Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Title: The Haunting of Hill House
Author: Shirley Jackson
Publisher:  Penguin (2006)
Originally published in 1959
Anyone keeping track of Michael and me over the years of our joint posting will know that October always gets a scary title. What you may not know is that I always let Michael pick these. I don't read much in the horror genre so it's handy for me that Michael has a lot of good recommendations. This year's scary title is different from the rest: it's a straight-up ghost story. Previous titles have been more along the lines of horror thrillers. I realized when reading The Haunting of Hill House that it might very well be the first ghost story I've ever read.
For those that are new to our monthly series, this is when Michael reviews a film adapted from a book which gets a review here.

Click here for Michael's film review of The Haunting

The Haunting of Hill House takes place in about a week's time following four individuals who have met at Hill House to investigate the weird tales that have surrounded the house during its 80yr existence. Only one of the four knows the place is hinky but the others are game to continue on even when they get there and realize the place is full of the creeps. Our fearless leader is one Dr. Montague but it's one of his assistants the reader follows while Hill House expresses itself.

Eleanor Vance has been taking care of an invalid relative for over a decade and when that relative dies she's perfectly willing to start a new chapter in her life by answering a vague job ad. After sort of stealing the car she shares with her sister she makes her way to Hill House, but only just barely. She's almost as ready to just keep driving. I assume this is due to her highly imaginative nature creating a new reality in every town she visits. Her imagination, by the way, is huge and entertaining. I found myself constantly smiling at her mental gymnastics and the avenues of conversation she would pursue.

At the house, she meets the doctor and his two other assistants. She strikes up an immediate rapport with Theodora and gets along well with Luke, a member of the family who owns the house. Theodora is a bit whimsical with a great sense of humor that appeals to Eleanor personally and, if I may say so, imaginatively. It doesn't take long for the four of them to make the house (and its housekeeper, Mrs. Dudley) the butt of many jokes regarding the ridiculously high creep factor.

 "I don't stay after I set out dinner," Mrs. Dudley went on. "Not after it begins to get dark. I leave before dark comes."
 "I know," Eleanor said.
 "We live over in the town, six miles away...
 So there won't be anyone around if you need help...
 We couldn't even hear you, in the night...
 In the night," Mrs. Dudley said, and smiled outright. "In the dark,"she said, and closed the door behind her.

Many of her warnings and admonitions are repeated with little alteration or heed to responses.

Mrs. Dudley turned her eyes to him. "I clear off at ten," she said. "The dishes are supposed to be back on the shelves. I take them out again for lunch. I set out lunch at one, but first the dishes have to be back on the shelves."

When she sets table had to have been repeated at least ten times and that shelf bit is just too funny. So why wouldn't they joke about the creepy house and its odd retainer.

 "Did I understand correctly," Theodora went on, "that Mrs. Dudley is not going to come if we scream in the night?"
 "It was not what she agreed to."

But things begin to take a decided turn from humor and veer straight into scary. And that's when the story kind of lost me. Turns out, ghost stories don't really scare me. If I can imagine a nefarious human behind the weird events using superstition as a tool of terror then I can get into the story and be scared with the protagonist(s) but just weird things that are supposed to be ghosts? Turns out, I can't suspend my imagination. Instead of being scared or creeped out, I was just feeling bad for Eleanor. A couple of my interpretive theories are spoilerish so highlight below if interested:

SPOILERISH BEGIN: I tried to entertain the idea of the Dudleys being behind it, perhaps feeling like they were the true owners of the house (perhaps even being related to the disinherited sister) but what was happening in the house seemed beyond the limits of a two person terror crew - plus the narration slips into Mrs. Dudley's mind for brief moments and it just didn't fit that she had something to do with it. The other idea (see how much I wasn't interested in ghosts???) was that it was simply Eleanor losing her grip on reality. That's a pretty legitimate interpretation given her imaginative nature but she wasn't the only one seeing the weird events and the rest of the house guests were clearly frightened, as well. So back to ghosts, I guess??? END.

Now, I can watch a ghost story and be scared but I think that has more to do with film making than with ghosts. In a book, you just can't startle the reader. So, rather than being scared while reading this I just felt sad for Eleanor and a little bored during the second half of the book. But as I was looking up something about this title I came by a review by someone who is scared of ghost stories so I thought it would be interesting to link her review for an alternative perspective. And I am in complete agreement with her assessment of the excellent writing [emphasis mine]:

  The story is narrated from Eleanor’s point of view and it’s through her eyes that we experience everything that the group does. The story starts really slowly and for the first 100 or so pages nothing significant happens in terms of paranormal activity. Until it does: and it is terrifying.
  The thing is, those first pages are essential to this storytelling and to understanding the presumed supernatural elements....
  In Eleanor’s narrative lies the brilliance of this novel. It is as engaging as it is unnerving – all the more so because it is possible to see the little, subtle lies she tells the group about herself. Then, little by little, things start to change as the group experience the events.

So about the movie...  don't forget to check out Michael's post.

rating: 3 of 5 stars

Click here for an index of the joint post series

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Still Not Interested

Back before Breaking Bad was Breaking Bad (before even the pilot aired, actually) I had some interest in seeing the show. I admire Cranston as an actor and Gilligan as a writer and I thought the combination would be good. But then I read the plot of the show and knew I'd never see it. Now it's over and despite its enormous critical success, and never ending word-of-mouth recommendations, I have still not seen the show.

My list of reasons is short but vehemently felt (not least of which is being a member of a family that has felt the very real and serious effects of meth addiction). I was thrilled to come by this article by Malcolm Harris that not only hits on all my reasons but adds a few more, lays out an excellent and educational pop culture critique*, and does it much more eloquently than I ever could.

*Including 100% nailing why I had no interest in Savages as a book or film.

I've included a few quotes below that particularly struck me while reading but do click on over and read the entire article, whether or not you like/watch Breaking Bad it's an article worth reading. 

The point of critically examining cultural objects like Breaking Bad isn’t to place them in categories good or bad, to predict the ending, or even to decode what’s “really” happening; the point is to pay attention to our attention, to look at how it’s being held, on what, and how someone’s making money on it. If pop criticism is to be good for anything, it’s that.

The idea that people will always pay more for purer or small-batch products makes a lot of sense to demographics used to paying more for quality gimmicks — conveniently, the same demos advertisers pay a premium for. But it doesn’t make sense for the consumers Breaking Bad so sparingly depicts. When we do see White’s ultimate customers, they’re zombies: all scabs and eroded teeth. We’re not talking about impulse buyers or comparison shoppers here; it’s a textbook case of what freshman economics students call inelastic demand. As Stringer Bell told D’Angelo Barksdale in another show about drugs, in direct contrast to what Walter claims, “When it’s good, they buy. When it’s bad, they buy twice as much. The worse we do, the more money we make.”

Breaking Bad in which the street dealers were diluting the product would have had Walter and his partner Jesse Pinkman competing with every local operation, struggling to set up a larger distribution network without costly middlemen and, well, interacting with meth users a lot. But The Wire on Ice isn’t sexy enough to sell a Dodge, and a teacher slanging to his fucked-up former students would turn stomachs, not open wallets. Suffice to say it would be a darker show.

In Savages, another recent story of Mighty Whitey getting people stoned, Berkeley-educated botanist Chon (maybe the only name whiter than “White”) and his war-vet buddy Ben combine exported Afghan seeds and a public-Ivy STEM degree to create a strand of superweed. A narrator asserts Afghanistan is the source of the best weed on earth with the same revelatory reverence that Anthony Bourdain might declare Iberia the source of the best pork. It’s not enough that these two 20-somethings grow and sell weed; they have to do it better than anyone else by a huge margin.

White-washing the illegal drug market involves depicting it like markets wealthy viewers are more comfortable and familiar with, namely those of the farmers market or the local pharmacy. Walter White combines the ostensible moral complexity television audiences demand in a post-Soprano protagonist with a cleanliness that allows him to market expensive cars.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Must Stop Faffing About the Internet

Have real life to participate in... but how is one to sign off when completely overtaken by the giggles after seeing this Technical Support Transcript?

Covers Matter

An oldie but goodie from The Book Smugglers about book covers (with resources and links) and a little about book content.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Monday, October 7, 2013

Laura Kinsale Audiobook Update

It's recently occurred to me that I shared my S/Paul-on-the-way-to-Damascus conversion experience with The Prince of Midnight audiobook but how's it going with the rest of the Laura Kinsale audiobooks that have been released, you ask? Well, you would ask if you weren't busy having your own transcendent experiences with LK and narrator Nicholas Boulton. (You are, right? I mean, you've run right out and got your own Kinsale audiobooks, right?)

So this is how it played out for me in listening order:


The Prince of Midnight
 Linkie above

Midsummer Moon
 After the awesomeness of TPoM this was a step back. MM is not one of my favorites (not forgetting that there's no such thing as a bad Laura Kinsale book) and Shelby's voice... gah! I could never reconcile myself to it. With Merlin, one of my absolute fave Kinsale characters, I came around to NB's depiction even though I didn't like it at first. But Shelby! Just no! That is not his voice. Blech! I was able to forgive this when I heard Jacqueline's voice, though. What perfection! Merlin, Shelby, and Jacqueline make this book for me so two out of three ain't bad. I should also mention that I thought Ransom perfectly done. He sounded just like the overbearing asshat he is. And by the time he realizes he's an overbearing asshat the change in his voice reflected that. Speaking of asshattery, I got to Ransom burning the flying machine and tricking Merlin and had to take a break. These narrations bring the stories to life in a way that makes the difficult parts even more difficult to bear so what I can normally wince through reading I have to turn off when listening. Back to this one below...

Flowers From the Storm
 I didn't really expect a repeat of TPoM perfection... I mean, how could NB actually get one of my precious Kinsale experiences exactly right twice??? That's asking too damn much but then I started listening and holy fuck HE DID IT AGAIN! HE FUCKING DID IT AGAIN!!! He nailed the aphasic speech, he brought Maddygirl to life in a way that made me love her even more (didn't even know that was possible), he captured the camaraderie of the three friends perfectly and the aunt!!!! Oh the aunt!!! She is divine! And the final speech in the Meeting House.... there are no words... except I'm going to try. I was fully prepared with finger-on-mute-button preparedness to turn that shit off if the final speech went south. But damn if it went as north as north could be and left me in tears. I've read this book at least a dozen times and never cried. I cried listening to Nicholas Boulton as Christian. My gosh, it was brilliant. Listening to FFtS has got to be one of the highlights of my lifelong affair with books.

Still reeling from FFtS, I wasn't ready to go back to Ransom's bullying so I waited for the next release.

The Dream Hunter
 I don't have quite the attachment to this one that I have to TPoM and FFtS. So, fairly or unfairly, even though NB nails it again with this title, it didn't feel quite so much like he plucked my interpretation straight out of my head. Or maybe I wasn't as worried at this point, not quite sure. Also, Zenia spends a goodly portion of the second half of this novel upset. NB does a loud, angry female voice quite well but his loud, upset female voice tends to grate a little on the ear (I'd noticed this before but readers of TDH will know that a narrator issue like that would be more obvious here). I don't blame Zenia for her worries (Arden digs his own grave a bit on this one) and she's a refreshing heroine for acting like a regular person and reacting to what is right in front of her (vs. magically knowing that if she just gives a little then the hero will fall right into place) but I can never get over the kid thing. Poor Elizabeth stuck in her room and Zenia constantly denying Arden his right to see her just drives me crazy. Couple that with the voice issue and I ended up taking a break on this one, too. Plus, my heart just breaks for Zenia, Arden and Elizabeth (though thankfully she's too young to know what's happening:) when Zenia goes back to her father's house in London. Back to this one later... (including comments on my vote for sexiest scene narrated by this ridiculously sexy voice so far!)

My Sweet Folly
 This was an enlightening experience. I had no idea I skipped so much when re-reading this book. There were passages I had straight-up forgotten about. I thought about this a lot while listening and figured out why by the end, but before that let's talk about just how much creepier Robert is when narrated! I realize the poor dear is being poisoned but even so, NB makes him downright scary! I was mentally shoving Folie and Melinda down the drive when they decided to make their escape. Get out, ladies! Get out while you can!

 Real life had prevented me from getting to this one right away so at about this time the latest release came available and I love Folie because she's hilarious but there was no way I was delaying my chance at Melanthe, Ruck and Middle English. Back to this one soon...

For My Lady's Heart
 Oh Melanthe, oh Ruck, oh Middle English! I become a puddle of mush in my love for you. And do you know what makes you better? (Did you even know that you could be better?) Nicholas Boulton. (At this point, I might be a little in love with NB.) Seriously, folks! Another home run. I was lucky enough to be able to focus solely on activities* that could be coupled with listening for this one, so I finished it in less than two days and then felt bereft when it was over. I wasn't ready. I wanted more Melanthe, more Ruck, more ME and more Cara. Yep, that's right! I needed more Cara. I admit, I've skipped her parts as often as not in my rereads of FMLH but in the audio I positively ached for her. As much as I could be a stand-in for any character in a Kinsale novel, she would definitely be the one I have the most in common with. In fact, I suspect she's even more brave than I would be in her situation and I could feel the hot panic of her breath while listening, making my heart pound like I really was there with her in danger. Amazing! Oh, and the poem (of a sort:) that Ruck makes up for Melanthe!!!! Brilliant!!!! (I really need a superlatives thesaurus at this point.) I've actually tried to read that out before and get the rhythm of it. I am a complete failure but NB performs it in all its glory. I wish I had a clip of just the poem in its entirety. I would listen and smile and think of Ruck and Melanthe slaying dragons.^

*sitting on my couch watching clouds float by out of my bay window counts as an activity, right?
^no dragons are actually slain in this book which I feel I should mention since dragons and zombies are almost expected in books these days

Return to My Sweet Folly
 We've relocated to London now and Robert isn't going out of his mind, though Folie is still rightfully suspicious of his bizarre behavior, so mostly we're hanging out in Folie's head giggling our tushies right off listening to her jokes. Folie is such a delight. As I got closer and closer to the end of the book I realized that the reason I had forgotten entire sections is because I tend to re-read it like this: Prologue, any scene with Folie excepting love scenes directly after the wedding (because, seriously Robert, party foul!), the awesome ending with Lady Dingley's masterful performance, Epilogue. And with the audio there I was for every scene. And I mean every scene! And as fun as it was to hear all the voices of Robert's mentor there was still the flesh, flesh, flesh ([TM] all royalties to Beth) scenes with Robert right after the wedding and it was a little akin to Beth's nipple moment. I freaked out and could not stop obsessing over how NB read that scene aloud and so well. Damn, he's good. My burning question for NB used to be "what is your favorite Kinsale novel?' and it's now "how did you perform Folie asking 'please kiss...' and not evaporate?"

Return to Midsummer Moon
 Turns out it was a complete mistake to take a break when I did because the end was the best! I find MM a little long when reading and so am not always wholly invested by the time the end comes but Merlin and Mr. Piminey held by The French! had me in stitches! Mr. Piminey (sp? can't remember if this is right) was a riot. I loved his voice! Just cannot praise NB enough. His talent is staggering. And, bonus! Shelby's voice undergoes a miraculous change from obnoxious to tolerable for the end. And Jacqueline's heart speech. Oh, I just love her!

Return to The Dream Hunter
 Dear, dear Mr. Jocelyn gets wonderfully depicted here and, while I've never disliked him, it's hard to actually want to spend more time with a possible impediment to Mawwiage. But in this case I did because, you guessed it, Nicholas Boulton. However, he's a minor character and what we really want to focus on for the rest of this is the hilarious zoo incident (sorry Zenia, I am sure you weren't laughing but I was) and what has to be the sexiest scene so far - which is saying something when so many sexy scenes have been read out by a fucking sexy-as-sin voice. I was actually quite embarrassingly weak-kneed at Arden's voice for the entirety but that scene in the cottage when he's describing what he was thinking about at the zoo and talking about what delightful creatures females are... well, erm, ahem, let's just say this heterosexual cis-female was stirred.

To sum up: Laura Kinsale audiobooks highly recommended

Looks like I've got several weeks before the next title is out so my plan is to wile away the listening hours in this order: FFtS, FMLH, TPoM, MM, TDH, MSF

All titles:
Author: Laura Kinsale
Narrator: Nicholas Boulton
Publisher: Hedgehog Inc (2013)

And check out the awesome NEW cover art for each title here.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

"Snail combat"

Too good not to share.

I've actually made a small habit of going to view illuminated manuscripts when possible but I've obviously not been paying enough attention. If they are, in fact, absolultely riddled with 'snail combat' I feel very unobservant to have never noticed. Will obviously be keeping an eye out from now on.