Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Devouring Stephen King (As Richard Bachman): Blaze

Oh, Blaze. I could cry just thinking about it and maybe I'm gonna. Who can say.

I don't always read introductions to books (because more often than not they are riddled with spoilers), but the introduction King has written for Blaze was pretty much crucial to my enjoyment of the book. From it, I learned that Blaze is essentially the fifth of the four early Bachman books, never published but written even before Carrie. This meant that any instances of clunky writing (and there were a few) and anything I didn't really like I could essentially overlook because, hey, the kid was young, give him a break! He ALSO, however, says that the story is a kind of homage to Of Mice and Men, and even though I might not have made that connection myself, I fully read it with that in mind which made every single page of it fully poignant and just sobbbbsiiiiiigh.

So, the book. King's Bachman books tend to be more psychological than his horror ones, so even though they can still be horrible, there's not really anything supernatural going on in them (think Misery, not The Shining). They also tend to be a little bit social justice-y something which King, again in the introduction, sounds a little bit ashamed of, but there's no need to be. Rarely when he gets up on his high horse does he overdo it, and in my opinion he doesn't overdo it in Blaze either.

Now, the story I guess? We are introduced to Blaze as he's in the process of stealing a car, a thing which you think would make him a bad guy but in fact, as we are to discover through the whole book, he's really just a kinda nice guy who does bad things because he's not too bright. We also discover that he's not too bright because his dad threw him down the stairs a few times when he was little, and this is just the first of many things that make Blaze's actions not really his own fault.

Blaze is the kind of guy who is easily coerced into things, but also the kind of guy who really should be being taken care of by the state. He's not smart enough to remember to change his underwear, and he's not smart enough to not hold up the same gas station two nights in a row. His closest friend George has recently been killed in some crime related drama (if you're thinking I can't remember exactly why, you would be 100% correct) and Blaze is completely alone, reliant on the life of crime that he's learnt to be reliant on to get by.

Like genuinely, it's really fucking sad.

The story is pretty much told both through Blaze's present actions of his one big score, and his past upbringing that explains exactly how he's got into such a position in the first place. This means that, even as Blaze is doing very morally questionable things (and, rest assured, he does quite a lot of that) there's always an overriding feeling of sympathy for him because the odds seem as stacked against him as they have for all the rest of his life. The thing you come away from this book with, is that Blaze is essentially a good guy, it's just the world that has been so consistently shitty for him because (and here's the Bachman book part) the world is basically just a pile of shit.

So yes. This is maybe not the best book to read if you're feeling kind of shitty about the world, but regardless it is a pretty good one. I'm tempted to call it my favourite Bachman book but I don't think that would be fair considering I read the other 5 literally 5 years ago (yeah. Wow.) and can hardly remember them. So let's just say, I liked this book and will allow you to read it.

Monday, 10 October 2016

The Master and Margarita-along, Weeks 1 & 2

GUYYYYYYYYS! So I definitely dropped the ball last week, but I am here now to join in the readalong-goodness with a vengeance (except not a vengeance, something much nicer, like... glitter? Let's go with that)

Glittery cat for literally no reason

Anyway... As well as failing to post last week, I also read, like, two of the readalong posts (I know, I'm the worst, let it go) so I have to ask DOES LITERALLY ANYONE KNOW WHAT'S HAPPENING? I mean, genuinely, I've read some strange books in my time but all I can fathom from this one is that the devil's in town and everyone's going crazy (or, I guess, seems to be going crazy when in fact actual weird things are genuinely happening to them) and, like, people are being teleported thousands of miles away in seconds for some unknowable reason?

So no, it's not confusing at all

Having said that, the devil has a vodka-drinking cat so I guess that in that case everything is fine and, I mean,

I can have the kitty that understands my soul? No?

*Puts on actual analysis pants* I suspect I don't really know enough about either communism OR religion to understand a lot of what The Master and Margarita is trying to say, but I imagine the kind of whiplash I'm getting from the story throwing me ALL OVER THE PLACE has something of the feel of living in a country where, just as you think you're learning the rules, new ones overtake them immediately and you're right back to where you started. ALSO I guess that in a country where atheism is the state religion (religion being the opiate of the masses and all, at least before TV was invented, sorry Karl) it would be pretty easy for a theoretical devil to run riot because literally no one is going to believe you've seen the devil. Like, at all. 

And so. We've met the Master now, every minor character seems to be being institutionalised, and the devil and his buddies are... Putting on shows and pranking everyone so that they find themselves outside naked? THAT'S NOT VERY NICE, DEVIL. We ended this section on another trip back to Jerusalem and that's a Jesus thing, right? Like Yeshua is kind of Jesus and we're all ok with that? (I'm genuinely asking here, people, because I have close to no idea what's going on omg)

So yeah. In case any of that sounded like I'm not enjoying the book, I kind of really am, I just have no idea what's going on or where anything's headed, just like MY WHOLE FREAKING LIFE. It's a feeling I'm comfortable with, is what I'm saying, and I'm cool with finding out wth is actually happening here (even if I suspect we may not, which I guess I'm also ok with). 

Friday, 7 October 2016

Devouring Stephen King: Lisey's Story

As I mentioned in my round up of last month's reads, it pretty much took me three months to finish Lisey's Story. If you want to get super technical about it, it took me about two months to read about a quarter of it, before I finished the whole thing in September. Part of it is definitely to do with its size- it's a hefty 650+ pages, so I didn't really want to be lugging it around with me, ya know?- but that wasn't it's only problem. I mean, come on, I read all 800 pages of A Game of Thrones in like a week because I cared, so obviously I'm capable. But this book. Whoa.

First and foremost, this book is called Lisey's Story. This mistakenly made me believe that the book would be about Lisey and her struggles and life and whatnot, but really the book should be called 'Lisey's dead husband Scott's story, told through Lisey's memories of things he told her before he died'. This isn't necessarily a criticism, although making Lisey the one with an interesting/devasting past would have been JUST FINE too, Steve, but the title makes it seem like her life is going to be more central to the plot when really she's almost the passive receptacle for her dead husband's memories. Which is obviously real nice. Putting that aside as much as possible though, the book just starts SO slowly. Lisey is recalling and recounting a particular incident in her and Scott's lives, and it just seems to take so freaking long to tell. I honestly felt like she told the same thing in three different ways, and after that I wasn't so keen to pick the book up again for any real length of time. Because ughhhhhh.

The book does pick up though, and it kind of runs along two paths- the stuff that happened in the past, told through Lisey's memory, and the stuff that's happening now. The way I see it, the stuff that's happening now (which, by the way, is also mostly to do with Scott and not Lisey) is kind of dull and boring even if murder is threatened, whereas the stuff that happened in the past seems a lot more vital and interesting (and, indeed, it does become the most vital to the plot in the end). Please note once again- the story in the past belongs to Scott, whereas the story in the present belongs (mostly) to Lisey. I guess housewives don't get to be interesting on their own merit in King's world?

But anyway. Like I said it picks up, and I finished it in a rush after being reluctant to get into it. King's world building is pretty special, and he has created within Lisey's Story a pretty special world that I could instantly and vividly imagine. In one sense, the way I feel about that world and about the book in general reminds me pretty much of how I felt about The Night Circus- the setting is fabulous, but the story isn't all that. And yet, I still think there might be something in Lisey's Story, that I'll come back to it in a few years and find it better than I did the first time round, in a way I don't think is true for, say, The Tommyknockers or Dreamcatchers, or any of the real stinkers King has written.

Lisey's Story isn't a REAL stinker, is what I'm saying.

Probably my favourite parts of the book involve Lisey as a sister. She really comes alive as a person in her own right when she's interacting with her sisters, and its when the book shows the human reality of family and obligation and of what that sometimes has to mean. It's this kind of shit that makes it pass the Bechdel test (not that that applies to books but whatever) and it's not like that's just thrown in alongside a romantic storyline, basically all the living love in this book is between Lisey and her sisters, even if it doesn't always look the way it's supposed to.

And so. The conclusion. This isn't one of King's books but it's far from my least favourite. I could have done with a real woman's story rather than a pseudo one, but setting that aside, it is still a pretty good story. I don't know if I've mentioned this before, but I've really been enjoying all the King books since the last Dark Tower one being new to me, because I feel genuinely scared by them- another reason I finished this so slowly is because I couldn't bear to still be reading it when it was very dark outside. The King pilgrimage continues, my devotion is still unwavering.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

RIP XI Book IV: The Collector by John Fowles

I'm having a bit of a weird RIP this year, because none of the books I've been reading have been purely based in horror. They're all a little bit chilling and undoubtedly horrible, but apart from The Silence of the Lambs, none of them have really made me jump in the way I associate scary things to do. But that is not to say that they haven't scared me.

The Collector is maybe the best example of this so far. The book starts off fairly innocently with the first person narration of a man who would probably describe himself as 'a fairly normal bloke'. His lack of normalcy is probably best defined by one of the three following features: 1. He has no friends, 2. He collects butterflies, or 3. He has just won the pools, and it is the last of these three that really puts the whole story into motion. He describes, as if it's the most normal thing in the world, his interest in, and then obsession with, AND THEN kidnapping of art student Miranda. 

It's really that fact that he thinks that everything he's doing is completely normal that makes the story so scary. Given access into his mind, we understand that he truly believes he's creating a wonderful home for Miranda, buying her everything she could possibly want or need, and just omitting from his mind that he's creating an terrifying underground dungeon for a woman who he kidnaps and takes away from her friends and family and everything she's ever known. It's as if, winning this money and being able to buy everything he wants makes him feel entitled to having literally everything, even people, who, as the book makes pretty clear, he believes he can collect as easily and painlessly as he does butterflies.

Since his narration is so entitled and calm, you almost get lulled into believing with him that what he's doing is sort of ok. He isn't violent OR sexually violent (or sexual. At all) with Miranda, and because we're in his head, his thoughts that she should maybe just be nice to him because he isn't really doing anything that bad sort of start to permeate your own thinking until you start to wonder whether you're an ok person or not because Jesus, you really can't be. BUT THEN (and I guess this is sort of a spoiler, although it's a large chunk of the book so I wonder how much it really matters but if you're like 'omg tell me nothing about the book ever' then look away, yeah) the story does a 180 and you get Miranda's side of the story and it jolts you back into the mindset of a normal human being, making all of this guy's actions look messed up and horrible, as they always should have been.

Miranda's narrative is really the best of this book, at least for me, because it draws into focus how we should have been seeing her kidnapper all along, and also how she manages to cope with life in his dungeon. The contrast between them is dazzling, and made most clear when you realise that Miranda lives, at least while under his control, mostly within her mind and memories and ideas, which only helps to make it seem clearer that he has almost none of these, or at least none that we are privy too. It is through Miranda that Fowles is able to talk about class and gender and art and it all seems perfectly reasonable that she is thinking about this stuff because, you know, what else is there to do down there? Exactly.

I obviously can't really talk about the ending (my disdain for spoilers doesn't go quite that far) but let's just say it's good. It's really good. It's so good, even if I forget all the rest of the book, it's definitely the part I'll remember. It's pretty much the only way the book could have ended, and is just so fitting and oh my god I have to stop because I'm going to blurt out what it is because I really just want to discuss it and ok no, I can't do that. No.

But did I mention that it's really good? Cause it is.

So, in the end, is this book. Chilling in how normally everything is treated, and then interesting, and just lots of good things to recommend it to prospective readers. It's definitely scary enough for a RIP read, but it's also interesting enough for a read at just about any other time of year too. Definitely worth your time and attention, if you care to give them to it.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Things I Read in September

Is it just me or did September feel really long? I think something screwy happened with time because my sister's 30th birthday was at the start of the month and seemed to take up SO MANY days, but by the time it was over it was only the 7th but it felt like the month was basically over. Am I complaining about September? Not reeeeally, but it felt like a lot of days for nothing that remarkable to happen. I am ready for October to be happening as it is, is what I'm saying.

September was, however, a really good month for reading! I managed to get through 8 books which is ridiculous, AND even more ridiculously, I have reviewed 5 of them and actually plan to actually review the other 3 as well. I KNOW. Who even am I? 

But wait, doesn't that make this post kind of redundant, I hear you cry? Well, maybe. But these are easy and pleasant to do, and it's nice to reflect on my months reading with a little trip through the books, so that's exactly what I'm doing. 

Spinster by Kate Bolick
The more I think about this book, the more I'm not sure how much I liked it at all. The stuff about the lives of five famous spinsters was pretty great, the autobiographical stuff I could have done without. Review is here, for what its worth.

French Milk by Lucy Knisley
I nearly made my way through this twice before the month was out because I just. Love. It. So. Damn. Much! Pretty and interesting and you really can't do better than many many descriptions of food, can you? Or, at least, I can't. Review is here.

The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
This is definitely one of the books I've had on my shelves the longest, and it was absolutely definitely worth the wait. If some of the thrills were removed by having seen the film last year, then that was made up for by a wonderful lady friendship that the film omits, and by basically being able to carry the film around in my pocket and watch (read) it on the bus. Yes, I understand that there are magical devices that let you actually watch films on the go now, but shush up and recognise what I'm trying to say. This book is well worth the read, even if you know what's coming. Review is here, along with disturbing(ly attractive) Anthony Hopkins gifs.

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
Slightly chilling, mostly upsetting, pretty great. If I maybe didn't enjoy Rebecca as much as on previous readings, that's only an indication of just how much I loved it beforehand. It's still pretty good reading, and I think DEFINITELY worth having a first read of because of reasons *all the significant eye movements*. Review is here.

Blindness by Jose Saramago
Epic and disgusting and heartbreaking and absolutely not easy reading. I'm read Blindness because I wanted a good old fashioned dystopia, and whilst it kind of is one of those, it also doesn't have anything resembling any kind of society because take away everyone's sight and what do we have left? If nothing else, this book made me think about all the things we take for granted because we can see, and has done nothing to quell a very specific fear I have about going blind someday because omg all my favourite activities involve seeing in some way. But anyway. Longer and slightly less panicking review here.

The Collector by John Fowles
And on to the books I haven't reviewed yet! The Collector was very odd, and not at all the book I was expecting, but in the end it was exactly the book I wanted to read. I wasn't too sure at the beginning (which is made clearer by the fact that I read the first twenty or so pages years ago and then stopped) but the middle and end more than make up for it. I'm still a little bit haunted by it.

Limey's Story by Stephen King
I just realised that I started reading Lisey's Story in July, which should give you some indication of how I felt about it. I had a really hard time starting it off, and had a hard time liking Lisey (which is annoying, since it's her story [kind of]) but in the end, I feel confident in saying, I kind of pretty much liked it quite a bit. But more on that later, just give me time, yeah?

Blaze by Stephen King (ish)
And, of course, after like 3 months of Lisey's Story, I finished Blaze in less than a week. It's a previously unpublished Bachman book that King would have published before he was outed as Bachman but didn't get the chance to. And it kind of shows, in that it's a little rusty, but it's a pretty endearing and upsetting book, and for a King scholar like me (ho ho) it was fascinating to read an early work at this stage and actually be able to firstly see how much his writing has improved, but also to see hallmarks of his later (scarier) work in this earlier (only scary in a social issues way) novel. A good time was had by all, let us say.

And that was my September! I started the month of really strongly and just lost it a bit in the last week of the month because I started Japanese lessons (!) and have to dedicate some time to, you know, actual learning now rather than just reading fun books for fun. Sigh. As I have already mentioned, I will be having an operation in October, so in allllll those lovely days off work (apart from the writhing in pain and whatnot) I suspect I shall be mostly reading and watching all the things on Netflix I should have watched already (Stranger Things and Luke Cage, I am coming for you!)

What have you read this month? Anything I should know about?

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

RIP XI Book III: Blindness by Jose Saramago

Blindness is not an easy book to read. It was my bus and work book for about a week (because, at a slender 300 pages, it's perfect for carrying around) and I started realising that I was having a hard time with it when I neither wanted to go for lunch nor home because oh my god the trauma. That isn't to say it's a bad book, nor a book you shouldn't read, but simply one that was essentially very emotionally stressful for me.

It's a book that touches a lot of my reading hotspots, like dystopian fiction and unrelenting and crushing misery (gotta have some of that crushing misery to get you through the day!), and the story starts off basic and becomes a shitstorm (almost literally) of horror and fucked-upness. The story begins with a man going blind whist driving, experiencing a tiny tragedy that pretty rapidly becomes a national one. The blind and those suspected of being infected with blindness are taken to a defunct asylum to try and prevent its spread, and the story is told through the eyes of a doctor's wife, apparently the only woman in the entire (unnamed) country who is unaffected by the condition. And it. Is. Awful.

What Blindness really seems to be about is showing how fragile the bonds that hold society together really are, and how easily things could become completely and utterly shattered, to the point that life doesn't look anything like it used to before. I have a personal fear of blindness anyway, probably because my eyesight is already so shocking, but I've never really considered the implications of an entirely blind population before. If you think about it, the entire world is built with the idea that everyone living in it is able to see (and for those who can't, the seeing either help them, or they develop ways of 'seeing' with their other senses), and once that sense, probably the most vital one we have, is gone, all that's left is chaos. Saramago explores this really widely in this book, and manages to present the bleakest possible vision of the kind of world that would exist if everyone was blind.

Unfortunately for the reader, we do get to see it, through the eyes of the doctors wife. She has the hardest time in this book, because she has to see the kind of things that the blind cannot help, but also do not have to look at at the end of it. The rivers of excrement both in the asylum wards and in the streets, the human corpses laying unburied because no one can see to bury them, the millions of other tiny and massive indignities that the blind still have to experience, but at the very least don't have to see. It's difficult to read this book and not feel generally bad about everything that's happening in it, but it's also difficult to know who to feel worse for- the blind, or the woman who has to see it all, and can't really do anything about it because she's just one woman.

To get any more into plot detail would be kind of naughty because you need some kind of surprises in your life when you get up the courage to tackle this book (which, weirdly, I do think you should do in spite of my, well, horror), but let's just say that there are parts of it which made me feel physically ill, mostly dealing with the idea that, in all situations there will always be people who take advantage in whatever way they can, and in all situations it's the women who get fucked. Saramago is also a huge fan of giant sentences and paragraphs, which made it really difficult to know where it was safe to finish reading and get back to my real life sometimes, and I'd also convinced myself that it was written in maybe the 1940s or earlier but actually it was published in 1995. I can't tell if this is a complaint or not, but it annoyed me that it was such a recent book and terms like 'bloke' and stuff were used, but I think maybe that has more to do with the translation than anything else. I guess that helps to make it kind of timeless, but for me it actually set it more in the past than anything else.

As far as dystopian/disaster fiction goes, Blindness is very much a highbrow version of, say, The Stand, which is to say that it feels more realistic than something written by, say, Stephen King, which makes it so much scarier than a lot of books along the same lines would be. I'm not sorry I read it but I will be happy going through my whole life never reading it again, trying not to fear a worldwide epidemic of blindness that is now clearly the thing I'm going to be scared of for the rest of my life. If you had any doubts whether this book was suitable for RIP, then that enduring fear should be enough to clear things up for you. Read at your peril.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

RIP XI Book II: Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

I always think really fondly of Rebecca for a couple of reasons. The first line- "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again"- is very beautiful and also made a big deal of in Bag of Bones which is one of my favourite Stephen Kings, so I think of it as a very lyrical and beautiful book, more thoughts on which later. The other reason is THIS Mitchell and Webb sketch:

Because Frances and I basically wet ourselves when we saw it, and because David Mitchell is the absolute and ultimate Mrs Danvers. He just is.

This was, I believe, my third reading of Rebecca, and served to show me that I basically didn't remember anything about the plot beyond about the halfway point of the book, and that *whispers* it maybe isn't as well written as I thought it was. Don't get me wrong- I still enjoyed reading it, and that lyricism and beauty is still definitely present in the book (sooooo many gorgeous nature descriptions) it's just mainly there in the first half. Reading it this time, I noticed just how oddly paced it is- the first half is very slow and winding and takes a while to get anywhere, while the second half is all drama and speed and getting to a conclusion as quickly as possible. If you know the story, you'll know that this is fitting to what actually happens, but the effect this had on me was that I felt like I was almost reading two different books, where it seems impossible that the first half leads to the second, and where the styles of both are almost completely different.

Speaking of the story- I had forgotten quite a lot about the second half of the book, maybe because all of the character development and lush descriptions of the first half seem wildly superior to the cheap thrills of the second (for me, anyway, you might be into reading for the cheap thrills and that is fine with me). I remembered its basic point, but there were journeys and characters and plot twists that I remembered nothing about, just a vague feeling of unease about what was to come. It seems strange to me, then, that even though I think of Rebecca as a thriller, and even read it for RIP basically because of its thriller status, it's those parts of the book that mean the least to me.

For me, the book is all about the second Mrs De Winter. She's from such anonymous upbringing that she doesn't even get a first name, but nonetheless she's the character we see everything through, and that's important because, viewed through any other character's eyes, she would seem like such a drip. Even from the inside of her own head, she is an incredibly frustrating character at times, so passive and quiet that you want to shake her and have her TAKE COMMAND FOR ONCE FFS,  but then she'll come up with something like this:
"I wondered why it was that places are so much lovelier when one is alone... How lovely it was to be alone again. No, I did not mean that. It was disloyal, wicked, it was not what I meant. Maxim was my life and my world."
These are the second Mrs De Winter's thoughts after her husband goes away and leaves her with Manderley herself for a couple of days, and it's the perfect tension between being thrilled that you're alone because you can fully be yourself, and being concerned that such thoughts constitute a kind of disloyalty to other people. I can relate, but maybe not as much as I used to. Reading Rebecca this time, I grew increasingly frustrated with Mrs De Winter's passivity and shyness, whereas I'm sure that the time before, I was pretty much like 'yep girl, I feel ya.' Just another way that we change and the books we read change with us, because I can't really relate to that kind of passivity anymore (translation: I now have kind of a big mouth).

I don't regret rereading Rebecca and I will probably do it again at some point because damn, Daphne knows how to get you to turn pages. I will probably always prefer the parts that are less thriller-y, more beautiful, and I'm comfortable with that, but you might have a completely different reading experience than me, that's kind of how reading works. Either way, I fully recommend it as a read, and even though it won't scare the pants off you, I think you'll have a good time reading it and really what more can you ask for? Exactly.