Book Blog and Some Short Stories

It’s the new year and time I should update my book blog. The last review I wrote was on Battle Royale by Koushun Takami. (See “Review: Battle Royale”.) I highly recommend this book as long as you aren’t squeamish about violence.

I read two more stories from The Dark Descent:

“The Swords” by Robert Aickman
“Seven American Nights” by Gene Wolfe

“The Swords” by Robert Aickman was amusing. It was about a man’s “first experience”. In this story, not only is the man’s first experience a bit of a disappointment, it’s slightly traumatizing to him. Disturbing and horrifying would be the description for those with fragile emotional states. For me though, I found the story weirdly amusing (in that morbid sort of way), especially since the story suggests that the man has a taste for necrophilia.

“Seven American Nights” by Gene Wolfe was well-written, but I found it boring. I found myself constantly waiting for something horrific to happen. It might have helped if I found the character more likeable or interesting. Some elements of the story were interesting such as the deterioration of America. Clearly, this was meant to be a post-apocalyptic setting. I am drawn to post-apocalyptic stories, which explains why the setting of this story stands out to me.

I read H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu” some time ago and found I liked his writing style. I’ve had The Best of H.P. Lovecraft sitting around for a while, and finally got around to reading it. I’ve read the first six stories as of this blog.

“The Rats in the Walls” was interesting. It felt a little like an adventure story, sort of like Indiana Jones. The ending is horrific (sort of like Raiders of the Lost Ark). I would label this story as psychological horror. In psychological horror, it seems to me that it’s the protagonist’s state of mind that leads to his/her tragedy.

“The Picture in the House” is not my favourite so far. The horrifying picture suggests the fate of the character once having stepped inside the house. However, the ending is left unclear. We don’t really know what happens to the protagonist. Because of this, I’m unsure as to whether or not Lovecraft actually finished this story or intended to write more. It reads like it’s only one scene in a much larger story.

I rather enjoyed reading “The Outsider”. For me, it quickly became clear who is the protagonist. I’m also a sucker for stories about the “underdog” or characters who have to struggle against the majority. That aside, the interesting aspect of this story is that it puts the reader inside the mind of the monster.

“Pickman’s Model” is a story to make you shudder. I really hope I never meet anyone like Pickman. Pickman is a brilliant artist or so one would think. His paintings with monsters in them look real. Perhaps you can guess why? This story is similar to the story of the brilliant doctor. He’s admirable, at least until you discover his studying methods.

“In the Vault” is a short tale about revenge beyond the grave. This story didn’t quite scare me, but rather made me laugh. Okay, I have a morbid sense of humour. Seriously though, the undertaker had it coming.

“The Silver Key” reads more like fantasy than horror. In this story, we are introduced to Randolph Carter, although this is not the first Lovecraft story featuring Randolph Carter. I confess I’m not quite sure what the point of this story is, except that I understand why Randolph Carter is considered to be Lovecraft’s alter ego. In this story, you get the sense that in writing about Carter’s doubts, fears, and insecurities, Lovecraft was writing about his. I will probably return to this story at a later date since Randolph Carter seems to be loosely tied to the Cthulhu mythos.

Since I was in the mood for short stories, I decided to dig into The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories by Susanna Clarke. I picked up this book a while back after I had read Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. I was thinking recently that of the single novel stories, Battle Royale and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell are my two favourites from the past few years. The Wheel of Time is a favourite story too, but it’s the whole series I like and I can’t pick one novel out of the series.

The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories by Susanna Clarke is a wonderful collection of short stories by Clarke. If you didn’t like Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, you probably won’t like this collection of stories. This collection of stories consists of more magic and fairies. If you don’t like stories about magic and fairies, than you won’t like these stories. I, however, consider magic (and fairies to some extent) to be integral to the fantasy genre. Susanna Clarke’s stories are a wonderful addition to that genre.

The title story, “The Ladies of Grace Adieu”, was amusing. As this story was first published in 1996, this is where Clarke first developed the characters of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. The story is quite simply a warning that male magicians should not underestimate the power of female magicians. Those who are familiar with Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (Susanna Clarke’s masterpiece of magical fiction) will recall how female magicians were frowned upon. The story also disproves Mr. Norrell’s claims that the Raven King does not exist.

The other stories are all quite entertaining. “On Lickerish Hill” seems to be a variation of “Rumpelstiltskin”. It is a re-telling of Tom Tit Tot fairy story. “Mrs Mabb” is a story about a woman who, upon her return from visiting a sick friend, has lost her fianc√© to a fairy. “The Duke of Wellington Misplaces His Horse” is a lesson for those who would annoy someone with magical abilities and is also a warning that if one were to engage in magic, one should be very careful about it. In “Mr Simonelli or The Fairy Widower”, while trying to outwit a fairy from marrying one of the innocent young ladies, Mr. Simonelli brings about trouble for himself. “Tom Brightwind or How the Fairy Bridge Was Built at Thoresby” presents a glimpse of the fairy world. “Antickes and Frets” is a short story about the last days of Mary, Queen of Scots. Lastly, in “John Uskglass and the Cumbrian Charcoal Burner”, we learn how the fairy John Uskglass was defeated by a mere human.

I was sorely missing The Wheel of Time and was wanting to get back to that series. However, I’m also in the middle of switching from hard copy books to ebooks. I have The Gathering Storm (book 12 of The Wheel of Time) on digital, but I still have a pile of hard copy books to get through. I decided to read New Spring by Robert Jordan, then continue with the rest of the series on digital.

I know some did not like New Spring as much as the main series, but I rather enjoyed it. It was interesting to read about Moiraine and Suian as Accepted in Tar Valon. It also provides a lot of background for the various Aes Sedai that Rand et al. have to deal with in the main series. I also find it amusing that Suian ever became the Amyrlin Seat, impulsive as she is. Then again, Suian in the later books in the series is quite like Suian in New Spring. It’s also amusing to see how Moiraine, despite her noble blood, defers to Suian as Suian is a stronger leader. Both female characters have presence, but Suian commands respect. There’s not as much about Lan in this book as one would expect. The story does ultimately tell you about how Moiraine and Lan meet up, and that first meeting is quite humourous for the reader (probably not so much for Moiraine). I think because Lan’s story is tied into the whole of The Wheel of Time, the rest of Lan’s story will be told through the main series. At least, I hope they remember to finish up Lan’s story by the time the main story is concluded.

After reading New Spring, I started The Gathering Storm. I’m currently on chapter 3.

I’m a little further along in War and Peace now. I left off back in July 2010. I’m now on book 3, part 3.

The rest of my “currently reading” list can be found on my Goodreads profile. If you have Goodreads, feel free to follow me on there.

~~~C
Your local bookworm

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