Saturday, 28 January 2017

Foxlowe - Eleanor Wasserberg

A debut novel can be a joy to behold. I always find myself excited at the prospect. But they are something of a lottery. This debut was a most disturbing read, a kind of domestic dystopia on our doorstep. In some ways the unfolding of the story in all its gothic horror denies you, initially, to actually appreciate the quality of the writing which was atypical of many debut works. It flows economically yet expressively and creates an atmosphere that is unnerving throughout. 

The book explores the concept of the ‘cult’ and it’s effect on the individual. Again because the story itself dominates the consciousness of the reader it is only after reading that one pauses to consider the events in their wider implication. The cult commune of Foxlowe struggle in many ways to reconcile their individual selves alongside their cult selves with tragic consequences. Which causes me to question why people join cults in the first place. A dissatisfaction with their own lives and selves or a wider dissatisfaction with the society they’re living in.

The book is narrated by one of the younger cult members, Green, and so we are seeing the events unfold through her eyes only. I found this occasionally frustrating because I wanted to understand matters from some alternative perspectives. As with many cults a lore of language and tradition bordering on the obsessive rule the lives of the members and woe betide any transgressions especially from the younger members. And as one might expect, or would there even be a story, things do not progress swimmingly. 

The pathos is heightened when you consider the idealism and idyllic intention behind the forming of this cult which might work if all pulled together equally. But personalities intrude and conspire and divide to prove more chaos than idealism. And brainwashing and conditioning do a thorough job.

The final part of the book is quite horrific. Most unsettling. This is a joyless read so if you’re looking for upliftment you probably want to steer clear. But if you don’t mind being challenged emotionally and cerebrally give it a read. 

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward - H P Lovecraft

When a freshly published copy of an H P Lovecraft book plummets on to your door mat you begin to wonder if the great man himself has managed to do what many of his characters do and raise himself from the great beyond!! He sure put the ‘nec’ into ‘romancer’. It wasn’t anything I expected, something of a horror in itself!

I am not a fan of horror fiction per se. I had an adolescent phase of avidly devouring the Pan Book of Horror stories, volumes one to umpteen and gave myself plenty of sleepless nights and I did progress to Edgar Allen Poe briefly. But my dalliance with horror as a genre to pursue more or less ceased there .

But there’s horror and then there’s H.P.Lovecraft which, like Poe, is a kind of literary horror. There are no extensive, gratuitous, gruesome descriptions offered for effect rather than any real story telling intent. Instead there is a slow, insidious, unnerving atmosphere palpably created that is auto suggestive of doom and uncertainty. 

This novella tells the story of Charles Dexter Ward who explores his family tree and becomes quite obsessed with one of his ancestors Joseph Curwen. Curwen’s history is recounted in the book and he appears to be a dark, occultish, alchemist type character surrounded by unsavoury rumours of necromancy. Ward’s obsession leads him down some dark paths indeed as he tries to replicate some of his ancestor’s activities causing his family and himself much distress to say the least. And apparently this book contains the first mention of an entity who appears in the infamous Cthulhu Mythos.

Objectively it ls a competent, solid piece of writing. Given that the original publication date was 1941 there’s a curious timelessness about it. Although there is a sense of the historic novel in terms of social customs and period descriptions. The characters are functional, you never really get to know them, you just get to know what drives them. The plot is the product of an imagination which defies imagination! And its one thing to have an usual imagination but that does not always translate to accessible, readable prose. It does here. It’s a very readable book.

I imagine that devotees of Lovecraft are familiar with this fiction. The intention of republication is, I imagine, to attract a new audience to his work. I suspect there are more volumes to follow if there haven’t been already.  

Although I don’t like horror I didn’t dislike this book. Its intelligently written. And I did find it curiously compelling. In fact I’m really scared that I am going to seek out some more of Mr. Lovecraft’s books!

Monday, 23 January 2017

Sweet Oblivion

As I began this book it was a bit like Fifty Shades of Grey meets Basic Instinct! Not one for the fainthearted I might stress. But without a doubt this is page turning, nail biting stuff. A white knuckle ride of a read.

It’s a debut thriller and is written by a serving police detective which allows it obvious authenticity. And as a bonus this police detective was previously a writer. Now that Ms. Ramsey has once again taken up the pen alongside the hand cuffs it seems like a combination destined for success.

Before I wax too lyrical in my praise there are flaws both on an objective and subjective level. I spotted one or two spelling mistakes and a few grammar anomalies. Hopefully if there are to be some future works the services of an editor would iron these out. I found some of the conversations between the characters contrived and adding little to character development or the plot. In my experience that isn’t uncommon in a first book. Some of the flashback passages in the story I found unpleasant and not something I wanted to read about. I totally appreciate that their inclusion were crucial to the plot in terms of allowing us to see how one of the characters had arrived at their present stage of life. (I’m trying hard not to offer any spoilers here!) But that is just my own antipathy towards certain subjects. I guess the stark nature of the revelations do allow us some compassion.

I did figure out ‘who dun it’ and I’m intrigued because I’m not sure if I was supposed to or not! So I am not automatically congratulating myself. Some writers offer that as a plot device so the reader can enjoy seeing how the police unravel the clues and arrive at the correct conclusion. It certainly didn’t detract from being gripped by the rest of the story. 

It’s as tight a plot as I’ve come across particularly in a police procedural and a debut work as well. And I really felt the first hand experience of the writer elevated the story. It made me wonder whether the genesis of this comes from first hand experience. It certainly made me stop to consider how the police deal with the effects of what they see and experience. I’m not sure I would sleep at night! But maybe Rhiana Ramsey’s motivation for writing this is a form of catharsis to cope. 

So, if you like a fast paced thriller that pulls no punches you won’t like this. You’ll absolutely love it!!