Rooms of Redemption

Sorry that nothing Valentiney came to mind this year for my Valentine’s week blog post. I have been writing, like I have wanted to be, so the blog posts might not be as seasonal this year. Maybe. I could be a refreshing break from all the chocolate, hearts and flowers!

I love Valentine’s Day, though. It’s fun.

My son’s school told me they are probably doing something Valentine’s Day, but it does not have to be a parent award ceremony for who can make the biggest show of cool Valentines. Ha. I’ll miss those cellophane wrapped frosted heart cookies.

One would think that books called Rooms would have been in the Halloweeny books of October. The first book I read was initially intended for this fate, but it was not a scary book, not in the Halloween-y sense.

But spaces are not just for capturing your soul for all time. In an interesting synchronicity, both of these books are about actually about saving the soul. Yes, these rooms are about redemption.

rooms rubart.jpg

Rooms, James Rubart

So I unintentionally stumbled across Christian fiction, but even though I don’t typically read Christian fiction, this one held me past the time I realized what it was. I also very much enjoyed The Shack, but I have not read it recently enough to include it here.  It was mysterious, it was riveting, a man unmoored and spiritually floundering goes back and forth between being saved and being true to himself and being rich and powerful, all the external trappings of success. It considers what success and happiness are made of, according to some ways of thinking.  My only issue with it was that sometimes the dialogue was a little stilted, but as I am putting myself out there writing my own stuff, I can’t fault someone for that too much. It’s difficult to write compelling and real sounding dialogue. It did not turn me off enough to taint my entire review, like stilted dialogue has done with a few other traditionally published things that I have read.

But something a little more Gothic that I just started reading when I couldn’t read Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (because it is not Whispersync-ed, believe it or not. There is an audio, and there is an ebook, but going between them routinely was not a happy experience. The book is over 700 pages):

rooms Oliver.jpg

Rooms, Lauren Oliver

I bought this on sale after never having heard of it because it had my favorite word! This is Gothic in a sense that secrets unfold all along the way. Vices, ghosts, and half truths until the end. An ex wife and two children come back to manage a haunted house after the death of the man who lived in it, a man whose choices left devastation in his wake. The ex wife is in the throes of drinking, the adult daughter is addicted to meaningless sex, and the teenaged boy wants to die.  Moreover, there are two ghosts in the walls whose stories also unfolds interwoven with the living. It’s a beautiful read if you can get past thinking how sick the alcoholic must feel all the time, but that’s just me. Everyone finds their way closer to being healed in this book. The ghosts are probably the only ones that really get to be whole, but the living progress toward their own wholeness. I like that the movement is toward healing, but everyone does not come out fixed in the end, because that is unrealistic.  People do get fixed, they really do, don’t think this psychologist is chilling out on the internet saying that they do not. But these characters’ pain is so entrenched it will take more than a few days to pry loose and make sense of and move on. There is significant prying loose, but not so much progress as to be unrealistic.

February marches on.

Comments/likes/shares are a great way to show the love.

Advertisements

A Good Place for a Questionable Death

The coldest month of the year is coming to a close and I am enjoying modern day coziness.

I feel more hopeful in February.  Every minute of daylight that we have been gaining since the longest day of the year on December 21 starts to make an appreciable difference in February…so I am actually excited for it.

At the end of December, following reading Ghostland, I became entranced by two more Gothic ghost stories that share a poignant setting:

the haunted hotel.jpg

The Haunted Hotel, Wilkie Collins

I anticipate that I will eventually read most, if not all, Collins works. He is a sensationalist, wrote one of the first modern detective novels, and he loves twists and turns.  This may seem a lofty goal because he was prolific but I anticipate a long life and lots of public domain audiobooks.  Sidebar:  Librivox has upped their game.  Love the app.

the visitant.jpg

The Visitant, Megan Chance

This is my second book of Chance’s.  I read Bone River and loved the twist at the end so I bought this and another book of hers, Inamorata.  Like Collins, she is prolific. Historical mysteries featuring female protagonists who aren’t afraid to buck the establishment: yes please.

Both of these Gothic novels involve impoverished noble families falling into ruin along with their once fancy, crumbling Venice palazzos (rented or owned). Venice is cold and wet, a city of contradictions: Catholic but no stranger to a good bacchanal. I was so intrigued even looked up the why and how of a city emerging from water. Currently threatened by global warming, at risk of being swallowed by the rising sea levels to become a lost city.  It is a setting with enough intrigue to be a character in its own right.  Chance draws upon the details of the beautiful yet cold snow, a local dye factory polluting the water a different color on a daily basis, a combination of beauty with sadness and cold. An ideal atmosphere for a ghost story.

Apparently, if you’re a noble with a death in Venice that looks legit at first glance but really isn’t, you should consider coming back as a ghost to show the living what really happened. Avenge your death in the cold and wet ruins.  Even after they remake the palazzo into a hotel years after, like in Collins’ Haunted Hotel (which incidentally is only haunted to the people who are sympathetic to the dead noble) you need to be sure that anyone who cares about you, or may have led to your untimely demise, is made aware of this fact.

Of course, the authors extend the exposition by exploring the tangled web of relationships involved.  Collins’ Haunted Hotel is a more traditional Gothic novel in that there is a virtuous woman at the helm of the story, leading the story as a paragon of virtue, and of course, she ends up happy and rewarded.  She pines after being dumped and only after the man dies and his death is solved does she move forward to realize her happiness.  Despite my love of gothic novels, I struggle with women only being as good as their virginity in them. Women who are more cunning only win in the short term because virtue is the only great reward in the long run. Chance writes for a more modern audience, and I absolutely appreciate that.  It would be incongruous for her heroines to follow their passions in other realms but be completely indifferent to/appalled by sex. And she is realistic about the fact that throughout time passion has existed independently of marriage and long term promises.  The fact I constantly sweat the fact there was no reliable birth control back then is more my problem than hers.

I can see where this is not one of Collins’ more famous works, as it can be slow in places, and much of the conflict in the beginning happens with a serving woman whose husband mysteriously disappears. The more interesting characters’ actions and the hotel do not feature strongly until the second half of the novel, even though the novels begins with the sinister Countess coming to a doctor to discuss her engagement under questionable circumstances.  The juicy takes some work to get there, but you get to it.  And the opening makes a promise that there will be more juice later on.

Chance has a piece independently of Collins’in that her protagonist has had a career in caring for the mentally ill.  Although she comes to Venice to care for a patient for redemption from a mistake, she is competent and smart and has her own mind. Caring for the mentally ill has its own sordid past and Chance adds to the darkness by talking about how her protagonist had wanted to heal these people and had her own conflicts about its efficacy.  It was a nice way to give the protagonist an identity separately from a breakup/love gone awry, whereas Collins’ protagonist did have a job as a nanny that she loved, but her main torch was maintaining her virtue for a man who never deserved it.

Other Venice stories?  They have to be out there. I wish I could visit before it sinks into the sea. I love old school NYC as a setting too, which this year’s read down will make obvious.

Comments/likes/shares please!!

Halloween Reads: Ghosts

This could almost have counted under houses, but the houses post a few weeks ago were houses that wanted to own the residents inside.  These are houses that have ghosts but do not want the characters to join their ranks.

I feel like the leaves have been changing more slowly this year. I feel like usually they have peaked by the time I am writing this post (Oct 8 if I must be honest) and this year it seems that they are still working up to full glory.

Okay.  Ghosts today.  One book I am talking about today is decidedly Gothic while the other is closer to horror and being scary.

The Gothic read:

miramonts ghost.jpg

 

Miramont’s Ghost, Elizabeth Hall

This story focuses on how Miramont got a ghost in the first place, and not really what she does when she becomes a ghost.  It is based on an unsolved historical mystery, which I think is really cool when someone takes a story and fills in the blanks.  Much like my love Phillippa Gregory.   I guess if someone has become a ghost then she has lost her battle somehow, but she does not go down fighting and I wish she did.  A young beautiful woman who has secluded herself from the world is ensnared by the evil machinations of an older relative, an aunt this time, to protect some family secrets.  I still was not clear really how the protagonist needed to be involved in the secrets the aunt and cousin were guarding.  it was Goth entertaining, and I thought it would be a bit more ghosty but there were some other supernatural elements at play.  It was like something Ann Radcliffe would have cooked up, but her endings are happier. Bonus:  It came with 1.99 audio. Perfect accompaniment to charity knitting.

The scary read:

what the dead want.jpg

What the Dead Want, Norah Olson

This is a YA scary novel.  A fifteen year old girl, Gretchen, is asked by her eccentric aunt to come down and take possession of the family property she has inherited with little other preamble.  It is the summer and Gretchen’s mother has mysteriously disappeared years before. Gretchen she comes up from the city to help her aunt and maybe solve the mysterious disappearance of her mother. The story starts off as eerie but there is the part where it gets pretty real that is scary. I don’t think it is giving too much away to say that the souls are in torment from the memory of the treatment of black people in the Civil War era.  The story talks about white privilege and the freedoms once denied women.  These pieces can be a little heavy handed, but maybe only to an adult who has had coursework and seminars on this topic and don’t need it spelled out the way a typical teenager might.  My privilege when I was fifteen was not really evident to me, or how much I would really enjoy the modern freedoms allowed women until I was an adult and reveling in them.  What? An influential career and my own money? The ability to leave my husband whenever I please? Not that I want to, but it is a wonderful thing to not be trapped.  This one has ghosts and some demon like creatures, just to add to the freaky. Good YA read. And you do find out what the dead want, by the way.

Keep reading the scary! Halloween is only a week away!

Shares/Comments/Likes!!

Halloween Reads: Gothic Romances

I believe I have admitted to my readers that I once loved autumn.  I loved it when the months of snow following did not challenge my ability to see family and friends as much as I wanted to.

But despite my wizened, potential snowbird state, I can enjoy the scary season for all the scary books that it involves and am dedicating these five Sundays in October to scary reads:  Gothic, haunted houses, demons, and the like.

When I did my Basic Gothic Reader post I knew that I would want to follow up with more Goth reading.  Today features two Gothic novels, both mentioning in the subtitles that they are “romances”.  I would agree that one is actually a romantic story while the other is absolutely not.

This is not a romance.  I repeat, this is not a romance:

Product Details

The Monk, Matthew Gregory Lewis

The cover I have here does not have the fateful subtitle of “A Romance” but some editions do. This book is not about love.  It is about lust, rape and meaningless sexual conquest in the main storyline.  The protagonist goes from a pillar of virtue, free even from temptation to vice, into the most base of creatures.  It is a classic Gothic cautionary tale, although the forces of good and evil are usually balanced out just a smidge more than they are in this one, which focuses on evil.  There is another side story that has a little bit more of the good and valiant.  And yes, the good wins in that one.

The Castle of Otranto still predates this 1796 book, and like Castle, The Monk has all the elements of the genre:  the supernatural, prophecies, good and evil, castles, heaps of scandal, wicked actions leading to bad consequences, some demons and the devil, and ghosts.  And, true to the genre, the women in this book have three purposes: to be ornamental, to remain virgins for marriage, and to get bossed around by scheming men.  There is seriously a character in here, who after she is raped, knows that the best way to continue to live her life is hidden away from society so others will not be exposed to her sinful nature.  All marriage prospects are ruined because she was raped.

But maybe in her confining roles a woman can be happy:

a sicilian romance

A Sicilian Romance, Ann Ward Radcliffe

I was not going to leap into another Ann Radcliffe right after The Mysteries of Udolpho, which was good, but had copious irrelevant backstory and was so treacherously long.  I don’t mind a hefty tome but sometimes I struggle when I am wondering where the story is in my twenty first century brain. This one was better because it was a lot shorter.  It was published four years before Mysteries so maybe she was just warming up!

This one is a love story because a pair discover that they are in love and have to dodge obstacles to be united forever in love.  Purely Gothic obstacles, of course: Julia’s scheming father, evil stepmother, a big castle that they believe might be haunted in a neglected and crumbling spot, sinister fiance, packs of raiding banditti, convent drama (it does exist). External, high drama obstacles, stakes heightened because Julia is just a pawn of the men around her and she must get to be with the one who cares about her thoughts and feelings.  Not like, Julia gets accepted to Yale Law but Hippolitus is going to be backpacking through Europe and wants her to take a year off with him to find himself and can’t promise fidelity if he is alone overseas. And of course Radcliffe makes an explicit statement at the end to drive it home that virtue is always rewarded. Ms. Radcliffe is a woman after my own heart, being a woman who wrote to entertain herself.

I do want to do The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne, which I was going to do first but then read A Sicilian Romance  so I could post two Gothic romances together in my five scary themed blog posts for October. I had already read The Monk for a reading challenge category of a book more than a hundred years older than me, and I wanted to count Don Quixote in the longer category.

Stay tuned for a month more of posts about scary reads for the apple picking, bonfiring, hot drinking, hoodie wearing, corn mazing, costume wearing season.

 

Putting on Eyres

My boss is lovely. Usually.  And although he may not agree he is not so much of a man that he would balk at the assignation.

We experienced a rift in our almost eight years of employer and subordinate relationship when he listened to an NPR piece on the movie adaptaion of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and while trying to remember what it was called said, “you know, that famous novel by Jane Eyre.”  He furiously tried to backpedal when he saw my face, from which I ordered a swift correction that it was Jane Austen, as Jane Eyre arguably never existed save for the written word.

Even though she was never real she is very real as one of our classic Gothic and bildungsroman (coming of age, not belonging, questioning conventions) heroines.  I regrettably did not read Jane Eyre until graduate school when over the summer I began to fill in the gaps of my classic literature exposure (because being a doctoral student the other ten months of the year clearly was not enough).  And I nearly abandoned it because it was so depressing, which I think I noted in a my previous post about getting into Gothic lit, save for one of my favorite humans on the planet who promised me that dead halfway through it would pick up. She also convinced me to stay in grad school on a particularly dark day in my life when I was ready to pick up my toys and go home.

Any good story is worth retelling, and for this post I explored three Jane Eyre inspired stories.

reader I married him

Reader, I Married Him, Tracy Chevalier

This is a collection of short stories commissioned by Chevalier with the prompt being the last line of Jane Eyre: Reader, I married him.  And she amasses a good list of names:  Francine Prose, Audrey Niffenegger, Emma Donoghue, and Evie Wyld, just to name a sampling.  (Sadly I never got such an invitation.  She must have had my email address incorrect or something).  Some of these stories had a link to the classic novel more clearly delineated:  Mr. Rochester’s perspective, a modern take on Jane’s relationship with her friend Helen, Grace Poole’s story, Mr. Rochester effectively gaslighting his hapless bride, a wedding of an unlikely pair, some of the stories I struggled to see the connection.  However, despite how far any writer spun from the original idea, these stories are entertaining and wonderfully written.  Unlike a story collection by one author, this offered different themes and characters and tones. I would absolutely recommend it to anyone who claims to be a fan of Jane.

This one came out this spring.  Let’s go back to what I think is the quintessential Jane Eyre other side of the story:

wide sargasso sea

Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys

Who doesn’t really want to understand the perspective of Bertha Rochester and how she came to be spirited from her native tropical island to be locked away in the top of a British manor?  Flavorwire actually turned me on to this prequel to Jane Eyre. We learn that she used to be the beautiful Antoinette, and if you must know, Mr. Rochester is as much of a pawn in the dastardly scheme to unload her in marriage before the fatal truth of a predisposition to illness ignited by a trauma manifested as Antoinette is. She’s an unfortunate impediment to Mr. Rochester’s marital availability, but it is not her fault, and the book brings to light the grief she feels over being taken from her beautiful warm home into a cold and barren one, with little company, floating in and out of lucidity.  Surprisingly, Rochester is also made more appealing, made him a little more worthy of Jane’s ministrations and love (not so self sacrificing as Bronte heroines have had occasion to be) and better explains why he finds our plain Jane so appealing as well.  He has already been singed by the mysterious island flame and is content with a steady, intelligent and kind, if a little self righteous at times governess (although one of the stories in Reader I Married Him will have you believe that Rochester’s love for Jane has lost its luster when finally she returns and assumes the burden of his care, just to make the ending more depressing).  I agree this is a beautiful classic.  I read it in the dead of winter amongst other atmospheric books while crafting and it felt good to be taken from my snowy reality for a time.

Another modern take:

Jane Steele

Jane Steele, Lindsay Faye

I would consider this a spinoff more than a retelling.  Jane has some awareness that she shares similarities to our Gothic heroine, but unlike the first Jane, she is much more apt to color outside the lines.  Her passions urge her to kill, whereas the original Jane would just pack up and disappear.  She is not a serial killer in the traditional, cold blooded and remorseless and senseless killings arising from a neglectful childhood.  Jane’s childhood was neglectful but not in the way that would turn her into a Ted Bundy or Jeffrey Dalmer.  She is searching for redemption for her crimes of passion, not crimes of premeditation and cool calculation.  The love interest, Mr. Thornfield, has his own secrets but is a warmer and more lovable character than the at times icy and enigmatic Mr. Rochester.

I found a new author love of Lindsay Faye.  Her razor sharp and hilarious prose, drew me in and I was outright laughing at some of the things that Jane Steele said and observed in her living on a shoestring world.  Gods of Gotham has made it onto the lengthy wish list because it is old school NYC and I want to see if Faye is just as witty, poignant and appealing as she was in Jane Steele.

Other re-tellings that deserve a read?

Comments/shares/likes are welcome!