The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

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The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson is a twentieth century horror novel, considered one of the best of the century. The story sees four strangers, Dr.Montague, Eleanor, Theodora and Luke, make a visit to Hill House. Hill House is an eight-year-old mansion built by the long-gone Hugh Crain. The strangers are brought to Hill House by Dr.Montague who hopes to find evidence that the paranormal exists.

This is a novel that I was required to read for my university course, and surprisingly, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It is not often I read a book that I am told I must read and find that I really enjoy it. Just like many gothic novels this novel keeps the reader guessing throughout its entirety. The characters experience numerous events, and the reader is left questioning whether the events are really happening. This is because alongside the paranormal events, Jackson creates characters who are far more in depth than the stereotypical characters in horror movies. i.e hot, college students having a sleepover; you know the ones! Eleanor, for example, the reader learns to be a very vulnerable woman suffering from guilt over her mother’s death. And Theodora is very much the opposite, she is an eccentric artist who we learn has had psychic experiences. Therefore, Jackson’s characters are very subjective to what is going on in the novel, so they cannot necessarily be relied upon

Though I believe this novel to be brilliant, I was a little bit disappointed with the ending. I thought the ending of the story was very abrupt. I even had to go back over the last couple of pages when I had finished, as I did not process what had happened. This was not because I could not believe it, but more because I just did not understand what had happened. I felt it was not as explicit as it should have been. Jackson does however carry on after the final event for one last paragraph. I feel this small paragraph is an attempt to close the novel seamlessly, however for me, it just did not work.

Out of all the novels I have read, The Haunting of Hill House has quickly become one of my favourite horror novels. Therefore, I would one hundred percent recommend this novel to anybody who is into horror novels. However, I would also recommend this novel to somebody who is not necessarily a fan of the horror genre. This is because there is so much more going on, aside from the apparent poltergeist. It is an adventure to be discovered!

side note: The novel has also been adapted into two films, both titled simply ‘The Haunting’. One from the 1960’s and the other from the 1990’s which stars Liam Neeson, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Owen Wilson. 

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The Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King

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The Bazaar of Bad Dreams is a collection of short stories by Stephen King. This is his sixth published collection of short stories. Some of the stories included in the collection however have been printed or have been previously available online. For example Blockade Billy can be found published alone and Mile 51 and Ur have been available on Kindle. Although this is the case, in an author’s note at the beginning of the publication King writes ‘some of these stories have been previously published, but that doesn’t mean they were done then’. Thus, as readers we are given the understanding that there could be changes and improvements to the stories, that they should not be overlooked.

Although I am nowhere near an expert in King’s work, and have only ready a small number of his publications, I am a fan of his. Therefore, when I came across this publication of short stories, I did not hesitate to purchase it. I do not often read short stories however at a time when I was not ready to commit to a full length novel I thought The Bazaar of Bad Dreams would be perfect. This was because I figured that short stories would be a low commitment. However, upon reading the first couple of stories I could not put the book down. I found each story was so well written, engaging and gripping that I did not want to cease reading them. Understandably, I do have favourites in the collection. These being, Ur, The Little Green God of Agony, and Obits. Although these are three stories which are extremely different, all three presented a different reality. Ur, presenting a story about alternative realities, The Little Green God of Agony, a story displaying an exorcism type event and Obits about a columnist who can kill people by writing their obituaries. These were three concepts which intrigued me the most and found that I could not pause from reading. From these three stories alone, you can see just how diverse this collection of King’s work is.

The diversity in this collection is something which thoroughly surprised me. As somebody who thinks of Stephen King and only pictures horror, I have been pleasantly surprised. I have been introduced to new sides of King, sides that I did not know existed. Thus, I am more inclined to delve further into his many literary works and discover how much more King can surprise and challenge my initial perceptions of him and his writing.

Alongside each story, King offers up an intimate author’s note which introduces each tale to the reader. This is something I have not yet come across and thus makes each short story more unique and personal. As we discover where the idea for the story stemmed from and why King felt the need to write the following story. This draws us, as readers, closer to the author, enabling us understanding of the mindset and the feelings King had whilst writing the stories. Something which is so rarely done with the literature we read.

Out of the publications I have read recently The Bazaar of Bad Dreams is one of my favourites. It is perfect for those who do not wish to commit to a full-length novel, for those who are die hard King fans and those who may not have read King’s work before. The amount of diversity King offers us as a reader means that there is something for everyone. And I would highly recommend you find your ‘bad dream’.

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Enduring Love by Ian McEwan

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Enduring Love is a novel written by British writer Ian McEwan. The story revolves around two strangers whose lives become entangled following a deadly incident. Although the novel has received mixed reviews, I have found this novel to be extremely thought provoking and engaging. The gripping events of McEwan’s first chapter excellently sets up the continuation of the novel. McEwan’s writing in this chapter is beautiful and emotional thus we experience the events alongside McEwan’s main characters Joe and Clarissa. We are brought along on the journey of coming to terms with the events of the first chapter. We, alongside the characters, are faced with questions of love, trust, and moral dilemmas.

What I enjoyed about this novel is how the relationship between Joe, Clarissa and Jed, three of the people present at the ‘incident’, is portrayed. As the novel progresses from the initial chapter we learn that Jed has become obsessed with Joe, and thus becomes Joe’s stalker. However, when reading the novel I found myself questioning what was the true reality of the situation. This is because I found, through the conversations between Joe and Clarissa and conversations between Joe and Jed, I begun to question what was really happening. Was there more than meets the eye? (so to speak).

However, although I thoroughly enjoyed the journey this novel took me on, I was a little disappointed with the ending. I felt it ended a little flat. For the length of time this novel took to tell its story you cannot help but be a little disappointed with its conclusion. I was definitely hoping for a little more than McEwan gave us.

The novel is brilliant in the way it demonstrates our mortality and questions themes of love, trust, and morality. It is a novel that provokes thought and reasoning from the reader, thus it makes an interesting read. I am a big fan of Ian McEwan, however, if you’re new to his work I would recommend starting with one of his other novels. (maybe, Atonement) As although Enduring Love is engaging, the novel does fall flat towards the end. It is therefore not a novel to judge Ian McEwan’s work on, as he has written many other excellent pieces of work. (Atonement, The Child in Time, Saturday)

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Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks

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Birdsong is the second novel in Sebastian Faulks’ French trilogy. Preceded by The Girl at the Lion d’Or and succeeded by Charlotte Gray. Although each novel is not directly linked, the novels relate in term of their themes and subject matters; they all graphically portray characters’ lives during war time. Birdsong is set around the First World War. The story itself centres around the character Stephen Wraysford who arrives in the French town of Amiens in 1910. Throughout the novel, we see the twist and turns of Stephen’s life, from his love affair which tears a family apart, to his participation in the war itself.

Birdsong is a novel that I thoroughly enjoyed. It is a novel which keeps you on your toes and guessing about where the story is heading from beginning to end. The contrasts Faulks creates between life prior to the war and during the war is fascinating. By using vivid imagery, we as readers, get a thorough image of what life was like for soldiers fighting in the war. However, what Faulks does often and brilliantly, during more grotesque war scenes is leave many chapters on cliff hangers, by moving on to something new in the next. This you may feel is counterproductive, you may think how can you get a true grasp of the story this way. But Faulks writes in such a way that he divulges just enough information to understand the horrors of the war without making the reader feel so grotesque and so repulsed that they cannot continue with the story. This I feel was extremely effective in my reading of the novel as this technique continuously made me want to progress further and further with the novel.

As somebody who finds The Great War to be an extremely interesting topic I am a little bias when it comes to speaking about this novel. However, if you are going to read any piece of fiction that revisits this era I encourage you to make it Faulks’ novel. The descriptive language, the tone and passion that pours from the book makes this novel one in a million.

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End note: Working Title Films (BBC) produced a two-part adaptation of Birdsong in 2012. The adaptation starred the likes of Eddie Redmayne, Richard Madden and Clémence Poésy. 

 

The Vegetarian by Han Kang

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The Vegetarian is a novel by Han Kang. I came across this novel, translated by Deborah Smith, in Waterstones. It is not a novel I had heard about before but I just knew I had to give it a read. It also helped that one of the booksellers was saying how gruesome and slightly disturbing the story was!

The novel itself is short so I found myself getting through it quickly. It is split up into three ‘sections’. Each one comes from a different character’s perspective. Sometimes I do find this a little annoying as you can feel as though you are not properly connecting with a protagonist. However, upon reading this novel it is easy to see how keeping it written in a single perspective would just not work. Therefore, I feel it is giving us a more rounded picture as we progress through the novel.

The first section is narrated by Yeong-Hye’s husband, he tells us about his wife who in the first couple of lines he describes as being ‘completely unremarkable in every way.’ He informs the reader of Yeong-Hye’s choice to become a vegetarian. Although he himself is a little confused as to her reasons for this lifestyle choice, we as the reader get glimpses of her reasoning. We are giving the gruesome, slightly disturbing, ‘dream’ Yeong-Hye often refers to.

The second section is darker than the first. It is narrated by Mr Cheung, Yeong-Hye’s brother in law. Mr Cheung is an aspiring artist who becomes fascinated with his sister in law and a birthmark that she potentially has. Through this he asks Yeong-Hye to feature in one of his artistic creations, a video.

The third section is when the novel becomes very weird. It is narrated by Yeong-Hye’s sister and this is when we see the true progression of Yeong-Hye’s vegetarianism. We realise quickly how extreme Yeong-Hye’s desires have become, we learn that she wants to become a tree. Intent on becoming a tree, she refuses food and does some pretty bizarre things. Unaware it seems, how she is hurting those around her.

I found the book extraordinary. More so because it is unlike anything I have ever read before. It’s completely bizarre, but in this I feel it captures the essence of ‘madness’. As Ian McEwan is quoted on the cover: ‘A novel of sexuality and madness that deserves its great success’. For a reader, this ‘madness’ is completely over our heads. I personally found it difficult to keep up with, simply because it is not something I am able to fully understand. I feel this is similar for a lot of people. The point is though, even though it seems bizarre, it all makes sense to Yeong-Hye. Her thoughts, aspirations and actions all make perfect sense. To her they are not madness, but they are reality. This is something I find interesting; everyone’s reality is different. Although yes her actions may be killing her, it leaves me with a bit more of an understanding of what we deem ‘mad’. An understanding that people we brush off as just being ‘mad’ are simply seeing a different reality to the one I am seeing. Does that make it Yeong-Hye’s or anybody else’s fault? Definitely not, they have simply just been giving a different sense of reality.

Although I don’t believe this book is for everybody, it has been blessed with some brilliant reviews: The Guardian called it ‘an extraordinary experience’ and the Independent called it ‘spellbinding’. For this alone I would be enticed to see what the fuss was about. Therefore I encourage you to take a couple of hours and read Han Kang’s The Vegetarian, to see what you make of it yourself.

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One Day by David Nicholls

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The latest novel I have read and have been eager to review is David Nicholls’ One Day. The novel was first published in 2009 so I realise I am late to the party. However, it is a piece of work which I have not had the chance and the motivation to read until very recently.

The novel tells the story of the two protagonist’s lives, Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew, over a twenty-year span. Zoning in on one day a year, 15th July (St Swithin’s Day) every year. The novel starts on the day they met, their graduation night. We see Emma struggle with the concept of a ‘one night stand’ in contrast to Dexter’s ‘Lothario’ characteristics, who knows these situations only too well. Over the years we see their friendship go through ups and downs as they progress throughout their own personal lives. Both characters struggle with what they are achieving throughout life and what they are expected to have achieved. Throughout all this though, Nicholls gives us an endearing tale of a close friendship, showcasing their flirtations, banter and often yearning they have for one another.

If your only contact with this novel is through the 2011 adaptation directed by Lone Scherfig, please do not let this hold you back from reading the novel. The film itself I believe got mixed reviews, many people picking up on Anne Hathaway’s (Emma) accent throughout the film. On watching the film, I found she often switches up her British accent, going from a thick northern accent to a far more southern one. Although this can be understandable as British people are known to flip between accents, personally I just feel the accent switches were just far too extreme. I am though not here to review the film but the novel. So, I will just say this: please do not watch the film and believe you have seen all that David Nicholls’ novel has to offer.

What I enjoyed most about this novel was the structure and how Nicholls had crafted it. I have yet to come across another novel which holds a similar writing method. In the way that Nicholls drops in on his characters just one day a year. I was dubious at first, unable to contemplate how Nicholls could create such an in depth and emotional story when we only get glimpses of his protagonist’s lives. I was pleasantly surprised though, i found the characters developed effectively, and with that the story progressed just as well. I found it interesting that we as readers watched the two characters grow from university students and progress into their early and then later adulthood. This I found effective as I am so used to reading novels where we only see just the snippet of a character’s life. We only experience one aspect of their life where some event is going on or something has happened to them. Nicholls’ novel however I feel is far more realistic in that we experience the characters’ numerous ups and downs through their life. We are given the realism in that life doesn’t run smoothly bar one or two negative/happy events. Thus demonstrating that life is far more complicated than that.

This therefore is a book I would recommend. I found that once I started reading it I did struggle to put the novel down. This I feel is always a telling sign as to whether the book is any good or not. After all who wants to continue reading a book that doesn’t entice you in to read more? So whether you are a fan of a good romance novel or simply want to try something new, delving into the world of One Day and experiencing 20 years of Emma and Dexter’s life is definitely something you should be considering.

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I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh

I may have only recently started this blog, and I may have only posted a small number of posts, but I feel that I already want to add something more to my page. I got thinking and I came to the conclusion of book reviews. As you may or may not know I am currently an English Literature student, therefore I find myself reading countless books for my course as well as reading my own choice novels. I decided then that this would be the perfect idea to keep me writing, keep me posting, keep you all informed on what I have been reading and also in turn inspire or introduce others to read. Reviewing books is not something which I have often put my hand to. I was once asked to review a novel for the teen magazine ‘Sugar’ when I was about 13/14 using only 100 words, this was something I failed at miserably! I just write and write and write. Therefore I feel this is a great place to write reviews as the logistics are all down to me. I am hoping this little venture will enable me not only to share my reading experiences but also improve my abilities in this style of writing. A challenge though is going to be talking about the book but not actually talking about the book. I.e discussing the novel but attempting to not give anything away which may lesson a reader’s suspense. With this in mind I am just going to dive right in…

I have just recently finished reading I Let You Go, the debut novel and Sunday Times bestseller by Clare Mackintosh. The novel was ‘the fastest selling title by a new crime writer in 2015’ (http://claremackintosh.com/clare-mackintosh-about/). Naturally I had high standards. It is not often that an author’s first novel does so amazingly! Crime and Thriller fiction is actually something which I have only just recently discovered. Having caught up in the excitement of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train I have become a lover of this genre of fiction. Like others that enjoy this genre of writing, I love the suspense, the plot twists, and how gripped I get when I am reading the story. I often have to force myself to take a break just to lengthen the experience of reading such a novel.

I admit I am terrible. The saying ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ is universally used, yet what do I do? I always judge a book by its cover. Granted the saying usually is not used to refer to an actual book. The concept though is there. I feel if the book cover does not talk to me and intrigue me then the story won’t either – And I know this is silly. I could and more than likely am missing out on some great pieces of work, but I cannot stop myself. When it came to I Let You Go the novels cover is something which excited me. The image used from a company credited as ‘Arcangel’ spoke to my ‘I need to know more’ side. I just couldn’t help but to envisage somebody solemnly looking out of the window to a bleak, cold, rainy day. Something which you automatically associate with a person feeling down, and i just couldn’t help but wonder why and what was going on. The accompanying butterfly I also found interesting because butterflies are meant to represent new life, change and joy, which contrasted greatly to the surrounding image. So from the get go I was excited to delve into Mackintosh’s story.

The novel itself I can only describe as amazing. It is fast-paced, intense and complete with numerous twists that I did not see coming. The little bits of writing on the front of the book and the blurb on the reverse initially tell us that the story is likely to revolve around a ‘tragic accident’. Usually I tend to try and guess what happens at the end of novels whilst I am reading them. However I gave up doing this whilst reading I Let You Go. This was because when I thought I had a grip on where the story was taking me Mackintosh would seem to throw in another twist. Thus I don’t believe I would have ever come to the conclusions that this novel presents. Which is fantastic! As it can sometimes be disheartening when you have the story all sussed out.

Another great thing about this novel for me was how much I reacted to it. The chapters of the novel tend to change perspectives to enable the reader a more rounded story. However one of these perspectives towards the end of the novel began to infuriate me. It was definitely a struggle to read as I just wanted to hit the character. Although I found myself developing this great hate for one of Mackintosh’s characters I couldn’t help but find myself loving the character at the same time. It was a pretty great addition to the novel and I applaud Mackintosh’s ability to write a character which produces such great emotions from a reader.

Thus this is a novel that I would highly recommend anybody reading! Whether you’re interested in crime novels or not this is a page turner for anyone which will shock you right up until the last pages!

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