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17 September 2008 @ 07:23 pm
R.I.P. Challenge book #1  

Yesterday I read We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson. I had wanted to finish The Fortnight in September before starting on the R.I.P. Challenge, but I was in the mood for something more exciting and even though the afternoon had been reasonably sunny, it was chilly enough that I had to turn the central heating on for the first time again, which helped create the necessary autumn feel.

So I picked Shirley Jackson's book to read first. I had expected it to be really scary, but it wasn't at all, probably because it was a thriller and not a horror story, as I had thought. It was full of suspense and creepy, but not in a "leaving me wanting to sleep with the lights on" kind of way. In fact, when I rolled into bed after finishing it at 1.30 a.m. I slept like a baby.

I did enjoy it. Jackson writes very well, she knows how to create an atmosphere and a sense of foreboding, and while reading I thought it must surely deserve 4 stars (out of 5), but in the end I was left feeling slightly disappointed. Yet another 3-star book. (But funnily enough, in some ways it reminded me of my favourite Ruth Rendell, Heartstones.)

It is true that I would have liked to know more of the "why", but I suspect it is not so much Jackson's fault as it is my own frame of mind at the moment. I'm starting to think I have lost the capacity for unbridled enthusiasm concerning the books I read. I gave The Dolls' House 4 stars recently, but that was a re-read and perhaps more for old times' sake, because I had loved it as a child and spent many years tracking it down. The last newly read book I gave 4 stars to was Sylvia Townsend Warner's Letters, and that was in May. Oh, well. It'll pass, I hope.

By the way, if you plan on reading We Have Always Lived in the Castle for the first time and come across it in the Penguin Classics Deluxe edition, be sure to do as I did and save the introduction until last, as Jonathan Lethem happily reveals way too much. Even while looking for the first page I couldn't help catching a word here and there which made me deduce a couple of things I'd rather found out about while reading the actual story. The less you know about it, the more you'll enjoy it.


 
 
Current Mood: calmcalm
Current Music: Shouldn't have to be like that - Fra Lippo Lippi
 
 
 
castallia: bookcastallia on September 17th, 2008 10:45 pm (UTC)
Great review; I've been meaning to read this book for a while. Thanks for the warning about the introduction. As a rule, I usually skip the forwards and introductions until after I've read the rest of a book, but since I like Lethem's writing, I might have gone ahead and read the introduction and been overly spoiled. :/

I've been having the same trouble finding 4 or 5 star books, this year, although I have high hopes for a few of the ones I've just started.
Mnemosyne: thinking_lethe_ on September 18th, 2008 04:55 pm (UTC)
When reading I used to follow this advice from Alice: 'Begin at the beginning,' the King said gravely, 'and go on till you come to the end: then stop.', but lately I've come across a few spoiler-ridden introductions, so now I think it's safer to begin at the beginning of the actual story. For some books spoilers don't matter that much, but they do in this particular genre.

Here's to happy 4 and 5 star reading! :)
heartofdavid: fenceheartofdavid on September 17th, 2008 10:50 pm (UTC)
Furnace already? Think that will happening here soon, having some very cool evenings, but I like the change. Creates havoc with the sinuses though, especially the extreme rainfall and humidity this past weekend, fallout from Hurrican Gustav - some areas around me have been declared disaster areas because of flooding - sewers, rivers and streams couldn't handle the deluge, in some cases 12 inches of rain in 24 hours. The worst by me were street closings due to flooding. *babble*

she knows how to create an atmosphere and a sense of foreboding
That is her true gift, I think.

...but I suspect it is not so much Jackson's fault as it is my own frame of mind at the moment. I'm starting to think I have lost the capacity for unbridled enthusiasm concerning the books I read.
Frame of mind has a lot to do with my appreciation for anything - favorite music doesn't sound as good, favorite movies seem boring, good books seem nothing more than "is this all there is?" There are the books that are hopeless, imo, stuff I consider complete crap. But sometimes, I feel...bad for the book/author...I can't give it a proper chance. The writing's okay, the plot is okay, but I'm not okay - the reading taste buds are dulled. In a few cases, I'll set the book aside for another time because I know it's good and normally I would enjoy it - sometimes I get an attitude where it's not worth the effort. That's when I switch to reading magazines, or indulge in a lot of manga and graphic novel reading - the latter has a special kind of magic for me, the mix of visual and written word is relaxing yet since they are adult material (for the most part), complex enough to keep my interest.

I like Ruth Rendall/Barbara Vine a lot, have read many of her works, but never heard of "Heartstones." She's another atmosphere-type writer, imo. I think of atmosphere as subtley, knowing when to keep things low key, pull back and leave room for thinking/breathing, when the easier/more thrilling route would be a lessor writer's choice. In the long run, it is more effective and leaves a longer lasting impression, to know when to put the 'silent' parts into a story - it creates a natural highlight for the rest. Yeah?

Mnemosyne: thinking_lethe_ on September 18th, 2008 06:29 pm (UTC)
Today was the first day I had to wear a real coat again instead of the light jackets that I can also wear at work.

Yes, I also noticed my PND playing up again lately. Such a nuisance, isn't it.

Oh my, 12 inches of rain! Hope you are high and dry!

My lukewarm reaction to most of the books I have read lately rather surprises me, because I was so happy to be reading again at last. It is not a case of "I'm reading, but actually I'd rather be doing something else." I really want to read and look forward to each new book. Maybe my expectations are set too high and I've forgotten that not every book is a 5-star masterpiece.

I find Ruth Rendell's books generally a bit overlong, sometimes it takes 200 pages before something finally happens. Heartstones OTOH is a novella, and perfectly paced in my opinion. Some info here: http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/r/ruth-rendell/heartstones.htm
I thought I might like her Barbara Vine books more, but I now see that in the Netherlands they were (are?) also published under the name RR and I've actually read one of them (A Dark-Adapted Eye, 2 stars only).

Oh yes, subtlety is much more effective than in-your-face shock effects.

know when to put the 'silent' parts into a story - it creates a natural highlight for the rest.
Beautifully put!
heartofdavidheartofdavid on September 18th, 2008 09:28 pm (UTC)
Maybe my expectations are set too high and I've forgotten that not every book is a 5-star masterpiece.
I sometimes think the same. Yeah, it can possibly lead to more let-downs. My tolerance for so-so books is almost non-existant these days. If it's an author I usually like I might try to hang on until the end of the book, but then I start thinking that there are better books waiting...

I guess it balances out - for all the books I had high hopes that withered, there have been many books which I had no real expectation other than a relaxing/entertaining read - the take my mind off of too much thinking kind - and have been surprised at how good they are.

Have you read anything by Minette Walters? I used to like her a lot, haven't read anything by her in ages. "The Sculptress" stands out in my mind; there's some similarity in style with Rendall, imo.

Mnemosyne: thinking_lethe_ on September 21st, 2008 04:48 pm (UTC)
haven't read anything by her in ages.
Me neither.

I've read The Ice House which was her debut novel I believe (loved it), The Scold's Bridle (didn't like), and The Dark Room (liked a lot).

I've seen the TV film of The Sculptress, starring Pauline Quirke, very good.

I've been going through my book notes and discovered that I'm actually not doing badly at all, in previous years I often went months without a 4-star book, even when I read much more. So I can stop thinking I've lost the knack for enjoying my read. After all, 3 stars is still good. :)
testpatern: Bunny Cattestpatern on September 18th, 2008 10:13 am (UTC)
Wow - I remember Fra Lippo Lippi!
Mnemosyne_lethe_ on September 18th, 2008 04:34 pm (UTC)
The song was playing on the radio and I thought, "Oh wow, what was that again?" Blast from the past. I didn't remember the band's name, I had to google for it. :)
callmemadam: bookscallmemadam on September 18th, 2008 10:34 am (UTC)
Thank you for this review: I will look the author up. I've read some Ruth Rendell as Barbara Vine but never any straight Ruth Rendell. Anything else you'd recommend?

I think The Doll's House is much too frightening for children! There was a television adaptation er, was it about twenty years ago? Very good.
Mnemosyne: thinking_lethe_ on September 18th, 2008 07:14 pm (UTC)
I find Ruth Rendell's books generally overly long and always thought I might like Barbara Vine better, but I've discovered only now that here in the Netherlands all her books were published under the name Ruth Rendell.

Looking through my book notes (kept since Dec. 1990) I found only two other RRs: A Dark-Adapted Eye (originally a Barbara Vine), 2 stars only, and Talking to Strange Men, also 2 stars and with the remark that nothing happens for the first 200 pages. Because I didn't care for the Inspector Wexford TV series either I stopped reading her.

Heartstones, however, is a novella, only 77 pages long and perfectly paced in my opinion. Here is some info:
http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/r/ruth-rendell/heartstones.htm
My mum also had a collection of her short stories which I kept because I remembered liking several of them.


Children can handle much more than adults give them credit for! I was 7 or 8 when I first read The Doll's House and as I said, I *loved* it. At that age children still have this magical thinking. Death is something abstract to them, not fully understood. I probably was sad about the doll's fate, but not horrified as I was now: "how gruesome, that poor doll being burned alive!"

Besides, think of the Brothers Grimm! And Perrault! ("Bluebeard" was my favourite.) Fairy tales are often gruesome, and children love scary stories.