OUT AND ABOUT:
This month we spent a couple of nights at a delightful little place on Bodmin Moor. We’d happily return though we now know it’s three miles down an, at times, one car width lane. Wouldn’t put us off though we’d like to go in better weather. We were lucky while out and about, the purpose of our stay mainly to meet with friends. A couple of weeks later we attended a food market which is temptation itself. Two sausage rolls, two pasties, two chocolate brownies, two churros (eaten on the spot), two packets of cheese, and three packs of sausages for the freezer later, we made ourselves stop.
Being as it’s October we’ve been watching a lot of old horror films, and a couple new. In The Tall Grass is an odd one based on a novella by Joe Hill and Stephen King (Joe Hill being his son) that’s currently only available on Kindle but will be out in a collection next year. I have to admit my first thought when hearing a kid screaming for help in a field of tall grass was I’m not going in there, could be a setup. I would have fetched help. It’s difficult to talk about this one without giving the plot away but the concept of being lost in a maze of grass unable to find a way out turned out to be watchable, with elements I appreciated but others I disliked.
Another Netflix offering was Eli, the story of a boy seemingly allergic to the environment (think Boy in a Plastic Bubble with a twist), whose miracle doctor/cure may not be all that it seems. I like this film for the haunted house elements which are so well done.
And we had to rewatch a few classics, which for me includes Fright Night, the original 80s film, where a teenage horror-film buff has a vampire move in next door and has to seek help from a washed-up television star ‘vampire killer’, Roddy MacDowell (always a favourite of mine). Also starring William Ragsdale, this film is now a cult but if you’ve not seen it on Blu-ray you’ve never seen it before. It’s wide, bright and clear, and the depth of distance is incredible. I recall watching it on VHS where we thought everything happened in darkness. I won’t leave with a mention of the remake which, though fairly bad, has its moments. I think Colin Farrell steals the film who seems to having a ball and enjoying being a vampire far too much, and, of course, the late great Anton Yelchin who died far too young.
The Doll Factory, Elizabeth Macneal
I have to admit the style distracted me at first but soon drew me into the world of Victorian London. The perfectly assembled cast delivers a tale of love, obsession, and atmospheric horror. The fair Iris who wishes to better her situation; her poor embittered sister, Rose; the exuberant Albie; the questionable love interest in Louis; and the infatuated Silas. I couldn’t help thinking of undertones of John Fowles ‘The Collector’ although if that in any way gave inspiration to this novel the author has enriched a basic idea and made it her own. Also, I think the comparison to various other titles is a pity as people like John Fowles are literary noteworthies (regardless of whether you like them) which promotes the book to a level difficult to attain. Some books are simply enjoyable. I’m uncertain whether to consider some parts of the story entirely historically accurate but the tone suffices to transport the reader into another era. The only real downside for me is that I was expecting something perhaps a little more gothic. Still, a fabulous debut.
Happiest Days, Jack Sheffield
One of the strangest things to read in this series is how people show up at school to register their children, something I never experienced. Such were simpler times portrayed so well by Jack Sheffield. Though simply written for anyone who recalls the 80s, these books, imbued with nostalgia, carry a cosy, leisurely ambiance that’s like walking through time with an old friend and made me stay with this 10 book series, of which I believe this is the last though the author has written other titles.
Dracula, Bram Stoker:
A re-read of a classic I’ve not touched for many years. A book of this type will always receive mixed reviews. A classic, by definition, is always a book of its time and will jar for a modern reader. Especially for a modern reader who has not read classic literature for most of their life. My childhood books included novels such as Tom Sawyer and Treasure Island so I have no problem with reading this. At such times when Dickens was popular, writers were paid by the word so if any such novels feel padded there’s a reason. This book does feel overlong, and if written/edited now would be much shorter. I’d particularly forgotten the peculiar way Van Helsing speaks which I read with a blend of irritation and amusing pleasure. In the 21st century the book has many faults, much of it reading like Victorian melodrama, and is far from horrifying, but in 1897 Dracula would have been petrifying. It’s almost impossible to review a book of this type so it’s important to understand how this novel was pivotal.
Though Stoker did not invent the vampire myth or write the first well-known story, he wrote the crucial novel, bringing us a vampire who would popularise the genre and creating a legend. Like the writing or not this book deserves its pedestal. Stoker touched on the darkest fears, not only of the time, but at the heart of terror, a creature capable of overtaking the human mind, of seducing, of changing shape and appearance, of ‘infiltrating’ the home, the heart, the marriage bond. Horror novels often reflect societal fears of the moment, and Dracula is no different though many of the same fears exist more than a century later. Stoker also puts into the mind unforgettable images — a wild country of superstition, Dracula’s towering castle, Harker’s slow realisation he’s a prisoner, Dracula’s vertical crawl, his intention to take over London, the crazed incredible Renfield, Dr Seward’s asylum. And, perhaps, for women today, the book represents the ultimate equality statement. Lucy and Mina’s story both begin with them represented as something beautiful and fragile, ‘creatures’ who can do nothing without their men and who require protection. The book ends with a gun in Mina’s hand. She has become a far different woman from the shy girl who did nothing more than look forward to a life of marriage. She wishes to protect Jonathan as much as he longs to protect her, perhaps placing Stoker as a realist and/or ahead of his time. Still, there are moments that sit uneasy with me, the worst of which is the historical error that anyone can provide a transfusion without blood-matching, a fact not discovered at the time but which cannot help making even this modern reader wince.
I’m delighted to say the pre-order release of my second Lethbridge-Stewart came out:
A new reality has been created by the temporal disruption ripping through the causal nexus. Welcome to 1978… with a difference.
Anne Travers, co-founder of UNIT, and her husband, Bill, are celebrating their wedding anniversary in France, which is the perfect opportunity for Anne to catch-up with an old friend; Madeleine Bonnaire.
At the institute owned by Madeleine’s father, one professor is more interested in his own project than any work for which Bonnaire has hired him. His need for secrecy and his attitude irritates his assistant, Paul Larousse, who would prefer to dwell on his feelings for Madeleine. Meanwhile, Victor Bonnaire is not at all happy to hear of Anne’s visit, not least of all because he’s always viewed Anne as a bad influence on his daughter.
What seems like a simple case of familial friction takes a bleak turn when a local unknown threat makes the news. Suspicion abounds and throws Anne and Bill into an unexpected mystery. What is the strange threat, and does it present a direct danger to anybody at the institute? Or to those who ask too many questions? Unable to walk away from her friend, Anne has no option but to investigate, little knowing she’s about to face the darkest shadow of her life so far.
And for anyone interested in getting a feel for the series there are free downloads, including my short story The Wishing Bazaar: http://lethbridge-stewart.ne-dc.co.uk/downloads/
Stay well and be Happy,