Top Ten Tuesday - Top Ten Books That Made Me Afraid To Turn Out The Light

In honour of Halloween, I am contemplating which books made me truly afraid.  To make things clear - I don't generally 'celebrate' Halloween.  The reasons for this are twofold - firstly, my adored grandfather died the day before Halloween six years ago and at the time the juxtaposition of funeral arrangements and shop windows with skulls in them was unfortunate and has stuck in my memory.  Secondly, I think that the original reasons for the festival have become badly garbled.  It was not intended as a celebration of dark forces.

I find it really interesting that a lot of churches have started putting on a 'Light Explosion' festival for children as a way of directing them away from Halloween because what they are actually doing is what Halloween was originally intended as.  Back in past centuries, pre-street-lighting etc, the onset of winter meant there would be dark, dark days ahead.  In October, as the nights began to stretch out, Halloween was a kind of shaken fist at shadows.  We are not afraid, we dress up and burn lights in our windows and we show that we are brave and will make it through til spring.  We are showing that Light will defeat Dark, hence why it is generally known as the night when the spooky things do not walk abroad and we are free to do what we want.  But ah well, people forget and traditions move on (*cough* bloody Americans *cough*). Back to my point.  I scare easily, it is easy to make me jump and I tend to worry about people who never really existed in the first place.  Below are the books which truly made me worry about turning off the light.

Review: The Boleyn Reckoning, Laura Andersen

Ho hum.  I almost didn't review this ... mostly out of shame.  I still can't quite believe I actually read to the end of this trilogy.  This one was a very guilty pleasure with a heavier emphasis on the guilt rather than the pleasure.  I read The Boleyn King about a year ago after my wonderful godmother bought me my Kindle.  I thought it was fairly terrible but that the concept was interesting but then somehow or other read the following volume The Boleyn Deceit about a fortnight later.  It was slightly more awful.  Anyway, the concluding volume of the trilogy came out and I told myself not to read it.  I really wasn't going to.  Months passed.  I caved.  It is definitely the worst of the trio.  The Boleyn King trilogy makes that weird television show where Henry VIII is played by Jonathan Rhys-Myers and stays skinny as a rake look like a fly-on-the-wall documentary.

Saturday Poem - Jane

My thanks go out to my mother for this one - she first read it to me years and years ago and it has always stuck in my memory.  I think she said that a former colleague recommended it to her - I remember this woman as having the most amazing bookshelf of children's books that I had ever seen.  As a child, I looked forward to trips to her house as she always let me loose on it.  And I think she even signed off on my Brownie Readers badge.  So thanks go out to her for recommending to us.  Anyway, one can imagine the poet having heard this over the PA and from there their imagination went wild.  It is such a thought-provoking poem.

Jane

"Would Miss Jane Eyre report to Airport Information?  Miss Jane Eyre, please."  - heard over PA at Heathrow.

and he thrust himself into the streams
from every continent - a salmon
shouldering, winding,
searching for a face as pale as chalk.
A bookstore!  Surely she'd be there,
peering at the print of worlds she recognised?
No.  Nor in the transit lounge
with massive Asian families,
nor the ladies, weeping beneath
the mounting roar of jets and air-conditioning.
He leaps the stairs - she may be taking
a demure, if plastic, cup of tea -
he surveys the concourse.  A dark
hooded bird of prey, he sifts, sifts,
the dress of all the nations for a frock of English grey.
Would he catch her tiny voice in this damned babble?
The information clerk -
she shakes her head.
"Shall I page again, Sir?"
He gives a brusque, "No.  It was an
off-chance, just an off-chance."
"Is the lady departing or arriving, Sir,
from where?"  But he's striding
from the terminal, and minutes later,
his landrover nudges the northbound carriageway.

Kathleen Jamie

For the full archive of past Saturday poems, visit Poetry Please in the Features.

Review: Forgetting Zoe, Ray Robinson

I half-read this book in the Oxford Circus branch of Waterstones' in the summer of 2010.  I was working for a summer school at the time and was spinning out an afternoon while the kids were shopping on Oxford Street.  I am pretty sure that the group leader thought I had some kind of personal issue since reading this book made me go quite pale and then I had to sit quietly for ten minutes because I thought I was going to pass out.  Earlier that week, I had been with the same group leader when I had had to climb to the top of St Paul's Cathedral for the first time - something which I was silently convinced would lead to my death.  Over the course of the summer I would climb St Paul's five more times, finding each time easier than the last until I caught myself sighing heavily at a tourist who lost their nerve and had to climb down the metal stairs - then I really knew how far I'd come.  My vertigo was cured.  But I digress.  The same group leader also saw me running screaming from a rotten banana that had been left in the communal kitchen (I have a phobia, yes it's weird but so are most phobias).  I am pretty sure that she thought I had some serious issues as she started asking me in a very kind tone of voice how I was feeling whenever she saw me, to which I would solemnly reply that I was fine and then cringe once she'd gone round the corner.  In general, I think of myself as a fairly sturdy individual - I rarely get ill, I know how to mail merge and I was raised by a Northern Irish Presbyterian so have a limited amount of patience for idiocy.  But I am easily bothered.  I was not entirely sure why I picked up this book from the library given how ill it made me feel in 2010.

Top Ten Tuesday - Top Ten Fictional Guys To Avoid Like The Ebola Virus

From time to time, I have had a mild swoon over Men Of Fiction.  I have documented this in previous Top Tens.  But then there are other times when I read a book and wonder what on earth the fictional female ever saw in the fictional male.  To be honest - this has been one of those Top Tens where there are quite simply far too many applicants.  I could do a Top Twenty or even a Top Fifty.  I have narrowed it down from boys who are too obviously written as unpleasant; for example, Ruby Oliver's awful ex-boyfriend Jackson.  He dumped her, got together with her best friend and then shoved her under the metaphorical bus when the two of them were caught kissing again.  Still, E. Lockhart was using him for a teachable moment because Ruby eventually comes to see that for herself and when he does ask her to get back together in the third book, Ruby awkwardly tells him that, "I'm sorry, I mean you're a nice guy except that really, you're not a nice guy."  Naturally, Jackson calls her a b**** and storms off - charming chap.  There are lots of unsatisfactory boyfriends in young adult fiction - they're there as helpful examples of what to look out for but they don't carry a lot of individual weight as characters.

I've tried to think of romantic heroes who were obviously written to be positive but who seem hideously inappropriate to me, however I have also tried to stick to books which I have actually read - this was good news for Angel Clare as I actually haven't read Tess of the D'Urbevilles, just watched it on television.  Don't get me wrong, Alec D'Urbeville is practically a pantomime villain but Angel Clare is a hypocritical twit.  He dumps Tess when he finds out that she had been raped and impregnated before she even knew him and then takes off to the other side of the world in a fit of rage.  Mr Clare, we all have pasts.  It doesn't matter if Tess had voluntarily dated an entire rugby team before she met you - if it was in the past, you had no right to judge her for it and since she was in a murderous mood, she should have taken you out along with Alec.  But that's just my personal opinion.  I have also lumped a few separate characters who share personality traits in the same box.  We get the gist - these are men who one would never live Happily Ever After with - these are Boys To Avoid.

Review: Starlight, Stella Gibbons

Stella Gibbons has the reputation of being a one-hit wonder - Cold Comfort Farm both immortalised her name but also overshadowed everything else she ever wrote.  A few years ago Vintage decided that this was terribly unfair and decided to re-issue her back catalogue.  I had a go at Westwood given that Lynn Truss claimed that it was the Persuasion to Cold Comfort's Pride and Prejudice but alas I found it a bit grim - at the time I was still living with my parents and found a few too many parallels with the unfortunate Margaret.  I might feel differently now.  Still, I have been determined to try again and with Starlight I have finally succeeded.  Ten years after I first fell in love with Cold Comfort Farm, I repeated the experience with this novel - the perfect autumnal read.  Recently I read Barbara Comyns' The Vet's Daughter and while that one had similarly stunning moments of description, in Starlight Gibbons manages to far more effectively stage a Gothic novel within the domestic sphere.  This is a spooky story rooted firmly in a world that is all too real - a world of soggy afternoons and muddy lanes leading to beaten-down houses.  The Gothic meets the mundane, the flesh creeps but then we shudder and we go back to normal.

Review: The Library OF Unrequited Love, Sophie Divry

Every so often a book comes along that is just so delightfully different and The Library Of Unrequited Love is one such.  It imagines a librarian finding a reader who fell asleep and was locked into the library overnight.  In the few minutes before the library officially opens, the librarian soliloquies about her snooty colleagues, the Dewey Decimal System, reading and books themselves, the undeserving public and her own personal dis-satisfactions.  Her unstoppable monologue is hypnotic - obviously so since her listener is unable to break away from her.  And we are them, the captive audience, transfixed like the wedding guest in The Ancient Mariner, listening to a true cri de coeur on the behalf of libraries and those who love them.  This novella brims with passion; it is not sweet or mignon - it shrugs aside any attempt of sympathy, resigned to loneliness and disappointed and indeed, unrequited love.

Saturday Poem - Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night

I always think of Dylan Thomas as a slightly mad drunk Welshman - but I realise that I actually know next to nothing about the man at all.  I heard some of his poetry being read on the radio earlier this week and it seemed rather appropriate to share one for my Saturday Poem.  The anger of this poem saddens me - I am still grateful that my grandfather was able to go gently into the good night and I have sorrowed to hear of others who struggled but the words bring such beauty to the pain - they lend this state of indignant fury a nobility.

Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Dylan Thomas

For the full archive of past Saturday poems, visit Poetry Please in the Features.

Review: The First Fifteen Lives Of Harry August, Claire North

The First Fifteen Lives Of Harry August opens with the main character on his deathbed 'dying his usual death' at the age of seventy-eight when in walks a seven year-old girl, disturbing him 'like an ice cube down my spine'.  She has come to warn him about the end of the world.  In the haze of his dying, Harry is unsure why he is being told this.  So the child whispers to him, "The world is ending as it always must.  But the end of the world is getting faster."  The message has been passed back from a thousand years in the future - now it is up to Harry to prevent it.  From the moment of Harry's death, we snap back to his birth, his beginning, his point of origin.  We discover the basic facts of his life and then that his life is not so very basic after all.  In fact, he is immortal.  He lives his life, he dies, he goes back to the beginning again.  The concept behind this is familiar - earlier this year, I read and adored Life After Life which also took up the idea of a character born with the ability to live and relive their lives.  North refers to them as the kalichakra, or the ouroboran.  While Atkinson's Ursula Todd stumbles from one life to another recalling only the sparest of details, Harry August remembers everything.