October Scares: Four

Ghost in the Great War, vintage Daily News book from 1927.

I don’t want to alarm anyone, but I just thought you should know that it’s almost – very very nearly, so-close-you-could-touch-it – November.

November.

*flings hands into the air disbelievingly*

I don’t know how it happened either.

On the plus side, almost November equals almost Halloween, which equals time for another spooky read.

I found Ghosts in the Great War at a flea market a few years ago and it was love at first sight of the title. It was published in 1927, and is a collection of stories (or, ahem, “thrilling experiences”) sent in to the Daily News by its readers, detailing strange occurrences during the First World War. I did make the mistake on first reading of a). choosing a dark and stormy night to read it on, and b). being all alone in the house. It spooked me a lot more than it really should have. Rereading it threw the hyperbole and melodrama of some of the tales into much more stark light, although there were certainly a few stories that were quite moving and/or disturbing.

There’s a family woken by the sound of chains hauling across the ceilings and floors of their house on the night the Aboukir sank, taking with it their son-in-law. There’s an injured soldier who follows the vision of his wife to safety. And there are countless “goodbye” visits from the fallen.

It’s not the scariest book in the world, but it’s certainly choc-a-bloc full of ghosts and apparitions and things that go bump in the night.

Perfect for almost-November.

October Scares – Three

Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman.

Halloween and Neil Gaiman. They just go.

Like Mc and Donalds. Like the stars and the moon. Like hot chocolate and cream and marshmallows. Like cats and crazy cat ladies. Like thorns and roses. Like Cadbury’s dairy milk and me (though this is a fraught and abusive relationship, so is perhaps not a great example).

Basically, I couldn’t do a series of posts about scary stories for Halloween and not include something by Neil Gaiman. It just wouldn’t be right. Especially as his short story collection Trigger Warning fits the Halloween book bill pretty darn perfectly.

I love all the worlds and characters he creates in these tales. I love the wackiness, the I-wasn’t-expecting-that-iness, the fantasticalness, the humaness and unhumaness.*

My favourites – picking one was too hard – are Click-Clack the Rattlebag and Feminine Endings. They’re super quick to read and just the right level of creepy (though I still wouldn’t risk reading them just before bed), plus Feminine Endings made me realise that my instinct to run and hide when I see human statues is not completely irrational.

Are you reading anything scary/ghostly/magicky in the run up to Halloween? I’d love to know if you are, and recommendations are always welcome!

*sorry for being so recklessness with my ruining of the Englishness languageness.

October Scares: Two

The Landlady short story by Roald Dahl.

The Landlady by Roald Dahl has haunted me for over half my life.

I first read these thirteen pages of creepiness way back in 2004 for year 8 English, and I still remember the double whammy of horror it hit me with. First wham: crazy taxidermist lady poisons attractive young men so she can keep them forever in her home. Second wham: Roald Dahl writes stuff for grown ups?

I wasn’t sure if between now and year 8 English I’d augmented the gruesomeness of it in my head, distorted it out of all proportion, made it darker, made it grosser, but I can safely say I hadn’t.

The Landlady is still terrfiying.

And the more I think about it, the more I realise most of Roald Dahl’s stories are – at least a little bit.

Third wham.

October Scares: One

SAM_7616

So somehow it’s October.

You probably already knew, but just thought I’d say.

October. Totally here.

Leaves are caramelly yellow, fall to the ground like tree confetti; sunlight vanishes weirdly and disappointingly and offensively early; the air is really rather kinda chilly, surprisingly so; blackberry and apple crumble is back on the menu (pudding is a very very very important part of my life); and my scarves (again, very important) are officially out of hibernation.

And seeing as there’s a lot of Halloween stuff around already too, I figured I’d get into the spirit (no pun intended) of it and do a few posts on scary stories.

I only heard of The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman last week – I read about it on the brilliant book blog The Orangutan Librarian – but there are some stories you know you have to read straight away, and this was one of them. It’s really short (#winning), really ahead of its 1892 time, and really really creepy.

Suffering from “nervous troubles”, the narrator moves into a colonial mansion with her husband and newborn son for the summer. The upstairs room where the narrator spends most of her time is covered in a horrible old wallpaper she is initially repulsed by.

‘The colour is repellant, almost revolting; a smouldering unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight.’

As the long and empty days pass, she becomes more and more obsessed with the paper, convinced there is a woman – maybe even a whole group of women – trapped behind the pattern.

‘Nobody could get through that pattern – it strangles so.’

But, with a little bit of help, the woman does get out.

This is such a clever and compelling piece of writing that packs a lot of spooky punch into its 26 little pages.

And it’s the perfect remedy to the shock of realising it’s officially, definitely-can’t-deny-it, seriously and absolutely October.

Reads – Hydra

I can safely say I have never read a book quite like Hydra by Matt Wesolowski.

Which is a shame, because it’s mesmerisingly and disorientatingly brilliant.

It’s a standalone sequel to Wesolowski’s Six Stories (which I haven’t read – though I definitely want to now), told in the style of six podcasts by investigative journalist Scott King as he tries to unpick the story behind a family massacre. He first interviews the disturbed Arla Macleod, who bludgeoned to death her family one winter night, and then five people connected to Arla.

The identity of the murderer is never ever in doubt, so this isn’t a whodunnit. Well, it’s not quite a whodunnit. The skill of the book lies in the unveiling of increasingly spooky and unsettling events in the build up to the murders, and a growing sense of danger to Scott King as he uncovers new information about Arla’s past.

It’s cleverly and compellingly done.

For anyone thinking of reading it, I have one major piece of advice: don’t read the first podcast at midnight after a long day at work, with rain lashing down outside and ivy tapping on the window pane. That is one sure fire way of leaving you terrified, wide awake, eyes peeping out from the top of the duvet, desperately hoping no-one comes a-knocking at the door.

I did not sleep well.

But I learnt my lesson and made sure I read the rest of the book well before my bedtime.

Hydra is a creepy and addictive story told in a fresh way. It’s absolutely worth a read.

Perhaps, though, in daylight hours only.

Book review of Hydra.
Hydra by Matt Wesolowski

Reads – Let the Right One In

I always seem to end up reading vampire stories in the run up to Christmas.* Last year, it was Dracula (which I ended up hating). The year before, it was The Quick (which I ended up liking). This year it was Let The Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist (which I ended up loving).

For the first fifty pages or so, though, I cannot stress how much I really did not like it. It just felt miserable and horrible and bleak and disturbing and really gross, and the cosy/happy/rainbows-and-unicorns part of my brain couldn’t handle how gloomy it was. But the curious/you-need-to-know-how-all-the-horribleness-turns-out part of my brain manhandled the reins out of the cosy/happy part’s grip, and I’m very grateful it did.

What is written about is horrible. It’s bleak and it’s gruesome. But the story is compelling and the characters (most of them anyway) glimmer with a small sense of hope or goodness that keeps you crossing your fingers that things might turn out better for them. Just don’t get too attached to the hospital janitor, because things really don’t work out too well for him. And to think I was already afraid of lifts. *shudders*

It’s certainly not a festive-cheer-inducing, feel-good book. But it is a very good book.

And it’s already got me wondering which vampire story I should read for Christmas next year. Any recommendations are very welcome!

*I’m not 100% sure why this weird tradition has started – maybe it’s a subconscious rebellion against tinsel and carols? – but it has and I’m more than happy to keep the tradition going.

The Haunting of Hill House

I read The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson over the weekend, and in all honesty I don’t really know how to describe it or what to make of it.

All I can say with certainty is that I haven’t read anything quite like it, or anything quite so disconcerting.

It is really unsettling. It is really strange. I loved it and was kind of repulsed by it.

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson.

Despite having ‘haunting’ in the title, there are no ghosts in the book. Just lots of bumps in the night, doors that won’t stay open (and may or may not lead to the room that you thought was there before), and a lot of unreliable – or maybe it’s reliable, who the hell even knows? – narration.

It’s brilliant. You should read it.

And if you do, can you please let me know and help me understand what just happened…

What I’m Reading – Slade House

‘A stranger greets you by name and invites you inside. At first, you won’t want to leave. Later, you’ll find that you can’t.’

Every 9 years, a mysterious and mind-bending house appears along a dark alleyway – ‘too grand for the shabby neighbourhood, too large for the space it occupies’ – and a victim is lured inside, never to be seen again. In Slade House by David Mitchell we follow a handful of characters as they are led – disorientatingly, bewilderingly, mind-bogglingly – to their deaths.

Slade House by David Mitchell book review.

The book is entertaining if not engrossing, bouncing along from one character’s messy demise to another. The individual stories are claustrophobic and macabre; drawing you in, chewing you up and spitting you out of the other side (much like the house). I enjoyed the little details that intertwined cleverly across each narrative (and if you’ve read The Bone Clocks there are plenty of details weaved in from there too), and the ending is satisfying whilst leaving the potential for more.

I wouldn’t jump up and down and insist people read it, but it is a fun book full of vivid characters and saturated descriptions that kept me wanting to know what was around the corner, through the doorway that surely wasn’t there before, and up the ominous flight of stairs.