is a much-needed relief. For a quiet novella, I felt there were great depths to plumb in terms of the sorrow it conveys. I was impressed by how much Leigh accomplishes so quickly, both in terms of establishing atmosphere and tone, as well as the story she tells; it is a great example of showing rather than telling. But I couldn’t help but feel that with even just 20 or 30 more pages, I might have found this book more satisfying. In some ways I felt the story she set out to tell was incomplete – one storyline is finally resolved, a breath held from deep within can finally be exhaled, but I felt I still had questions that needed resolution on another front. Perhaps my sense of mild dissatisfaction stems from my general preference for novels over short stories, but nevertheless I felt Disquiet straddled the void between inchoate tale and complete narrative.  It is the kind of read where you finish and wonder, "Well, what can one really say about this?"  I suppose, the answer is that I can say what I already have, as well as this:  Next time, I hope Leigh gives me a bit more to hold onto. Rating: 3.5 out of 5
25th May
2009
written by Steph
Forget the scarlet, I give this one a green light!

Forget the scarlet, I give this one a green light!

Coming off of Michael Chabon’s underwhelming Sherlock Holmes homage, I had a yen to experience the real deal.  Back during my girlhood, I recall reading my way through an assortment of Sherlock Holmes stories, though for the life of me, the only one I can definitively recall reading is “The Five Orange Pips” (and of course, I have no idea what the story centers around other than the obvious, nor can I recall how it all sorts itself out).  My memory for plot is notoriously poor, so when I found the first of two volumes of the complete works of Sherlock Holmes at McKay’s I decided to pick it up so I could work my way through the Holmes back catalogue.  Having now read the first story (actually a novella) in the collection, I’m really glad I did! A Study in Scarlet was the first work published Conan Doyle, and it is the novel in which the inimitable Sherlock Holmes is first introduced.  The mystery is typical Holmesian fare – a body has been found in an abandoned house, the room splattered with blood, only there are no visible wounds to be found.  Baffled, the London police are getting nowhere so Holmes is turned loose on the case!  The novel is actually divided into two parts: in Part One, we become privy to the crime and follow Holmes (through Watson’s eyes) as he sniffs out his murderer ending with the arrest of the perp; in Part Two, there is a dramatic shift in perspective as we learn more about the murderer’s motivation and the events that lead to him carrying out his dastardly deed, as well as a final section in which Holmes reveals for the somewhat dimwitted Watson how we deduced all the relevant facts. (more…)
23rd May
2009
written by Steph
Here's a solution: skip this one!

Here's a solution: skip this one!

The hardest books (or novellas, as the case may be) to write about are the ones that I feel completely apathetic towards.  There’s nothing ostensibly wrong about them that I can nitpick to high heaven, but there’s also nothing glimmering and wonderful to get me all worked up about, so I wind up simply feeling like all I want to write about them is one word: Meh.  That’s how I feel about The Final Solution by Michael Chabon.  Unfortunately, “meh” doesn’t really make for an interesting entry, so I will try my darndest to say something about this wholly unremarkable slip of a book. The story revolves around a mute Jewish boy who flees to England to escape persecution in Germany.  His only companion is an African parrot named Bruno, who trills out a mysterious stream of numbers every so often.  Many people are pretty interested in Bruno and what these enigmatic numbers might be the key to, so to make a short story even shorter, one day a guest staying with the family harboring the mute Jewish boy is found clubbed to death and Bruno is nowhere to be found.  Although the murder holds little enticement for him, an aged detective with a penchant for tweed and beekeeping decides he will take up the case of locating Bruno and returning him to his young master. (more…)
17th March
2009
written by Steph
I didn't read this edition, but oh how I wish I had!

I didn't read this edition, but oh how I wish I had!

This is the first Henry James I’ve read in about 8 years.  I read The Portrait of a Lady back when I was doing my senior year English credit over the summer in Oxford, England;  I wrote an essay about it and Sense & Sensibility… that, and the fact that I watched a movie version of the novel starring Nicole Kidman and John Malkovitch, is about all I remember.  Since then, I’ve always meant to read more James (and potentially re-read Portrait), but it wasn’t until a recent trip to the library that I actually made good on this intention.  Being unable to procure a copy of The Great Gatsby (I know!  What kind of a library is this anyway?), I instead picked up a slender volume of The Turn of the Screw and considered it a fair trade. (more…)