Hallowe’en Reads – October Book Haul from MCM Comic Con

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It seems all the good things are just around the corner: hallowe’en is almost upon us as well as the monthly madness of NaNoWriMo. Yesterday I was also lucky enough to have attended the London MCM ComicCon. I came away with a big book haul that is set to enrich my ever-expanding comic book collection, though my bank balance is considerably depleted!

How to describe comic con? A lot of people ask me if it really is an insane geek-out sesh and I have to say, yes, it most definitely is. Everyone is doing their own thing and it’s the only place where no one will ever give you a second glance if you turn up half-naked covered in green paint screaming ‘HULK SMASH!’ in people’s faces. I personally love it for all the bookish goodness I can take away with me (one guy actually had a bubblegum pick suitcase for his haul. That will probably be me next year…) and it’s a wonderful opportunity to meet the creators, illustrators and some big names in the industry.

This year’s attraction for me was no other than Frank Miller and Brian Azzarello from the DC Universe. I got a very special edition of Dark Knight III Master Race signed by him, Azzarello, Kubert and Janson and I managed to meet and talk to Brian Azzarello himself. He signed the black cover copy of Master Race for me (the complete edition). Klaus Janson was also there and I got a cheeky little signature from him too.

Other highlights of the event was an awesome steampunk stand where I met an absolutely adorable steampunk R2D2 and got my picture taken with no other than Ryuk from Deathnote. A girl’s dream come true!

Here are a few of my favourite snaps from the Con:

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HALLOWE’EN READS

  • Batman: The Long Hallowe’en – I’ll be kicking off with this aptly named title! I’m on a bit of a DC bender at the moment, specifically Batman. I’m watching Gotham on Netflix and I would REALLY love it if they could make an origins story for Fish Mooney, even though she was only created for the TV show.
  • Batman: The Dark Knight Master Race – I’d almost forgotten how awesome Mr. B actually is. I am a Marvel girl through and through, yet there’s something about him that’s different. He has no special abilities, yet his loss and subsequent darkness is the only thing that fuels him on his journey to making the world a better place. I identify with that. And no matter what anyone says, he’ll always going to be the good guy. I just wish he found someone to make him happy.

What will you be reading for hallowe’en?

 

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Summer Reads #2 – The Sandman Saga by Neil Gaiman

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the kindly ones

According to Neil Gaiman, if the Moirai (the Three Fates) lived among us, they would be harmless old cat ladies with a penchant for yarn-bombing.

 

This year I managed to complete the Sandman Saga, which was a big one for me, because after reading a lot of Neil Gaiman, I was still undecided on how I felt about him and his writing.

He’s one of these authors who is gifted and has a prolific output of work – the man can turn his hand to anything literary and make a success of it. The Sandman comics have also long been touted as his magnum opus, but I just didn’t have the time to get through it due to work commitments.

But 2018 was the year for it, and I’m sooooo glad I got through this, because it was AMAZING! Neil Gaiman is everything they say he is – an absolute genius.

If like me, you weren’t that particularly impressed with CoralineMirrormask, Stardust or found American Gods to be too steep and cryptic in terms of plot and character development, then The Sandman Saga is definitely for you.

In my humble opinion, this has to be Gaiman’s biggest achievement. In it he display’s his amazing prowess and knowledge of world mythology; creates a world where all gods, of all races across all times exist in the here and now, some as faint echoes and others as living amongst us, unbeknownst to us. In a way, The Sandman is not just about the adventures of Morpheus the Dream-God (one of the Eternals); it is through his interactions with humans, his losses and gains, his victories and calamities that Gaiman puts together a meta-mythology, a place where all gods are a figment of human imagination and exist as long as we exist.

I love this idea – it’s fresh, new, and something that he goes into in great detail in American Gods where he explores how ancient gods gain new grounds through the diasporas of different peoples’ across the ages, and how genocides are enough to wipe out the existence of others. It is powerful in that it puts the existence of faith into the hands of story-telling. The gods travel and stay tethered to survival through our stories. According to Gaiman, without the tradition of oral story-telling, our gods would come to naught. Being a story-teller, I like this idea, a lot!

Thus I found Sandman to be a bibliophile’s delight, because Morpheus, the god of dreams is the ultimate storyteller. He controls the gateway to the subconscious, he is a merciful god to a certain extent, yet when the world of dreams is in flux (as it is when we are first introduced to him in Preludes and Nocturnes issue #1), it causes chaos in the human world.

The saga begins when a group of Occultists (among them, the infamous Aleister Crowley) gather to summon and entrap Death itself. Their little parlour game goes awry and instead of entrapping Death, they manage to snag Death’s twin brother, Dream. Morpheus, therefore begins his 70 year confinement at the hands of these occultists, which results in terrible consequences for people around the world. Some fall asleep never to wake up again, others die stark raving mad because of their inability to sleep, others are subjected to terrible nightmares that are endless. In short, the world is thrown into flux, but the Lord of Dreams finally finds a way to escape his fate as a ‘genie in the lamp’, and must begin a journey across space and time, and between worlds to claim back the power that was seized in his absence.

This is of course, just the beginning of the saga. So much more happens, and I can’t remember a time when I was so engrossed by mythology as I was with this series. It has made my understanding and appreciation of American Gods much more meaningful as I see now what Gaiman was trying to do.

The Sandman was him playing in the sand pit. He stated himself that the series made him grow as a writer as he became bolder with his world-building, and with those amazing connections he makes between character and the series.

My favourite issues comprise of the stand-alone Ramadan, which has a very 1001 nights flavour to it and the masterful way he put together The Kindly Ones, the penultimate volume to the saga, where he explores the potency of the female in mythology. The Kindly Ones as they are referred to, assume the avatar of the mother, the lover, the female scorned. The way he portrays the Three Fates and the alchemy of feminine ‘madness’ was especially breath-taking.

I’ve made up my mind: Neil Gaiman truly is one of a kind.

I can only hope to meet him in person one day and listen to his pearls of wisdom about writing.

NOTE: Special mention to the illustrator David McKean, whose illustrated the front covers for each volume. His style artfully illustrated the nightmare and the dreamscape of Morpheus’ world. But if you look carefully past the disturbing nature of his images, you will see a balance of symbolism, which like a dowling rod divines the very heart of each volume and issue. A wonderful collaboration.

 

 

 

Summer Reading – Book #1: Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively

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moon tiger

4am in Cyprus is the most precious and delicious time of day. Sitting on the verandah of the house I am staying at, I realise that I only have a few hours of this cool breeze before the sun begins its rapid ascent and bakes the island with the ferocity of an open oven. The island (situated as it is) has all the beauty and culture of a typical Mediterranean country, but is only 264 km away from Lebanon. As a result, we get our fair share of the searing middle-eastern heat. Many times have I been caught in Cyprus and witnessed the unbearable stranglehold of the siroc wind that eddies in from the Sahara desert covering the island in a blanket of dirty, red dust. So far however, here in Famagusta, we have been treated to a cool, Eastern Levantine wind. Long may it last…

It has been a week exactly since I arrived, and every year I have the same goal: immerse myself in as many books as possible, not just for reading’s sake but also for writing. Moon Tiger drew my attention partly for its intriguing title and partly because I felt an affinity to the lady on the front cover. Cyprus nights can be as stifling as its days – and it’s not uncommon for its inhabitants to lie dazed and confused on a bed till the early hours of the morning. However it was the green coil burning in the bottom left of the picture that sparked childhood memories of long, mosquito-ridden evenings spent at my grandmothers farmhouse; of nights steeped in the incense of jasmine flowers, the warm exhale of baked earth, the chirrup of cicadas and of the sweet, secret wilderness just outside (and often inside) the green flaking shutters. It was a time before air-conditioning, when fans whirred all night laboriously, teasing our hot skin with intermittent relief and every bedroom had a green coil that burned through the night, warding off the blood-thirsty mosquitoes that would come thirsting for our tender, pale skin.

And that is exactly what a ‘moon tiger’ is, a green circular coil that was a common mosquito repellent in the middle-east. But here, Penelope Lively makes it an unbearable metaphor for the fleeting nature of time, of love lost, of yearning, of desire and life itself.

Claudia Hampton, the protagonist of this slim novel lies in a hospital bed, dying from cancer. She is a historian who has had a prolific career, and is determined to end her life writing decides, “I am writing a history of the world… And in the process, my own”. Anthony Thwaite who wrote the introduction to my edition underlines the starkness and the arrogance of this statement. It is a ‘hodri-meydan’ as we call it in Turkish, which translates to throwing one’s hat into the ring and challenging one’s adversary. In this case, Claudia’s arrogance is aimed at death itself which threatens to erase her from the face of the earth without a trace, with nothing to account for. For a historian, it was her life’s work to painstakingly unearth and record the smallest aspect of human life. However, as Claudia’s life burns away, just like a moon tiger, she begins her triumphant chess-game against her adversary in the most marvellous of ways: by literally collapsing time itself.

Lively manages to embed Claudia’s personal history in the prehistoric era, in the catacombs of Egypt; from the primordial mud that we crawled out of, to the glittering cosmos.

A history of the world. To round things off. I may as well – no more knit-picking stuff about Napoleon, Tito, the battle of Edgehill, Hernando Cortez… The works, this time. The whole triumphant murderous unstoppable chute – from the mud to the stars, universal and particular, your story and mine.

Let me tell you something: she manages it. Beautifully. The book has its moments where you stop, draw a breath of disbelief at the prose, the geometry of ideas, the brush-stroke of imagery and it’s not fair I tell you. It’s not fair. In a little over 200 pages Lively has created a masterpiece that delivers a bitch-slap to Michael Ondjaate’s The English Patient. Here is also a love story set in the middle-east, yet what I loved about it was that it was a distinctly female voice that truly plucked at my heart-strings. Claudia Hampton is a woman I yearn to be: a modern warrior, an Artemis, a Diana who crests the way forward rather than lurks in the shadows of her male counterparts.

She has the temerity to marry her own existence to that of the pharoahs, Prometheus and cosmic chaos itself – she was present, or rather they were present, in her time. She declares that they have lived side by side, breathed the same air, touched each other across time itself. Hell, she even does away with time itself, collapsing it like a toy concertina, proving that the concept of linear chronology is a mental trap, an error of perception. All eras, according to her decaying brain, can be lived in tandem, all at once. The neolithic exists in 2018. All we have to do is go to the beach, pick up a rock and there an ammonite winks at us from across the ages.

In short, this novel has taught me that yes, life is fleeting, yet death never really touches us. We just need to change our concept of what ‘existence’ means. And Claudia Hampton, probably my favourite female heroine of all time, does that exquisitely with lilting prose steeped with all the wisdom and knowledge of a time-keeper. As Ray Bradbury once wrote, women are ‘wonderful clocks’… which is probably why Penelope Lively was able to create a character like Claudia Hampton, who sees the world not in the masculine, linear (like old father time), but rather in the feminine plural.

The sun has come to rest on the nape of my neck now, forcing me to move. The dry creak of a lone cicada has struck up… soon a whole chorus of them will join in. I leave you with the words of Ray Bradbury, and the wonderful notion that we are eternal and time runs parallel with everything that has existed or has yet to exist in the world. In this, I whole-heartedly believe.

“Oh, what strange wonderful clocks women are. They nest in Time. They make the flesh that holds fast and binds eternity. They live inside the gift, know power, accept, and need not mention it. Why speak of time when you are Time, and shape the universal moments, as they pass, into warmth and action? How men envy and often hate these warm clocks, these wives, who know they will live forever.” – Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Travels with a bookworm – Weird encounters at the airport…

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Gatwick Airport, inside Gatwick International Airport, London, England, UK. Image shot 2013. Exact date unknown.The summer holidays have come around, and like most teachers I have aimed to get out of the country as soon as humanly possible. It’s been a grueling 10 months of secondary education – stressing over grades, dealing with poor behaviour, becoming a marking machine for the last two terms (firstly with an endless stream of year 11 PPEs followed by end of term Year 10 PPEs and assessments for other groups).

It’s fair to say 2017-18 academic year has been more hellish than normal – but that’s OK, as I’ve put 2’235 miles between me and London and am now happily sweltering in the dry, Mediterranean heat! As always, I aim to over-achieve my pledge of 52 books a year, but must admit that I’m only ahead because I’ve cheated with only reading comic books for the first half of the year! I’m a bit disappointed with myself really…

reading challenge

I can’t read as much as I could or would like to during term time, so the summer holidays for me is perfect for full-on literature immersion. Mind, body and soul I make a commitment to getting through as many titles as possible, making up for the rest of the year when my brain is so tired it can’t even deal with children’s fiction.

We arrived at Gatwick Airport respectably early, did our ‘liquids shop’ as it’s bloody impossible to take any shower gels or shampoos with you (unless you pay an exorbitant amount of money to Easyjet for hold luggage!) Once this was done, I called it ‘my time’. I dumped my stuff with whoever I was travelling with and half-ran, half-skipped to WHSmith’s (or even better) Waterstones.  Here, I allow myself one minute to just wonder-gaze at the spines of  books before I  tally up how many I’m getting – this is 5 weeks after all, a looooong time.

Then comes the choosing of the bloody things, and this time round I really struggled. I bloody hate fresh fiction – and I’m not good with snap decisions either. I usually wait for a siren call, a beckoning from the shelf, but Gate 111 awaits and my group have already started making their way over. I agonise over a plethora of things: ‘Is this intellectual? Will this stretch-and-challenge me? Do these books reflect the reading journey that I am on? Does the subject matter serve a purpose? Is this book too ‘simple’? Is it too ‘new’ and thus the praise for it from the New York Times too misleading? From me to you, never trust the New York Times!

I don’t know whether half of what I buy is spurred on by a sense of self-worth, genuine discernment of literature or pure vanity of ‘looky here at what I’m reading, aren’t I a clever cow!’ – however I walked away with three titles, all of which are female authors. To my horror, I discovered my reading diet had thus far consisted of white male authors, which I seek to rectify this year. I have a colleague to thank for that as he has also embarked on a similar journey.  But eventually I was able to make all three of my personalities happy, by opting for The Secret History by Donna Tartt, recommended to me by a dear colleague, The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell which is fairly new yet has a gothic twist (if the blurb is to be trusted), and the Booker Prize winning Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively, which sates the intellectual in me that craves for ‘literature of meaning’.

books

 

Time was ticking, and I was stuck behind three Italian ladies and a child trying to pay for some silly quitter strips with red buses on them and a couple of metallic pens with gold and silver crowns (c’mon! c’mon!) It didn’t help that the Jamaican lady behind the counter was also serving them begrudgingly – one of her idiosyncrasies of serving being the question: ‘Where are you flying today?’

Now normally there would be a speedy answer, money would change hands and off the customer would go. But there I am behind the Italian ladies who don’t know 5 words of English between them and do not understand what is being demanded of them. The Jamaican lady’s question, which at first appears to be a social filler, actually turned out to be a legitimate question. She genuinely wanted to know where each passenger was going. Absolutely insisted. How bizarre! At first the Italians looked at one another baffled, she demanded a second time to know where they were going, then a third, tone of voice hardening to a point akin to a Home Office interrogation. At this point the child sensed the tension in the air and began squirming. It was jarring – the ladies managed to stammer a response of ‘Italia’, hoping that would save them. However this didn’t quell her thirst for knowledge. The woman went full on MI5. ‘Are you travelling with this child? Is this child your child?’

The women were flustered like chickens who have had their hen-house disturbed. This isn’t customs – why can’t they just pay and walk away with their books? Why was the poor little bambino being pulled into all of this? Did they look like kidnappers?

At this point, I began to get irate as I’m in danger of not making it to the gate if it carries on in this vein – but eventually again the women manage to say the right thing and walk away quickly, glad to be released from the interrogation.

Relief turned to anxiety as now I realised it would be my turn. I hand over the books, quickly whip out the card ready to pay and leave as quickly as possible. But no… she wants to know where I am going too. Shit. I read her face – there is a ‘the shutters are down’ look to it and I realise maybe this idiosyncrasy has deeper roots. She certainly couldn’t read the body language and emotions of the Italian ladies, yet she insisted that her questions be answered, as if they were part of a cycle that helped her to get through one customer after another. A mechanical routine that helped her negotiate unexpected requests. Asperger’s maybe? Play along with it came the voice inside me. Indulge her.

So I went the opposite way – answered all her questions, made light conversation, watched her from behind the counter, and then realised with sadness the look in her eyes as I walked away with my book load. All she probably wants is to go away somewhere too – maybe asking where people are going to is a way of coping with a summer stuck serving customers at Gatwick. At that moment I tried putting myself in her shoes – all those people, jetting off to fabulous places, while you are stuck in an inbetween space, watching the world go by. Working in airports must be hell…

After a fleeting twinge of regret I exited WHSmith with a stoopid grin on my face, again half-skipping, half-running to my other fellow travelers, only to find that the gate closes in 10 minutes.

Shit! I’ve never been this late before – and I vowed I’d never do it again. Getting to Gate 111, as further insult to injury, turned out to be the mother of all journeys. Up and down a flight of stairs, escalators, you name it. I hate you Gatwick! Why can’t you be like Stansted?

Long story short I almost missed my bloody flight for the love of books, a strange Jamaican lady and some flustered Italian tourists. And all I wanted was some reads to tide me over for a couple of weeks till my next book haul…

HoL Book Club | Part 1 – My Musings, Just in time for World Book Day…

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dc815efc411bf5cc1b40d015e1d3b637--house-of-leaves-book-quotes

It is March 1st – which means I get to mark World Book Day from a busy cafe in a shopping mall, after having travelled 40 minutes (there and back) to work only to find out it is a ‘snow day’ and therefore the site is shut.

I am currently drowning the last embers of my rage in my chai latte and top it off with a blueberry muffin, which quite frankly, I think I bloody well deserve after battling with Storm Emma’s offering on my car this morning. But hey-ho, can’t complain. I get to sit across the way from a Scouse handyman who is commiserating about his personal life to his mate and just eavesdrop (because that is what reader/writers do – we are very Parisian in that fashion).

This is the perfect time and place to write another blog post. Go me.

So, WBD is celebrated all day by reading books, talking about books, writing about books, and that is exactly what this is. MZD, the prodigal author of House of Leaves, began his online book club which looks at one section of this massive genre-defying tome at a time, and we all get to basically go nuts over inferring the shit out of it.

My observations so far of the group talk on the House of Leaves FB Book Club Page  is as follows:

  • Every person has a different edition (full colour, black and white mostly) which means people are now sharing pictures of the inner sleeve that others do not have. There is a lot of camaraderie going on! And I have unearthed some pretty neat connections I never had the chance of learning about 10 years ago, because of the limitations on internet chat rooms and forums (remember those? Yeah, still miss ’em).
  • It is all one MASSIVE GEEK PARTY! I mean, there is one lady who literally got paranoid over a splodge of blue ink on the title page (if you know the book, blue is a significant colour. All references to the HOUSE are in blue.) It was reading into stuff, gone mad. I have come to the conclusion that there is such a thing as too much interpretation, and that can ruin a beautiful thing like HoL. Turns out, MZD even gets exasperated at how deeply and seriously some people may lose themselves in HoL.
  • The conversations are attracting not only the academically minded, but also complete newbies who are entering the horrific alchemy of the novel and realising that YES, this book CAN give you nightmares. A word of warning to those beginning it: make sure you read it during the day, not in your house, and you have someone around to have a light-hearted conversation afterwards. DO NOT READ AT NIGHT. You have been warned. I have personally experienced the horrors of that.
  • It can be a bit confusing, but that is the nature of the novel and the way ideas unspool from it. When you have a piece of work that has been constructed like a daisy-chain from other pieces of literature and literature that doesn’t even exist, but is given the illusion it is a credible piece of evidence, then people begin to echo that in their own surmisings. It is completely a meta-experience. We are the book, the book is us. Simple as.

What ‘Genre’ is House of Leaves?

This is my second read through of HoL, which means I’ll be approaching it from a completely different perspective. When I first read it, I didn’t really get what I was experiencing. Yes, it was a very unique experience as the book is laid out differently from other texts. It is a story about a labyrinth, that grows in a house in Ash Tree Lane, and the text is labyrinthine to mimic that.

A labyrinth, as everyone knows, is designed to throw you off, make you lose your bearings, your sense of ‘self’, induce a sense of panic etc until you ‘work’ to find out the exit. This is what I mean by the ‘structure’ of the book mimicking the content of the book:

House_Of_Leaves_Motto_1462

The text will not obey the laws of literature as we know it. Text will flow backwards, go sideways, be cut off, slide down the page, even be ‘caged’ in a box, which here is symbolising how one of the characters feels as he crawls through one of the ever shifting spaces in the labyrinth.

As for what ergodic means:

“The ergodic work of art is one that in a material sense includes the rules for its own use, a work that has certain requirements built in that automatically distinguishes between successful and unsuccessful users.”

It also needs to be something that requires the reader to interact with the text, (which the book club members are doing, they are digging up meanings, joining up the dots, making new connections and using the ‘interface’ that MZD created.) This book does not come with a manual on how to read it – you need to figure out what is needed to crack it:

“In ergodic literature, nontrivial effort is required to allow the reader to traverse the text. If ergodic literature is to make sense as a concept, there must also be nonergodic literature, where the effort to traverse the text is trivial, with no extranoematic responsibilities placed on the reader except (for example) eye movement and the periodic or arbitrary turning of pages.”

So basically moving your eyes from right to left is not going to get you anywhere with HoL.

Apart from this, HoL is grossly intertextual – to the point where we can say that it doesn’t stay anchored to any one ideology, theme or genre. It passes fluently and fluidly from one to the next at will. In fact, you have control over what those connections are. The suggestions are there, only you have to make the links (if you wish).

So, let’s introduce ourselves to the notion of HYPERTEXT:

Hypertext fiction is characterized by networked nodes of text making up a fictional story. There are often several options in each node that directs where the reader can go next. Unlike traditional fiction, the reader is not constrained by reading the fiction from start to end, depending on the choices they make. In this sense, it is similar to an encyclopaedia, with the reader reading a node and then choosing a link to follow.

HoL, despite proclaiming itself to be a ‘novel’ is actually more of a manual of sorts, an academic paper, that gets lost in the throes of its own urban mythology. It desperately tries to anchor itself in reality. We have at least 3 narrators for starters: Zampano (a blind man who to me resembles Jorges Luis Borges more than anything (more on this for next week!), Johnny Truant (a young drug-addled failing tattoo artist who picks up the mantle of Zampano after he dies, whose voice is a footnote in the margins of the book) and Navidson (a man who may or may not have existed, who moved into a haunted house, that grew a labyrinth one day that was physically impossible according to some shaky home videos). In fact, here is one person’s very useful diagram of how many ‘narrative layers’ one experiences when reading this book:

layersin HoL

 

Can you say ‘unreliable narrator’? Um, yep. So paranoia when reading this novel is inevitable. The hypertext aspect of the book comes into play as you go deeper into the story. You will find yourself breaking off, going away and delving into the story of the Minotaur for a few days, coming back, then realising that the page you are reading has a secret code embedded in it. Off you go again, figuring out what it means, you will go back several pages, pontificate on a word, a letter, a line. Repeat ad nauseam.

This aspect of hypertext is experienced more literally with MZD’s Only Revolutions, where you literally flip from the front to the back to the front of the book constantly to experience that same moment in time, from two different perspectives. It is a physical process and creates a feeling of symbiosis between the two lovers who are, interestingly, alive at two different points in history, and are travelling towards each other from opposite ends of the USA. It is the great American road novel, turned ergodic and hypertextualised (apt, since MZD’s fans had a hand in creating the novel itself).

But I digress… (as is natural for a novel like this). Let’s look at those all important words “This is not for you”.

this-is-not-for-you

Why does this greet the reader before the story begins? Some say it is a warning from Johnny Truant, who let’s face it, wishes he never went to Zampano’s apartment that day with his friend Lude. It is reminiscent of Milton’s “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here” which greets those at the entrance to hell. I would like to agree that it is this an nothing more, as the house is a hell to anyone who enters it and especially goes down the 5 1/2 minute hallway to the great unknown.

However others have stated that the work itself consists of personal notes, scribblings, Zampano’s obsessive writings which are reminiscent of diary entries. The man was a graphomanic and died in a place much like this:

graphomania

So maybe we are NOT meant to read his things, because they are a diary of his mad thoughts. The reader is solely himself (ironic, as the man was blind – another link to Borges!)

Others have suggested that since ‘echo’ plays a big part in the core theme of the book, then maybe we should apply to myth directly, in that if this is Echo’s voice, only the last two words would chime back to us ‘for you, for you’. An interesting theory (and one of my favourites!)

Lastly, one member of the book club made a very valuable contribution about how he had once met Danielewski at a signing, and he said the following ‘I wrote this for you so you could swim in it, not for you to drown in it’. Very revealing, as yes, it is for us and for the reader. Nice to know MZD worries about us and our obsession with his creation.

So remember guys – have fun, don’t drown. From one Pisces to another, just swim with the current*.

*Just an observation but it is WBD, 1st March. That means 4 days to go for MZD’s birthday, and 6 days for mine. Check out the publisher of my edition of the book:

doubleday _edit

*sly grin* Okay, I’ll stop now… I’ll stop. Those of you who got it, have got it. Thank you. I’ll just ‘swim’ and try not to drown. 

 

HoL Book Club | Part 1 (Front matter, back cover, dedication, flap copy)

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holbookclub

After a lengthy hiatus, I have decided to make a return to blogging. What pulls me out of my prolonged absence is a cocktail of slightly unpleasant things that life has thrown at me this week. Thursday especially was a pretty nasty bastard, I’ll have you know.

Here are the ingredients, in case you should want to emulate my Poe-esque misery:

  • Add two parts arctic ‘Beast of the East’, by standing out in the freezing cold for 50 minutes. You are not allowed a coat, and should stay there in the whipping rain until your marrow aches with pain, you can’t feel your ears and your nose is dripping like a broken tap.
  • This, along with one parts of fatigue, will ferment to produce influenza-like symptoms quite nicely, with a pinch of voice loss to kick-start the whole thing. Fever, in the form of so many Shelobs will insert their pincer-like legs into your shoulders and neck, and if you are lucky, the small of your spine will also host a little succubus intent of riding the hell out of you indefinitely.
  • By day 3, your voice has completely gone, or it alternates between a foghorn and the squeak of a teenage boy on the cusp of manhood. It is important that you are bedridden and mentally ‘crawling up the walls’ (a la The Yellow Wallpaper). This means you will do ANYTHING to combat the boredom within and without.
  • Day 4 gifts the afflicted with an unbearable itch that pulsates like gamma rays from the INSIDE of ones forehead, just behind the eyes. I call this the ‘Clockwork Orange’ effect. It is okay to want to claw your eyes out, but to no avail. As a bonus, within the ears there is further movement that can only be described as something out of The Wasp Factory. Yes, wasps. Angry ones. In your head. Buzzing. Itching. And no way to itch it…
  • Day 5 and you have to do something or you are going to go fairly insane… you are ill, you are missing World Book Day at school (the only time of year that is worth being a teacher at a school), everything you eat tastes like sawdust (oranges mostly). And if that is not enough, there is the grim approach of your 35th birthday, along with the thought of ‘what am I doing with my life?’ What is a girl to do?

So it is with all moments of productiveness, that are spurred on by desperation I find, that something comes to the rescue: The House of Leaves Book Club!

I thought to myself ‘why not?’ After all, it’s been 11 years since I entered that formidable htnirybal House on Ash Tree Lane, 11 years since I experienced quite literally the most powerful piece of fiction I have ever come across. I liked the fact that MZD planned this so close to his birthday, which is close to mine. I liked that it was a gargantuan project (once you fall into the house, there is no coming back out). In short, it felt like fate.

I’m never on time for book clubs, but this one started yesterday. Those taking part should be reading between the dates of 26th February and 3rd March the following:

  • Front matter, back cover
  • The dedication
  • Flap copy

Now, since most people will have different editions (some coloured, some not) you will have to adjust what you read. Since I’ve gone through this monstrosity before and lived to tell the tale, for me it’ll be like entering the Overlook Hotel after Johnny went mental and the place was abandoned for years.

For those who have never read HoL but heard about it, the experience is a completely unique. There isn’t a novel like it, and I liken it to the mad genius of Brett Easton Ellis’ American Psycho, where the novel has a life, will and consciousness (rather a ‘lack of’ of its own).

Those of you who have ever watched Stranger Things, will appreciate how Danielewski takes and uses the many tropes of horror fiction and makes it a thing entirely its own. Where there is the ‘underverse’ in Stranger Things, there is the also the monstrous labyrinth in the house.

FIRST-TIMERS WARNING: This is no spoiler, but if you decide to do the read-along, then you will inevitably run into the CODES – these are secret messages embedded in the text/ footnotes/ margins etc. I shall be periodically posting my thoughts about these as I come across them. If you do not know what I mean by this, check out the official FB website, where the madness has already begun with people cross-referencing like mad between the pages: House of Leaves Book Club.

There is also the real madness of the ‘coding’ forums, which can still be found here: Mark Danielewski Forums (caution upon entry is advised… it can get rather too much in there with the info. Spoiler alert…)

So, I’m off to read the bits assigned and will come back to address the all important question that MZD will be posing, which is:

“How does “This is not for you” apply to the book, the reader, and Johnny Truant?”

Is anyone game to read along with me and throw some theories out there?

Book Review | The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

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The Ocean at the End of the LaneThe Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have always had a little problem with Neil Gaiman. He’s one of these prolific authors who I really want to like more than I actually do. I think everyone has one author that makes them feel that way at least once in their life. What makes it worse, is that everyone I know adores him. I mean, the man is a living legend with a body of work that boasts of The Sandman and American Gods (which is being turned into an epic series by Amazon Prime!) So as you might expect, I feel a little bit left out at times.

So imagine my delight at picking up The Ocean and the End of the Lane and discovering that I had found the perfect ‘Gaiman’ story. I can wholeheartedly say that this is a tale full of magic and wonderment that captures the essence of childhood – which is no mean feat when you are an adult trying to remember back to the golden age of your life. His storytelling is absolutely effortless here, I couldn’t spot a single snag (and that is not always the case).

The plot explores the dark shadows that stalk the corners of a child’s imagination. Our protagonist is a young boy who in the true nature of gothic fiction, is nameless. The story is told through a series of flashbacks, the beginning roof which is triggered by the aftermath of a funeral, as our unnamed protagonist seeks the comfort of his childhood days. He finds himself in front of the house he was brought up in and the memories begin to flood back, especially when he seeks out a puddle in the road that was called ‘the ocean’ by a distant childhood friend.

The story from here, melts into the past, and we are plunged into the distinctively sensory world of the adolescent. The imagery here is especially impressive, as the sights and sounds of the countryside, the cottages, nature itself are ‘painted’ so that I almost felt like I was there.

Yet everyone knows that the world of a child isn’t wholly safe or innocent – and Gaiman artfully turns the world of our protagonist upside down, shocking the reader with just how dangerous and inappropriate it could get.

Of course, this is a fantasy story – but I think everyone can relate to it, especially if they (like me) had an overactive imagination and could switch from reality to the make-believe world at the blink of an eye. A dandelion could become a wand, a fairy could be hiding behind a fallen rose petal, a tree trunk could have a hidden face in it. Thus Gaiman builds a world where our protagonist shows us how a child met a family of witches, and survived (barely) to tell the tale.

The most admirable thing about this story, is the potential for it to be carried on. I have so many questions about this world of witchcraft and magic, especially the way things work. Just how old are the wise women? What kind of creatures live in the fold between our world and theirs? I just hope there is a follow up to this, because it would make such an awesome series.

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Book Review | The Radium Girls by Kate Moore


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My rating: 5/5 stars

NOTE: This book was sent to me upon request from netgalley.com. The novel will be available to purchase May 1st 2017.

“Ordinary women in 1920s America.

All they wanted was the chance to shine.

Be careful what you wish for.”

The Radium Girls is one of those rare works of non-fiction that reads effortlessly, because besides the artful prose and the meticulously rendered characters, the story itself beggars belief. How could a generation of hopeful, bright-eyed young women be mistreated in such a callous way by their work place? How could a well-known company encourage a young female workforce to ‘lick’ and ‘point’ the ends of paintbrushes that had been dipped into radioactive paint? I certainly didn’t believe this was true – until I researched and realised that yes, life can be stranger than fiction.

The book traces the long-forgotten, landmark case of various female factory workers who had contracted radiation poisoning from painting watch dials. The paint itself (mixed with radium – at the time, deemed a ‘wonder-drug’) seeped into the clothes, hair and very bones of the unsuspecting workers, until they began showing terrifying symptoms of anemia and necrosis.

Kate Moore’s novel is a tribute and an elegy to the working class girls who suffered horrendous agony at the hands of unapologetic capitalist corporations until they found a lawyer who was willing to fight back on their behalf. Moore spends time lovingly immersing us into the naive world of the girls, as they step into the world of work and become painters and artists. The glow of ‘undark’ gives their lives a Hollywood glamour they could only dream of. However the otherworldly light that clung to them like fairy dust is far from magical – unbeknownst to them it was the evil glow of death.

With every rise, there must be a fall. So Moore takes us on the tragic downturn of the girls’ lives, as she begins to paint with painful accuracy the onset of a series of agonising deaths that the mind finds hard to comprehend.

The history of these girls and their suffering resonated deeply with me. It is at once a heartbreaking tragedy and a true life ‘underdog’ story. At parts it evoked memories of Erin Brokovich, and there were moments when I saw it dove-tailing with Per Olov Enquist’s excellent novel ‘The Story of Blanche and Marie’; another incredibly vivid and saddening tale of how radium destroyed of the lives of Marie Curie and Blanche Wittman, her assistant.

When it comes to radium, one cannot help but be fascinated and horrified of it at the same time; especially the relationship has had with women. The Radium Girls is a book that will stay with me for a long time.

 

Top Ten Tuesday – Characters I’d Want on a Deserted Island With Me


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Summer holidays have begun, which means I can get a bit of blogging done! And what better way to start the season than with fantasising about which characters I’d like to be stuck on a desert island with. Here goes:

1. Hobbits – Don’t laugh… they are excellent hunter-gatherers! I won’t ever starve and they are also pretty laid back so no arguments there. Unless it’s about who does the cooking perhaps…

2. Rhett Butler – Tall, dark, handsome and extremely resourceful. Did I mention he’s tenacious too? That there man has got some mad survival skills. And he’s gorgeous to boot!

3. Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights – If I can’t have Rhett, then Heathcliff will do. They are basically cut from the same cloth!

4. Ewoks – They are cute, can live in forests and I kinda have a secret dream off being like Snow White taking care of these little guys…

5. Four from Divergent – again I’m thinking of the deadly combo of survival skills and insanely hunky body. Yep, I intend to make good use of my time on that there island!

6. The Count of Monte Cristo – You can probably see a theme here. No need to justify it apart from the fact that Edmund has a desert island for himself and knows his way around one. Plus I’m a sucker from intelligent gentlemen. It will get boring on that island with just a hot body to look at.

7. Batman – I just think it would be great to get this guy on his own and try to figure him out. The Dark Knight is a bit of a sphinx, and he he can do with some sun to be honest!

8. Solid Snake – I’m breaking into video game characters here because to be honest, one of my biggest dreams is to learn how to shoot and survive commando style. Who better to train me than Snake himself!

9. Miss Havisham – I want to save this character, like truly save her from death. Having her on the island would allow me to do that. Plus, it would lift her out of her depression!

10. Gruffalo – Let the wild rumpus begin!!

That’s my weird list. What is your’s going to be?

2013 in review


The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 70,000 times in 2013. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 3 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.