I read The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson over the weekend, and in all honesty I don’t really know how to describe it or what to make of it.
All I can say with certainty is that I haven’t read anything quite like it, or anything quite so disconcerting.
It is really unsettling. It is really strange. I loved it and was kind of repulsed by it.
Despite having ‘haunting’ in the title, there are no ghosts in the book. Just lots of bumps in the night, doors that won’t stay open (and may or may not lead to the room that you thought was there before), and a lot of unreliable – or maybe it’s reliable, who the hell even knows? – narration.
It’s brilliant. You should read it.
And if you do, can you please let me know and help me understand what just happened…
The sound of rain outisde my window early this morning made me happy.
The drips and drops and thousand tiny splashes humming on paving slabs and freshly unfurled leaves made me want to run outside and stay there until my skin became only a half-skin, the rest of it made up of water and sky.
Once I’d got up, once I’d made a cup of tea, once I’d cuddled one cat, two cats, three cats, I stood at the doorway in my pyjamas and listened to the garden echo with rain and birdsong. My toes got wet as they gripped the doorstep. My lungs got clean as they filtered soggy air. My heart got heavy as it realised I wasn’t brave enough to step out into this soaking, squelchy, drowning world because my head had decided it was a silly thing to do.
It was silly. Totally silly. Silly through and through.
It’s natural to want to bask in sunshine, but to want to bask in rain?
That, though, had been the point.
I’ve spent the rest of the day trying to make up for my lack of bravery, but being kitted out with boots and a raincoat kind of takes the magic away.
So tomorrow, I hope it’s raining when I wake up.
If it is, you’ll find me in the garden in my pj’s, clutching a cup of overflowing-diluted-rainy tea, being completely and utterly ridiculous.
‘A stranger greets you by name and invites you inside. At first, you won’t want to leave. Later, you’ll find that you can’t.’
Every 9 years, a mysterious and mind-bending house appears along a dark alleyway – ‘too grand for the shabby neighbourhood, too large for the space it occupies’ – and a victim is lured inside, never to be seen again. In Slade House by David Mitchell we follow a handful of characters as they are led – disorientatingly, bewilderingly, mind-bogglingly – to their deaths.
The book is entertaining if not engrossing, bouncing along from one character’s messy demise to another. The individual stories are claustrophobic and macabre; drawing you in, chewing you up and spitting you out of the other side (much like the house). I enjoyed the little details that intertwined cleverly across each narrative (and if you’ve read The Bone Clocks there are plenty of details weaved in from there too), and the ending is satisfying whilst leaving the potential for more.
I wouldn’t jump up and down and insist people read it, but it is a fun book full of vivid characters and saturated descriptions that kept me wanting to know what was around the corner, through the doorway that surely wasn’t there before, and up the ominous flight of stairs.
The weather for the last week here has been beautiful – sunny and warm, the air filled with bumbling bees and dancing butterflies, the ground bubbling with bluebells. When it has rained, it’s been a gentle rain of blossom trickling to the earth.
And every chance I could snatch throughout the week I was outside in the garden clutching my copy of The Bear and The Nightingale by Katherine Arden, being transported to the wilds of northen Russia.
The story follows Vasya as she tries to keep her community safe from forces they themselves have awakened after they abandon the old folktales and instead rely on the fearmongering of an ambitious, beguiling priest.
The story brims with creatures and magic – it had me keeping an eye out for Domovoi in the kitchen just how The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe had me checking the back of my wardrobe (plus pretty much any cupboard in the house, just to be sure) for another world.
I absolutely loved it. It’s enchanting, beautifully written, and the creatures and characters – especially Vasya – come alive on the page.
I didn’t really want it to end, so I’m very happy to hear that it’s the first book of a series.
The Faerie Thorn by Jane Talbot is a collection of seven short stories inspired by folklore, fairytales and magick. They’re deliciously dark and gruesome – full of faeries, trolls, mermen and maids, shapeshifters, spells, dastardly deeds, bittersweet bargains, nightmarish consequences, and satisfying comeuppances.
I’ve found the stories both enchanting and unsettling. Their short length gives them an addictive energy that’s made a refreshing change – kind of apt at the beginning of springtime – after struggling my way through Dracula.
The style of writing is unlike anything I’ve read before – it has a lyrical, slightly poetic feel to it which I really enjoyed. In my head I felt like I was listening to the stories being told around a flickering fire, sat right forward, barely blinking, hanging on every word.
It’s definitely worth reading. And if you’re anything like me, you won’t want to put it down!
I could hear it wailing in the distance, its metal wheels clickety-clacking closer and closer. I knew that soon the whole world would be roaring with a whoosh of steam and a shriek of sparks.
The earth would rumble and my bones would shake and a train would definitely come.
But when I told my mum she’d laugh gently and carry on picking the blackberries growing by the path.
No trains, Pippin. Not any more.
And I would look at the mangled metal at my feet and know that she was wrong. I could feel it. Somewhere in front of us, somewhere close, a train was coming.
Now. Now it’s different.
I look at the rusted, twisted tracks at my feet and I can’t feel the train. I don’t hear it screaming and I don’t feel the ground trembling. My stomach doesn’t sink and fall and churn, my heart doesn’t pound.
The air stays quiet. No sparks. No steam. No wailing.
Now I only see old tracks that poke up out of the earth, threatening to trip me up if I’m not careful.
One of the habits I’ve been trying to get into this year is to write down at least one moment, one little snapshot, from every day before I go to sleep.
It could be something that made me happy or sad, something I overheard or eavesdropped, a decision I regret, the gist of a conversation, an idea. Anything.
I haven’t actually managed it every day, but I’ve managed it enough so that reading back over some of them – even though it’s only February – has reminded me of things that I otherwise would probably have forgotten. (The good things especially – for some reason the less good things seem to stay in my head of their own accord.)
Some are a description that I’ll use again. Some are feelings I can plunder. Some, to be honest, are pretty boring. But then maybe they’ll become less boring as time goes by – maybe they’ll be something that’s randomly significant – or maybe they’ll just become more boring. I don’t know.
All I know is that I’m really enjoying it.
And my snapshot from today will more than likely have something to do with feeling happy about finally writing another blog post.
It’s fresh and crisp and full of cosy comforts. I love the smell of apples, berries, spices and sugar that wraps itself sweetly round every room in the house, promising deliciousness. I love the glossy, metallic sunlight that shimmers through dying leaves. I love the bloom of condensation on windows in the morning. I love wrapping up warm, snug as a bug in a rug.
But it’s painful to say goodbye to summer and long, lazy days. It’s disconcerting that night starts earlier and earlier, then leaves later. It’s a shock to the system and a wake up call.
Autumn is the perfect time to reflect, take stock, make plans and – crucially, but too often the part I skip – set those plans in motion. That’s my goal for the coming days and weeks.
It’s also the perfect time to curl up with a good book.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t daunted by the prospect of reading The Silmarillion.
For years and years it’s been one of those books where the spine seemed to follow me round the room.
Are you ready yet?
The answer was always no. Nope. Absolutely not.
But I finally got tired of feeling like a wimp.
So down it came from the shelf and I tried to look/feel/actually be cool, calm, and collected as I headed off into this new old world.
It definitely wasn’t an easy read.
I went from understanding what was happening, to not understanding, to being almost sure I was keeping up, to definitely not keeping up, and back again pretty much everytime I picked up the book.
At first I found it frustrating and wished I’d never started it. It’s not great for your reading ego feeling left behind no matter how hard you try to keep track. But it’s just not a normal story. You’re witnessing a whole world and the creatures and people in it being created. Naturally it’s going to get a bit messy. (On that note I can wholeheartedly and unashamedly recommend looking up a few synopses to help make everything clearer. And make good use of the index!)
But as much as there are points where names whirl around in a blur and whole wars are over in half a paragraph, there are moments (and, dare I say, whole chapters) where everything is beautifully clear and all you can do is marvel at how Tolkien created such a complex but completely enchanting world.
I loved the story of Beren and Luthien. I loved recognising familiar characters and learning more about their origins. I loved the tangle of motives, the triumphs and the downfalls.
And for all the epic scale and formal language there are plenty of quieter moments that pack a heart-warming/terrifying/thought-provoking/disturbing/sombre/lightbulb-moment punch.
I’ll probably have to read it again. And then again. And after all that I’ll more than likely have missed something important. But overall the Silmarillion is definitely worth a read and I did actually enjoy it.
It’s also made me feel braver when looking at other daunting books on the shelf.