October 25th, 2008


R.I.P. Challenge books #3, #4, and #5

Book #3, His Mouth Will Taste of Wormwood and other stories, reconfirmed my idea that Poppy Z. Brite is not an author for me. I do not want to read graphic descriptions of decay, rotting corpses and burrowing maggots. Gore makes me nauseous. The last of the four stories, "How to Get Ahead in New York", was the least unpleasant, and that is the nicest thing I can say about it. Out it goes. 1/5

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usBook #4, Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror by Chris Priestley, was not on my initial list, but after reading Cornflower's great review I immediately ordered a copy for myself.

During the school holidays Edgar often visits his uncle, who lives in a house beyond the woods and knows many scary stories. The book relates one of those visits. The structure is simple: after an introductory chapter in which we meet Edgar and his uncle, each chapter consists of a cautionary tale linked to one of the many objects in Uncle Montague's study, and a preamble to the next object and tale. Gradually the reader begins to sense that all is not well in Uncle Montague's house, and that the tales may actually be more than just stories.

Inevitably in a collection of tales some appeal more than others. My absolute favourite is "The Un-Door", very creepy and scary. A story like "The Gilt Frame", on the other hand, felt rushed and sketchy to me. While I found most of the tales quite original, "The Path" seemed strangely familiar, as if I had seen a variation of the story on TV once, but as I only thought that after I finished it, it may have been a "déjà-vu" trick of the mind.

Priestley writes with a subtle sense of humour. The illustrations by David Roberts are very atmospheric and fit the tales perfectly. Overall I give the book 3/5.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usBook #5, Coraline by Neil Gaiman, was not on my initial list either, but I had heard good things about it and when I saw the cover of the Subterranean Press edition on Quixotic's blog I fell in love. (Yes, I know it looks creepy and corpse-y, but the double image reminds me of a playing card, and I collect playing cards.) After some deliberation (because £30 is rather expensive for a book you don't even know you'll like) I ordered it from Amazon UK and waited. And kept waiting. When two weeks after the estimated arrival date the book still had not arrived I ended up getting a refund rather than a replacement, because it had gone out of stock in the meantime. I couldn't find it in Canada either (to console myself I bought The Graveyard Book there) and eventually bought a very good second-hand copy for about half the price from an American seller via Amazon UK. I thought I wouldn't get it in time to read for the challenge, but it arrived in less than a week, right after I finished Uncle Montague, so perfect timing.

Coraline's parents are busy with their work and don't pay her much attention. The neighbours are friendly enough, but can't even get her name right and insist on calling her Caroline. One day when Coraline is bored she discovers that the brick wall behind an unused door in her flat has disappeared and the door now opens onto a dark hallway. Through it she enters a flat that looks almost exactly like her own, but more interesting. She meets her other parents there, two people with buttons for eyes who would love nothing better than for Coraline to come and live with them for ever and always. They want to sew buttons on her eyes too, which is where Coraline draws the line and leaves. Back in her own flat she discovers her parents have disappeared, abducted by her other mother, and the only way to get them back is to return to the other flat once more. There she will need all her courage and resourcefulness to outwit her other mother, rescue her own parents and the lost souls of three children that had been captured before, and return safely home.

I loved this book. I devoured it in one sitting, and can see myself re-reading it soon in order to catch all the details that I missed the first time around due to reading too greedily. I've seen complaints elsewhere that there are no layers to the story, and that not everything is explained. I wasn't bothered by any of that. Not all questions need to be answered, I like it when things are not spelled out but left open to the interpretation of the reader.

One gripe: never before have I seen a book printed on such ultrawhite paper. I don't know if this is the paper normally used by the Subterranean Press, but if it is, stop doing so people! It looks downright tacky. Off-white or cream-coloured paper looks much better and is easier on the eyes. That said, I'm not such a sourpuss that I detract points for the paper a book is printed on, so I give it 4/5 (finally!).

Up next: The Graveyard Book.