“The Woman in Black”

The Woman in Black

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Susan Hill’s 1983 novel. I read a 2011 Vintage Books Edition from the library.

Buy the Book.

2.5 out of 5 stars.

Times Read: 1

Seen the Movie: 1989 TV movie – no. 2012 version – yes (a couple of good scenes but mostly underwhelming).

The Plot:

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

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“Strange Weather” (Post 2/2)

Strange Weather

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Post 1

Buy the Book.


“Aloft”

2 out of 5 stars.

The Plot:

A sky diver is trapped on a mind-reading cloud.

[24] Reference:

The drogue chute had deployed automatically.

(p.249)

 

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.

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“Strange Weather” (Post 1/2)

Strange Weather 01

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Post 2


Joe Hill’s 2017 short novel collection. I read a first edition hardcover from the library.

Buy the Book.

2 out of 5 stars (overall average).

Times Read: 1

None of the four stories in Strange Weather connected with me. After about thirty pages of each, I found myself checking to see how much more there was to go. Each time I was flummoxed; how was the story not wrapping up? Why was Hill dragging it out?

A good short story is built on a compelling “what-if” and doesn’t outstay its welcome. A good novel is built on engaging characters. Novellas are a difficult form because you need to be strong on both fronts. Hill nails the “what-ifs” but never gives us characters. These stories should have been shaved and tucked into a short story collection. Instead, we get the book equivalent of the fourth season of the Twilight Zone, when the episodes were stretched to an hour not for artistic or creative reasons, but because an hour-long slot needed to be filled.

I expected to like Strange Weather a lot – I wanted to like it a lot. I love short stories, I love novellas. To Joe Hill fans: I’m not happy to be writing this review, either.

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“On the Beach” (Post 2/2)

On the Beach 02

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Buy the Book. 

Post 1


[31] Some characters, including Moira’s mother, are willfully ignorant to an unbelievable and infuriating degree. Peter’s wife, Mary, is the other culprit of this (see note [35]):

Her mother said, “I do hope something comes of it. I would like to see her settled down, and happily married with some children.”

“She’ll have to be quick about it, if you’re going to see that,” remarked her father.

“Oh, dear. I keep forgetting. But you know what I mean.”

(p.112)

It seems insane that anyone could forget there’s a date set for their death. Shute is implying that most women, especially married ones, can’t grasp what’s coming. At first that struck me as a terribly sexist bent but Shute is presenting a society where women stay at home – raising kids, cooking, cleaning – and men go out into the world to work and worry about wars and violence and famine. It’s annoying, but that’s how it is.

At the point On the Beach was written, the average citizen wouldn’t have had much concept of death from radiation. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bombs and most people probably thought the bulk of the horror and damage was in the initial explosion, not understanding the illness and deaths that came after. I’m guessing images from the atomic bomb fallout weren’t spread through the world and there weren’t many books or films dealing with it in the 1950s (other than radiated monsters in horror flicks). On the Beach was probably one of the first mainstream works to deal with radiation sickness and death. So, these characters have no real context for what will happen. All they know is something invisible is coming on the air toward them.

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“On the Beach” (Post 1/2)

On the Beach 01

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Post 2


Nevil Shute’s 1957 novel of nuclear apocalypse. (Also the name of one of Neil Young’s best albums.) I read a Ballantine Books paperback which has lived a full life.  

Buy the Book.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

Times Read: 1

Seen the Movie: No to either version (1959 or 2000).

The Plot:

Nuclear attacks have wiped out most of humanity and survivors in Australia live out their last year, knowing deadly radiation is on its way.

This is the most pleasant apocalypse I’ve ever encountered. Everyone is exceedingly polite, respectful, and willfully ignorant of their impending doom. No murders, no rapes, no home invasions, theft, no loss of order.

It’s refreshing.

As pessimistic as Shute feels about our odds of surviving with so many nuclear weapons around, he’s wildly optimistic about the goodness in humanity. People stay at their stations until the very end, they continue going to work and school and planning for a future that they know isn’t coming. Shute’s position seems to be: we all know we’re going to die at some point, yet we keep planning. Why would that change if you were given the date?

I have no idea how On the Beach was made into a movie. This book is aggressively non-Hollywood. Americans and Australians are stationed to work together in a submarine under extremely stressful conditions and no fights break out. One man ditches the sub to go ashore at Seattle – even though the radiation will surely kill him – and the next day politely apologizes to the submarine’s commander from a fishing boat. The commander responds that it’s quite all right before the submarine moves along. A young woman and the submarine commander (whose wife and children died in Connecticut) form a friendship, go on dates, kiss a couple of times, but never sleep together. He still loves his wife too much and she understands completely. A film couldn’t stand this sort of thing.

Much of the dialogue consists of people planning when to meet up and what train or bus they’re going to catch. Or ordering drinks. I cannot convey to you how pleasant this story is until the last chapter. And then I cried like an idiot through the last thirty pages. Continue reading

“Human Acts”

Human Acts

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Han Kang’s 2014 novel, originally published as The Boy is Coming. I read the 2016 Hogarth hardcover, translated by Deborah Smith. (Thank you, as always, my lovely library.)

Buy the Book.

4 out of 5 stars. 

Times Read: 1

The Plot:

South Korea’s horrific 1980 Gwangju Uprising told through the perspectives of those murdered, those who survived, and those left behind.

Han Kang’s previous book, The Vegetarian (note [21]), had a quick line about a character avoiding Gwangju, which was my first exposure to the events in that city. I should have known about it before this.

The six chapters (plus epilogue) of Human Acts are interwoven short stories. Each follows the experience of a different character during and after the Gwangju Uprising, but most circle back to the murder of Dong-ho, the young boy who we follow through Chapter 1.

Han conveys bleakness and horror while maintaining humanity. Violence is conveyed in plain, simple language, not relishing or sensationalizing but conveying pure actions. Answers are not offered; something like this has no logic, no resolution – the effects ripple endlessly.

The book moves through past and present tenses, first- and second-person, but it is never confusing. Credit to the translator Deborah Smith for maintaining Han’s beautiful prose while keeping the story very clean and clear. Continue reading