(This post will always be on top; scroll down for new entries)
Ian McEwan’s debut novel, published in 1978. I read a first edition hardcover from the library.
4 out of 5 stars.
Times Read: 1
Seen the Movie: No. Had never heard of the movie until I checked the title on imdb. Seems very hard to get a copy of/watch these days.
Four orphaned siblings continue living in an abandoned neighborhood, telling no one where their mother really is.
This is my first McEwan book and I will definitely read more. His style is simple and straightforward (there’s shockingly little I needed to look up), his characters can do anything at any time. The siblings in The Cement Garden take horrific and disturbing events in stride but it feels oddly believable; children adapt, children have their own motivations and morals.
A disturbing grime permeates the pages as the house gets filthier and the smell from the basement becomes stronger. This is non-supernatural, non-murderous horror. Continue reading
Kurt Vonnegut’s third novel, published in 1962. I read a 2009 Dial Press Trade Paperback from the library.
3 out of 5 stars.
Times Read: 2
Seen the Movie: There’s a movie? Weird. There’s a movie. Have not seen it, do not plan to.
American Howard W. Campbell, Jr., who spent World War II promoting fascism and hate on German radio (while being a secret agent for the United States), explains how he ended up in an Israeli prison.
Kurt Vonnegut isn’t aging well. Or maybe I’m not aging well. Authors and books I used to love are leaving me irritated. When I read Mother Night four years ago, I gave it five stars. This time, it was a struggle to justify three.
Vonnegut tells us the moral of Mother Night in the introduction: “We are what we pretend to be” (p.v). Which means this tale is about a Nazi. Our sympathies are supposed to be with Howard Campbell and I have no idea why.
There are some very good scenes, all involving events during the war (the death of a dog, the hanging of Campbell’s father-in-law, and a scene in a bomb shelter), but the events and characters in the near-present are caricatures and punchlines. Fascist, racist people are portrayed as harmless buffoons and are given more humanity than Resi Noth, who wins the award for most depressing female character I’ve encountered this year (see note ).
By the halfway point, Mother Night had me wishing I’d picked up something else from the library.
Hanne Orstavik’s 1997 Norwegian novel. I read a 2018 Archipelago Books edition, translated by Martin Aiken and borrowed from my library.
2.5 out of 5 stars.
Times Read: 1
Vibeke and her eight-year-old son, Jon, have moved to an isolated, wintry northern Norwegian town. But their relationship proves to be colder than their new home as Vibeke goes out for companionship while Jon wanders alone, believing his mother is preparing for his upcoming birthday.
Love feels twice as long as its 125 pages. There are section breaks but within those sections, the narrative (third person, present tense) switches between Vibeke and Jon without cues or warning. It is an interesting experiment but feels gimmicky and inorganic to the story.
We are held at such a distance from the two leads and made to feel so suspicious of everyone they encounter that there is no chance to connect to anyone. Everyone feels dangerous but, ultimately, the greatest danger comes from within the family. Which makes the motivations of the carnival workers who pick up Vibeke and Jon completely nonsensical, especially the woman who Jon encounters. I have no idea what her purpose was. No idea at all. Is she Tom’s father? Is this a story of parallel mothers and sons? I’d love to speculate, but Ortavik doesn’t give enough information to back up a specific theory. Any theory would work because the text is so damned vague.
Ortavik’s greatest strength is in dream and fantasy sequences. Love has a very dreamlike quality of unease and nonsense and dread. Vibeke is a character very much in the Shirley Jackson mold but something is ultimately lacking in Love, which is too bad because this book starts with so much potential.
 More of Johnny as minotaur:
What disturbs the sleep of everyone in his hotel; what crushes their throats in their dreams and stalks them like the dusk the day (…) that banished face beyond the province of image, swept clean like a page – is and always has been me.
I will become, I have become, a creature unstirred by history, no longer moved by the present, just hungry, blind and at long last full of mindless wrath.
Wer jetzt kein Haus hat, baut sich Keines mehr. Though I can see, I walk in total darkness.
German: Anyone who does not have a home will no longer build one. Continue reading
“The differences are there, like the serpents of the Caduceus.”
The caduceus is the staff carried by Hermes in Greek mythology. It is a short staff entwined by two serpents, sometimes surmounted by wings. The caduceus is often incorrectly used as a symbol of healthcare organizations and medical practice, particularly in North America, due to confusion with the traditional medical symbol, the Rod of Asclepius, which has only one snake and is never depicted with wings.
No doubt your postils will be happier than mine.
noun – (archaic) – a marginal note or comment, especially on a biblical text
a commentary, homily, or book of homilies.
 The Navidsons’ pets are named Hillary (dog) and Mallory (cat) (p.74). Everest references?
Edmund Hillary (1919-2008) was a New Zealand mountaineer, explorer, and philanthropist. On May 29, 1953, Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the first climbers confirmed to have reached the summit of Mount Everest.
George Mallory (1886-1924) was an English mountaineer who took part in the first three British expeditions to Mount Everest, in the early 1920s. During the 1924 British Mount Everest expedition, Mallory and his climbing partner, Andrew “Sandy” Irvine, disappeared on the North-East ridge during their attempt to make the first ascent. His body wasn’t discovered until May 1, 1999.
Compare the above with the fates of the Navidsons’ pets:
When Hillary, the grey coated Siberian husky, appears at the end of The Navidson Record, he is no longer a puppy. A couple of years have passed. Something forever watchful has taken up residence in his eyes (…)
Mallory, the tabby cat, vanishes completely, and no mention is made about what happened to him. His disappearance remains a mystery.
(p.74) Continue reading
 Entirety of pre-introduction page, written from what we will come to know as Johnny Truant’s perspective:
This is not for you.
It sounded like a dare, so I brought the book home.
Flaze told me later he’d never seen a dead body before and there was no question there would be a body and that just didn’t sit well with Flaze.
The refrigerator wasn’t empty but there wasn’t any food in it either. Zampano had crammed it full of strange, pale books.
Post 1: Introduction; Chapters I – V
Post 2: Chapters VI – X
Post 3: Chapters XI – XX
Post 4: Chapters XXI – XXII; Exhibits; Appendix – Zampano; Appendix – Johnny Truant; Index [October 26th]
Mark Z. Danielewski’s ambitious and successful debut, published in 2000. I read “The Remastered Full-Color Edition” Pantheon Books 2nd Edition. (So much love to my library for having a copy.)
4 out of 5 stars.
Times Read: 1
Heard the album: Yes. Recommended.
The Navidson Record has become a cult and critical sensation. Some believe it’s a genuine documentary, some see it as a hoax. Before his death, a blind man spent years compiling a record of the film and its critical analyses. But the film doesn’t exist, at least as far as L.A. tattoo-shop worker/one-night-stander Johnny Truant can tell. Johnny’s fascination with the blind man’s book soon turns to obsession.
Mix The Blair Witch Project, The Shining, Lovecraft’s “The Outsider” and Cloud Atlas and you’ll be close to House of Leaves’ vibe.
I was worried I was getting myself into another Infinite Jest, a book which wasted time smugly showing off its intelligence, squandering a pretty great plot. But House of Leaves says, “Look how smart you are.” It has faith in the reader. Danielewski respects his audience and gives enough clues (and directions) for us to follow the broad themes and eccentric construction. There are layers and layers to this – people can spend years studying allusions and riddles and hidden messages – but even a surface reading over a long weekend was a fun, eerie, ride.
All gimmick and experimentation aside, the story at the core of House of Leaves is very good. I would enjoy Zampano’s “The Navidson Record” even in “normal” text (heck, I’d probably give it 5 stars if it was a traditional narrative) but Johnny Truant’s sections bring the rating down… We’ll get to my Johnny Truant complaints in due time.
Susan Hill’s 1983 novel. I read a 2011 Vintage Books Edition from the library.
2.5 out of 5 stars.
Times Read: 1
Arthur Kipps is dispatched to the isolated Eel Marsh House to settle the affairs of recently deceased Alice Drablow.
The Woman in Black is a slim 164 pages. If it had been any longer, I probably would have abandoned it halfway through. Hill’s language isn’t challenging (I hardly had to look up any vocabulary for this one) but she uses a classic Olde-England first-person narrative that is tiresome if it’s not already your cup of tea. The closest to this style I like is Stephen King’s short story Jerusalem’s Lot (which sticks to the right length).
WiB opens at Christmas Eve decades after the events at Eel Marsh House. Arthur lives in a beautiful home with his second wife and step-children, which establishes immediately: (1) Arthur will survive his time at Eel Marsh House (2) His first wife died around the time of this adventure. Knowing these things removes all tension from the story.
The setting of a house isolated with the tides is amazing, but Hill doesn’t utilize it. We should feel so claustrophobic and isolated and abandoned when Arthur’s at the house but someone always comes for him before he’s at a point of panic to leave. He seems no more isolated than if he was a couple of miles out of town without a car.
Why not make this an epistolary novel of Arthur’s notes, his journal as he’s sifting through Alice Drablow’s documents? This would create tension, at least (will Arthur escape? Will he survive?). Continue reading
2 out of 5 stars.
A sky diver is trapped on a mind-reading cloud.
The drogue chute had deployed automatically.
A drogue parachute is a parachute designed to be deployed from a rapidly moving object in order to slow the object, to provide control and stability, or as a pilot parachute to deploy a larger parachute. It was invented in Russia by Gleb Kotelnikov (1872-1944) in 1912.