Friday, October 24, 2014

The Gothic Imagination - Part Two: Books to be Read on any Chilly October Eve


It's that spooky time of year when our thoughts turn to ghosts and ghoulies and things that go bump in the night. I'm not a real reader of horror (DRACULA being the rare exception), so a few ghoulishly good atmospheric reads are as far as I go. Where I've reviewed the book in the past, I've linked the review - where I haven't, I haven't.

I've recommended DRACULA before but, I'm unrepentant, and will probably recommend it again. I waited years to read this because I thought it would be hokie and scary and full of over-the-top 'ugh!' stuff. Silly me.

This is the perfect horror tale. It is gloomy, eerie, creepy, dark, frightening and yes, over-the-top - but in a good way. My innermost feeling is that having read this one, I probably don't need to read any other vampire or horror book - nothing could top this. And since that coincides with the recognition that I am a reader who does not like to be scared, well, there you have it. This scared me enough for a hundred books.

My review of DRACULA.

Free download of DRACULA at Project Guttenberg.



Another book I keep recommending year in and year out, another book I had put off reading because I thought oh, well, the hero seems inert and the story sounds too soporific, too utterly Victorian. Count Fosco, really, he must be a buffoon - no one's afraid of a buffoon. Well, I was wrong, the book is an atmospheric delight of shivery goodness. Told from the point of view of various different characters with different axes to grind, it all makes for the sort of story you think you've tired of hearing but come to find out, you haven't.

My review of THE WOMAN IN WHITE - Part One. Part Two.



Haven't read this, but was intrigued by the cover art and let's face it, I've heard of this author for years  - who could forget that oddly dramatic name? The synopsis does sound as if this would make for a terrific chilly October read.

I'm not big on the supernatural when it comes to things jumping out of the woodwork and attaching themselves to our psyches but maybe I'm not getting what Le Fanu is all about - the Wikipedia page says this is not a novel of the supernatural. So I'm of two minds about it all. Truth is, I might not read this anytime soon but if you have or you will, I'd appreciate a 'heads-up'.

UNCLE SILAS - the plot.

Free downloads of a bunch of Sheridan Le Fanu stories at Project Guttenberg.



The perfect gothic novel as far as I'm concerned. Also the perfect feminist novel. Jane Eyre is the original romantic heroine with an iron backbone - a woman completely self-aware - a woman with a deeply rooted sense of morality and self-worth. All heroines of all gothic romance novels which came afterwards are based on Jane, pure and simple.

Mr. Rochester, of course,  is the dark and sinister hero upon which all dark and sinister heroes are based from then on as well.

As for why this makes for a great chilly October read, well, there is that mad woman in the attic. And the setting, my friends, the setting.

Project Guttenberg free download of JANE EYRE.



I'll bet every high school girl has read this, but that doesn't cancel its allure. This is classic chilly October reading in my book. Who doesn't know the first lines? "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again..." The perfect opening for the sort of book which can be read in one sitting, especially if it's dark and cold outside and you're tucked under a warm blanket with a cup of tea and a sleepy dog. A little lightning and thunder for sound effects wouldn't hurt.

Our poor unnamed heroine has a lot to contend with: an impulse marriage, an imperiously handsome and secretive hero (who can occasionally be a block-head), a malevolent housekeeper devoted to the memory of a dead first wife, and another large estate with a very nice name.

Every library in the world should have a copy.



Even people who haven't actually read the Conan Doyle story still claim to know it. Those that have seen the various movies based on the book will feel they know it as well. We, of course, being Conan Doyle aficionados, smile indulgently. The written story - which can also be read in one fell swoop on one chilly October eve - is so much better than any of the film versions. Why that should be, I don't know, but in my opinion none of the film versions have ever done real justice to the actual tale.

I've lost count of how many times I've read THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES and each and every time I am drawn in once again by its mysterious spell. It is Victorian England, we're tramping along on the dark and forbidding Yorkshire moors, and the game is afoot. What could be better?

"Mr. Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound."

The audio books I've listened to over the years weave their own kind of spell, I never tire of listening. Lately it is the Simon Vance version from audible - one word: superb.

Free download of THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES from Project Guttenberg.



What was it about Victorian England, do you suppose, that brought out the foulest deeds and the nastiest, vilest villains ever to have slunk down a dark alley - not to mention, the creepiest crimes imaginable? Maybe it was all that pretense of perfection and decorum. At any rate here, the remarkable writer Lynn Shepherd (whose MURDER AT MANSFIELD PARK was/is an instant classic far as I'm concerned) takes several characters from Dickens' BLEAK HOUSE (The Solitary House was the books original title, by the way) and reveals a grim tale of hideous murder and chicanery. Need I add that this is the perfect tale for a chilly October eve?

I haven't listened to the audio of this one because I'm convinced it would be far too unsettling.

Kirkus Review of THE SOLITARY HOUSE.

My review of THE SOLITARY HOUSE.



One of the more perfect Gothic Romances of my youth, the second of Victoria Holt's books and still, I think, one of her very best after MISTRESS OF MELLYN (which I've recommended to you before as perfect October reading).

The Yorkshire Moors, a house named Kirkland Revels, an innocent young bride - sound familiar? Well, these things are a given when approaching a Gothic Romance (it's part of their accepted comfortableness), the rest is up to the writer's imagination and talent and Holt was one of the more talented writers of this sort of thing. The result is a very well conceptualized and intriguing mystery of family secrets, betrayal and death - the stuff that makes the world go round.

KIRKLAND REVELS on goodreads.


THROUGH THE TEMPESTS DARK AND WILD - A Story of Mary Shelley, Creator of Frankenstein by Sharon Darrow, illustrated by Angela Barrett.

Haven't read this yet, but it looks like something I will be adding to my library very soon. A beautifully illustrated account of the two years Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley spent in Scotland when she was a lonely teenager spurned by her stepmother and sent away by her father. Here the book supposes, the beginnings of one of the more famous horror tales ever written, FRANKENSTEIN, may have begun festering in Mary's vivid imagination.

Sharon Darrow writes the fictionalized account. The illustrations are by Angela Barrett, one of the more formidable talents working today. Do not miss seeing her work whatever you do. Her version of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is remarkable, as are her illustrations for THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK , and ANNA KARENINA , among many other classics.



Not meant to be especially gothic but nevertheless it is exactly that as most of the action takes place at night at a dark estate called Pemberley. Wait, Pemberley? Yes, Pemberley, the family seat of the Darcy family once upon a time. Not that this book has anything to do with Jane Austen's classic - except for the setting. And why that should be I leave to scholars of T.H. White to try and figure out.

This is White's first and only mystery novel and to my way of thinking, he should have gone ahead and written many more. But for whatever reason he didn't. But he left us a doozy of mystery debut worth the reading and re-reading. We know going in who the killer is but that doesn't stop the mysterious doings and skulking about in the night. A shivery book, perfect for a dark and stormy night in October.

My review of DARKNESS AT PEMBERLEY.



Okay, here's a book that doesn't take place in England but upstate Northeast or Midwest, America. It is from the queen of the 'had I but known' school of mystery delights, Mary Roberts Rinehart. Naturally enough, we have a big old country house full of secrets and dark imaginings - the kind we all love. Also naturally enough, the rural electricity is faulty - hence the family must resort to flickering candles at every opportunity which, of course, make all the odd sounds and disturbances in the night that much more eerie and scary.

My review of THE CIRCULAR STAIRCASE.



And just in case you need an actual, hard copy notepad to make lists and such - what better than an Edward Gorey version?

Not all these are forgotten or even overlooked, but still, I'm featuring them as part of the FFB meme hosted by Patti Abbott at her blog, Pattinase. Don't forget to check in.

29 comments:

  1. A great list Yvette, and I have not read Holt or Shepherd so shall seek them out. Of the rest, the one that has never doen it for me is DRACULA - I enjoy a lot fo the films but as a novel it has never inspired me - give me WOMAN IN WHITE any time (ahem) - thanks Yvette, plenty to be getting on with here!!

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    1. You're welcome, Sergio. This was a fun post to work on. I mean, if I'm not having any fun - what's the point? At any rate, I loved DRACULA - the book, much more than I loved any of the film versions except, maybe, Bela Lugosi's. So we must agree to disagree. But I am also a HUGE fan of WOMAN IN WHITE. So all is not lost. :)

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  2. A delicious, spine tingling post, Yvette! Lots of good books I've always 'meant' to read!

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    1. Well, then, Peggy Ann, now is the time to do it. October is the perfect reading month. Just before the holidays when everyone will claim to be too busy to read. :) '...spine tingling...' I like that - thanks. :)

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  3. Yvette,

    Aren't the inhabitants of Pemberley the descendents of Liz and Darcy? It's been a while since I read it, but it seemed as though there was a connection to P&P.

    I thought the novel had a strange structure. The first part was a rather straightforward police procedural at the university, but then went Gothic when the locale changed to Pemberley.

    _Darkness at Pemberley_ was an interesting read, and I enjoyed it, but I think PD James' _Death Comes to Pemberley_ was better. The TV adaptation of _Death...._ is now showing or will shortly be showing on PBS stations.

    Interesting list for the most part. Some of my favorites are present.

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    1. Oh vaguely, yes, Fred, but it really has nothing to do with the story or anything else - except supplying the setting. That's what I meant.

      I am a ENORMOUS fan of this book, so again, I say, we must agree to disagree. I loved the structure - SO unsettling. Then the events at Pemberley, equally unsettling, but in a slightly different way.

      And now, we come to the crux of the matter - I thought DEATH COMES TO PEMBERLEY was horrible. Pure and simple. Awful. Dreadful. I didn't bother to finish it. Though I got it as a Christmas present (at my request because, surely, I thought, P.D. James, it had to be good - right?) WRONG!

      However, I will be watching the PBS version simply because I'm betting it can't be as bad as the book plus I love the costumes, the sets, and the actors.

      We can still be friends - right? :)

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  4. Great lineup, Yvette. I have been meaning to read THE WOMAN IN WHITE for a long time.

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    1. I hope you'll get a chance to do so, Prashant. :) It's a wonderful read.

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  5. Yvette,

    Chuckle. . .OK by me.

    I had no problems with the structure of _Darkness at Pemberley_, just noting that there seemed to be a split to me.

    I loved Stoker's _Dracula_ and _The Hound. . ._, but gave up on _The Woman in White_ about half way through.

    As my dear, sainted grandma used to say, "'Everybody to his own taste,' said the old lady as she kissed the cow."

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    1. Ha! Your grandma was SO right, Fred. :) 'Everyone to their own taste.' Indeed.

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  6. A list full of fun...while I've read a fair amount of such romancers as Daphne Du Maurier and Joan Aiken (and Jack Finney), I've never given Holt a try...Darrow and Shepard are new to me...

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    1. Victoria Holt was my first 'turn - to' after Jane Eyre, Todd. I was a teenager then and gothic romances were new to me. New in popularity too, I would say.

      Early Holt is best - later I don't think they continued to be written by her, but maybe a ghost.

      Reading should be fun - don't you think?

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    2. As with most of life, Yvette, if it isn't, something's going wrong...

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    3. And Shepherd, that is...I like Barrett...she has a bit of Gorey in her work, I'd say...

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  7. A wonderful list, Yvette. There are several here that I want to read.

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    1. Thanks, Tracy. I hope you'll get a chance to try a couple. Lots of good stuff here, if I do say so myself. :)

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  8. Todd, the reply button isn't cooperating, but yes, we are in agreement. Why am I not surprised? :)

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  9. Thanks for the Edward Gorey! When we watch Masterpiece Mystery, I am not allowed to fast forward past the woman on the roof waving her scarf and screaming - my husband's favorite part. This past spring when we were in Boston, we took a trip to the Cape (Cape Cod) to meet a friend and visit the Edward Gorey house. If you think he's funnily weird, you ain't seen nothing until you go to his beautiful house and see his strange collections!

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    1. Oh of course you don't want to miss the fainting lady on the roof, my goodness. :) I love it too. I always watch it. I hadn't realized the Edw. Gorey house was open to the public. (A great idea for a destination spot.) I often wondered what happened to all his cats.

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  10. Great list, Yvette. There are several I haven't read, but among those I have, I think both Dracula and The Circular Staircase stand out. Another suggestion - although I think you may already have done it - would be Shirley Jackson's "The Haunting of Hill House." I'm pretty sure you HAVE written up the film version, anyway, which has always been, to me, one of the most frightening horror movies ever made - mostly because you NEVER SEE the horror, only the reactions to it. Great stuff, but perhaps not for viewing alone at night in a dark house...

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    1. I've never read THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE though I've seen the movie - once upon a time when I was young and fearless. Those were the days. :) I've been meaning to read the book, Les.

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  11. Yvette,

    The novel Haunting of Hill House is excellent. No blood or gore--just psychological fear and, of course, the two marvelous servants who belong in that house.

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    1. It's on my list, Fred. Definitely. I just have to be in the mood. :)

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  12. What a wonderful list, Yvette. I haven't read many of these so am going to have a nice time being thrilled. :)

    I have also made a list of my favourite Halloween books. Would love to have you take a look:

    http://inkquilletc.blogspot.in/2014/10/top-ten-3-tuesdays-books-to-get-in.html

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    1. Thanks, Neer. I hope you'll get a chance to be 'thrilled' by one of the them. :) I'll check out your list for sure.

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  13. I love Le Fanu, but I don't think I've included him on any of my Halloween round-ups. Great picks!

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  14. Do you? Well, well, maybe I'll take a look. But I definitely will have to be in a certain sort of mood. :) Thanks, Kelly.

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  15. I love so many of those books. I got sidetracked this October so I wasn't able to do a ton of reading. I'm hoping next year I can revisit some of my favorites.

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    1. Why wait for next year, Ryan? We can be spooky in November too. :)

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