Wednesday, 3 April 2013

'The Woman In Black' by Susan Hill

My advice before I start: DO NOT WATCH THE FILM - it is TERRIFYING.  I mean actually hiding under the cushion, hands over your eyes, jump out of your seat scary.  So yes, this is my new area of interest but nobody said I had to be brave about it!

The Woman in Black is a book which is accused by some as being merely the skeleton (scuse la pun!)  of a gothic novel. I am loathe to agree with this yet cannot disagree wholeheartedly.  As I was reading the book, I was taken in by the pathetic fallacy of the fog of London in the initial chapters, captivated by the swirling sea fret which capture Arthur Kipps (our 'hero') at Eel Marsh House etc, etc.  That was before I realised a few discrepancies:

  1. No real setting (time) - although there are hints of the early 1900s, there are flaws when it comes to electricity (how can it reach Eel Marsh House when it is so isolated?), telephones, cars. 
  2. Unrealistic in parts - tell me this: You are sent to work in an empty, decrepit, old house where on the first night of sleeping there, you are woken up by a paranormal experience, terrified out of your wits, your dog is hiding scared and you sit up most of the night terrified.  What would you do? NOT GO BACK.  For a character so fragile, Arthur's resolution to ignore any further paranormal events rather than be scared is just ridiculous. Seriously. 
  3. Predictable. - Even if you had not read a book of this genre before, you would be able to hazard a pretty accurate guess at what would happen next.  
Having said all of this, it is an easy read which is short but could be condensed into a short story as opposed to a novella. So about the story (which is different from the film!):

A young solicitor is set the task of going through a deceased client's belongings making sure that all of her paperwork is in order.  He travels from London to the village of Crythin Gifford, the village where the old lady's house is closest to.  Upon arrival, he finds that nobody in the village is willing to discuss anything to do with the old lady or her house and when they find out his intention to visit the house, avoid Arthur wherever possible.  The only exception to this is Sam Daly who tries to advise Arthur against going to the house but remains friends with him anyway.   I will keep this short and sweet: Arthur sees a woman dressed in black (shock!) around the house, rocking chairs, wind etc, etc. Later he finds letters from the old lady who lived in the house to another woman.  These letters reveal that the old lady of the house (Mrs Drablow) had adopted this other woman's son and the other woman was not happy about it, she wanted her son back and kept trying to steal him.  The young boy was lost to the marshes whilst travelling home along the causeway which lead to Eel Marsh House and the woman was bitter and twisted and never ever got over it.  Arthur later finds out that the people in the village are so scared of the house because anytime someone sees this woman in black, a child tragically dies. 

As always, I will not spoil the end of the book for anyone, you will have to read it to find out.  Overall, it is an OK book, it did creep me out in parts.  I can see why it would appeal to a non-experienced reader of gothic fiction but it didn't cut the mustard for me.

Monday, 1 April 2013

'I Am Legend' - Richard Matheson

So far, all of the books that I have blogged about have been haunted (excuse the pun!) by ghosts. . .I Am Legend is a whole different part to the Modern Gothic genre altogether.  A lot of people will have seen the film but not really thought a lot about where it came from originally - Richard Matheson's book.  The book itself has so far been the low point of my journey into the genre - I couldn't get into it and to be honest I found it quite dry. 

Set in a futuristic time when all but one person has been turned into a vampire by an airborne virus like bug, Robert Neville is the hero who must survive amongst the monsters that his friends and neighbours have become.  The story follows his external battle to protect himself and try to find other survivors whilst researching the cause and cure of the virus.  At the same time, the reader is shown Neville's internal battle against depression and alcoholism.

We see Robert Neville killing the vampires around him and feel the more touching side to his relationship with his now deceased wife, Virginia.  Both Virginia and his daughter were overcome by the virus in the early days with most of his neighbours which left Neville with no hope and no family to speak of.  Whilst out killing vampires, Neville meets a young women who has apparently not been infected and he befriends her, takes her to his house and looks after her. 

Although there are many signs that this new girl is infected, Neville does not find out for sure that she is until he wakes up the next morning to find a note from her confessing all.  The vampires have started up a new society and their aim is to kill Robert - they have come to hate him as much as he hates them.

 Without wanting to sound at all sexist, this book does seem more aimed at men than women.  I can't exactly put my finger on why I think this but I can certainly say it has been my least favourite of the books I have read so far.

I did buy the film so maybe I will watch it some day but not until I have forgotten how much I really didn't enjoy the book.


Shirley Jackson - 'The Haunting of Hill House'

So as I said yesterday, I want this to follow my journey through Modern Gothic Literature and my next step from 'Rosemary's Baby' was onwards (and upwards!) to Shirley Jackson. 

Imagine a house where nobody will go.  A house that is built in the middle of nowhere.  A house where every angle is just slightly off. . .immediately you get the typical "Haunted House" image.  That image comes from Shirley Jackson and her mysterious "Hill House".

A doctor, 2 young women with previous psychic links and a young heir to the house: Dr Montague, Eleanor, Theodora and Luke.  4 unlikely friends who experience their journey through Hill House together.  The house itself seems to be a character itself, it is not merely a building but one filled with residual energies from the horrific past which it has experienced from the day it was built. Deaths, suicides and old family feud's riddle the history of the house and may attribute to the malignant force that it has become.  The foursome experience a range of emotions as the house slowly infiltrates the psyches' of the weakest - Eleanor but all are affected in some way or the other.

I can't say too much without revealing all but I will say this:

'Whatever walks there, walks alone' (Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House)

My advice to anyone who is reading The Haunting of Hill House - don't read it in any of the following situations:
  • Alone
  • At night
  • In a dark space
  • In an old (could be haunted) house
  • If at any point you wish to get a good night's sleep over the following two weeks.  
This haunted space takes over each of the characters in their own individual ways and in a lot of parts, the story seems a little confused.

The tropes of the Gothic are very obvious to anybody who reads Hill House. These include:
  • Broken families 
  • Isolation
  • An uncertainty over reality
  • Frame narrative (Hugh Crain's book)
  • Dreaming and nightmares 
  • Setting
  • A damsel in distress.
These are all factors no matter how big or small to look out for throughout the story.  I have to say, Shirley Jackson has made quite an impression on me so far! Look out for further posts about her stories.  I found that her uncanny style of making me feel totally uneasy even when nothing was really happening particularly interesting.  She is after all, the creator of the original Haunted House

Whether or not I go on to watch the movie adaptation of this is a completely different ball game altogether. . .I am curious though!!

I can't emphasise enough how important it is to read Shirley Jackson as a starting point to Modern Gothic literature. . .let me know how it goes.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Ira Levin's 'Rosemary's Baby'

So as I mentioned in my introduction, the first Modern Gothic text that I read was Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin.  I had just been set my course texts lists and went over to the shop on campus to buy a few of the (less expensive) books on my lists.  Now they say not to judge a book by it's cover but the bright red, black and white cover was the most noticeable book on that book shelf so obviously, I picked that one up first.  I sauntered (procrastination as you will find is my forte) back to my dinghy room at halls of residence where a cup of hot chocolate and an unwritten essay awaited. 

The obvious (academic) choice of course would be to sit and write the essay due for my current module rather than getting ahead with my reading for the next semester however, there comes a time (usually when an essay is due) that a student must do what we do best. . .procrastinate (incidentally, I am currently partaking in this hobby as I have an (unwritten) essay (or 3) due very soon).  I lay propped up with pillows, hot chocolate precariously balanced on my swivel chair beside the bed and began to read. 

From the moment I opened this book, I felt a horrid unease - you know that feeling you get when you can't quite put your finger on what is wrong - it was enthralling though, a kind of buzz that I couldn't explain.  The perfect urban lives of the inhabitants of a huge apartment block with the undercurrent of evil.  Early on, the references to the building's history are downright creepy - the Trench sisters who ate children, mysterious deaths, suicides, witchcraft to name but a few! As if the memories of these incidents were not bad enough, we are then subjected to the suicide of Rosemary's only friend so far - and this is all in the short time since Rosemary and hubby Guy moved in! Loves young dream, or not quite.  Rosemary is a bit of a dreamer from the off - you know the type who wants her house to look like the pictures in a magazine. Guy is a low-rate actor with nothing famous to put his name to. Clearly Guy wears the trousers and Rosemary teeters after him and bows to his every fancy. 

There is a simplicity to Minnie (Mouse) and Roman Castavet, their new neighbours.  The pair seem to be a nice old couple who are interfering busy bodies with the best of intentions.  Invites to dinner, gossip, that sort of thing.  It is they who we feel sorry for when the young girl that they have taken in off of the streets commits suicide.  However, Rosemary (as slow on the uptake as she is in the rest of the novel) can't really be bothered with them - she wants her life with Guy to get on track without people interfering.  Guy however, loves a cheeky rendez vous with the Castavets every other night or so.  Mysteriously, he suddenly starts getting big acting jobs thrown towards him and things are going well. 

It is pretty obvious that Rosemary wants to start a family from the beginning - she plans out where the nursery will go etc from the moment they see the flat.  Guy on the other hand is less than keen until all of a sudden he decides that it's a fabulous idea and they should start trying straight away (hmmmm. . .).  Unfortunately, he takes this to a new level by drugging Rosemary (with some help from Minnie and Roman) and effectively rapes her whilst she is in a strange, dreamlike state.  All of this is down played and he manipulates Rosemary into believing that he thought that she would want him to start trying for a baby right away (even if she was unconscious!).  All of this is brushed aside by Rosemary when she discovers that she is pregnant and we all go back to happy families again. 

Throughout her pregnancy, Minnie tells Rosemary to drink a concoction of hers in order to get rid of the terrible pains that she is suffering and so (even though it's not actually helping) Rosemary drinks up (after a few pages of her naivety you just want to shake Rosemary and tell her to get a bloody grip!).  It is not until it is far too late that Rosemary discovers the conspiracy against her and what has really been going on all along.  Of course she ignored all of the signs, warnings and mysterious deaths of those around her.  Even her friend (really like a father), Mitch, tries to warn her but alas she pays no attention.

I won't spoil the end of the book but needless to say that it involves Rosemary's baby.

Things to look out for:
Symbolism of dreams and the American Dream
Hyper-reality (see Baudrillard on Simulacra and Simulation and compare to magazines and the press)
The traditional Gothic building (based on the Dakota building in New York)

Let me know what you think of it :)

Me, Myself and I. . .

This is a new venture for me and one which I hope to dedicate more time to than I have in previous attempts at blogging. Somehow life gets in the way though - wouldn't you agree? 

So I am currently in my 3rd year of an English and Teaching joint honours degree and have a new found fascination with Modern Gothic Literature. A venture introduced to me by two members of staff at my university who are running a course module on it this semester.  I had never before ventured into the genre of literature known as Gothic, horror or terror until late November 2012 when I first picked up Ira Levin's Rosemary's Baby. From there on in I have been absolutely, irrevocably fascinated by the whole genre.

Since, I have decided that my dissertation topic next year will be on some form of Gothic Literature, I just need to figure out which part!! So anyway, this is going to keep track of my journey through a nail-biting (probably terrifying since I am a total wimp!) genre that I just can't get enough of!!
M x