What does it really mean to be haunted? Where is the boundary between the experience of a ghost and the more prosaic experience of being haunted by the memory of a person, a book, a story, a painting or a piece of music? How do our minds interpret a haunting and how does it affect our lives? If a haunting can trouble a sane mind, how much more might it disturb an already troubled mind?
If it seems that I've begun this review with too many questions, I suppose it is because I believe this book is best understood as reflecting those questions. It is written from the viewpoint of India/Imp, who is a schizophrenic from a family of mentally disturbed women. It is in the form of a memoir in which she is attempting to reconcile, understand, and simply remember a sequence of experiences revolving around a woman (ghost?) named Eva Canning. Woven into the story are Imp's reactions to pieces of art, music, literature, religion, mythology and popular culture, all of which become part of her haunting. The story is enhanced by a pair of “stories within a story,” one of which, “The Mermaid of the Concrete Ocean”, I especially found both compelling and disturbing.
All of this is to explore the premise that hauntings are what the protagonist describes as "particularly pernicious thought contagions." The book has its challenges, especially when Imp drifts into psychotic episodes. The narrative is often non-linear as it reflects Imps's attempt to piece her experiences together into a coherent story and thus can be difficult to follow at times. But really, isn't this how all our minds work to a certain extent? We have a collection of memories we hold within our minds and those memories shape who we are and how we behave. We construct our own stories around those memories to make sense of them. Some of these stories may reflect reality more than others but they are all equally "real" to us.
If you are interested in a more straight-forward ghost story with a clear-cut resolution, you will probably be frustrated with this book. But if you can appreciate a well-written story exploring the vagaries of the human mind and which leaves as many questions unanswered as answered, you will find this a fascinating and thought-provoking book.
If you're looking for a good ghost story for the Halloween season, this one is a good bet. Allusions to creepy literary spinsters—Henry James's Miss Jessel and Dickens's Miss Havisham—create the atmosphere for this gothic suspense novel.
The protagonist grows up in Australia with a mother who refuses to speak about the details of her childhood in England. As he grows older, he becomes increasingly curious about his mother's reasons for leaving England and her reluctance to talk about her past. He returns to England and begins to piece together what might have happened, discovering short ghost stories written by his great-grandmother, Viola. These wonderfully spooky tales, filled with supernatural occurrences and séances, are interwoven into the main narrative and offer tantalizing clues about the family's history.
The narrative can get a bit confusing at times, as we jump between Viola's stories and the protagonist's life, something that probably is a bit more of a challenge in the audio format. One must pay close attention to keep the characters straight or be prepared to rewind in order to keep track of the story--I had to rewind several times but actually welcomed the chance to do so because I really didn't want the book to end. The ending makes perfect sense but you really have to think about it. Happy hauntings!
Although not usually a fan of the fantasy genre, a large part of the appeal of this trilogy for me has been its inspiration from the Narnia chronicles of C.S.Lewis which captivated me as a child. How would those stories play out if the characters were allowed to mature and develop in the "real world"?
I loved the first book of the trilogy, the second a little less so and the third (this one) not so much. At his best, Lev Grossman recreates in my heart the almost painful yearning I had as a child to enter the fantastical world of of Narnia (Fillory, in Grossman's rendering of that world). Descriptions of the imaginary world and its inhabitants are lush and evocative and sure to appeal to lovers of the genre. For me, however, the mystery of the first novel in the series was missing and I found it increasingly hard to care about what happened to the characters in a world so disconnected from our own.
It makes me a little sad--I wish I could have gotten more into the spirit and summoned back to life the sense of wonder I had as a child. The stories have it right for most of us--once you grow up it is almost impossible to fully return to those lands of your dreams, whether it be Narnia, Fillory or Neverland...
Having grown up a few miles from the original Shaker upstate NY settlement in the US and having visited several former Shaker communities in NY, Massachusetts and Kentucky, I was intrigued by the premise of this novel. The book does a great job of exploring the nuances of Shaker life as experienced from both the inside and outside, all in the context of an engaging story. While Shakers tend to be remembered today for their expert hand-craftsmanship, this was only one expression of their belief system, and while many of their beliefs seem bizarre, others have a startlingly modern ring, including the equality of women and a belief in the feminine aspect of God. Well worthwhile.
One of the things I like best about Phil Rickman is his ability to walk the line between the supernatural and the mundane, all in the setting of a bucolic English countryside. He also understands the deep influence religion has upon us, whether or not we are "believers," predisposing us to accept or reject the supernatural, while the truth may lay somewhere in between. Perhaps that is "The Smile of a Ghost" referred to in the title. Another great installment in the Merrily Watkins mystery series.
I keep hoping that Tana French will live up to the promise she showed in her earliest novels, but the last few have been disappointing and this one is no exception. Ms. French continues to write beautifully but the languid pace of this mystery tends to irritate rather than enthrall.
The drama is set in a girls' boarding school, and much like the board game "Clue," we are placed in a contained environment with a dead body and 8 possible suspects. "Drama" is an appropriate descriptor here, as much of the story revolves around the angst of adolescent life. Even that, however, does not ring particularly true, at least in my opinion--the bad attitude of these teen-age girls, especially towards law-enforcement officials, seems to go way over the top given that a murder has occurred on campus. Occasional allusions to some sort of supernatural influences are intriguing but ultimately go nowhere. The sub-plot involving intra-office police department politics doesn't add much to the story except perhaps laying the foundation for a partnership in Ms. French's next novel.
In the meantime, I'll keep listening and hoping.
This book, recommended to me by another dog lover, is an odd combination of relatively dry discussions of the biology and psychology of dogs and treacly anecdotes about the author's dog, "Pump." As such, it does not work very well on either level.
The book has its moments on topics such as dogs' eyesight and sense of time, and a critique of the skewed (by human assumptions) conclusions of some studies on dog behavior. Notwithstanding these bright spots, much of the material will already be familiar to any dog-lover, and the frequent and cutesy descriptions of Pumps's behavior, while apparently intended to make the book a bit more "personal," came across as an irritating effort on the part of the author to convince us of her own dog's particular specialness.
The narration is slow (try it at 1.25 speed, at a minimum) which doesn't make the material any easier to get through. I am giving it 3 stars because it does contain a lot of information which may be unfamiliar to some readers. Still, if you're looking for a book to help you better understand your dog, I would recommend "The Wolf in the Parlor" by Jon Franklin.
It is the time of year when I find myself in the mood for a good ghost story, but unfortunately, this isn't one of them. The premise is intriguing, involving dead and half-dead characters who exist on their own plane and sometimes interact with the living, most often in dreams. Plenty of potential here for eerie suspense and exploration of dimensions of human existence beyond the worldly. Sadly, this potential is wasted and what we have instead is combination of vapid romance novel and tedious travelogue of the traditional Chinese afterlife. There are aspects of Chinese mythology and culture which are of interest but they can't compensate for the predictable plot, 2-dimensional characters and cloying narrative style. Guess I'll still be searching for a good ghost story.
This book has been sitting on my shelf unread for many years, so I welcomed the chance to listen to this audio version. I usually find classics well-worthy of their reputations as such, but I confess to being disappointed in this one. Perhaps that is the pitfall of having such high expectations.
The novel is an exploration of the many facets of love from the heterosexual male point of view. The female characters serve mainly as foils--as the objects of male attention, intention and obsession. Even the main female protagonist, Fermina, seems rather 2-dimensional--her actions mainly serving as the impetus for the actions, thoughts and feelings of the men who are drawn to her.
The cholera of the title is not accidental. Episodes of this plague occur at various points throughout the book, but more important are the parallels drawn between cholera and love. Love is likened to a disease--mercilessly consuming its victims and typically causing far more torment than pleasure. While certainly containing elements of truth, it is a fairly oppressive view of the nature of love.
The prose is beautiful--evocative of time and place, if at times slow-moving. The translation serves the work well as does the narration. It is certainly a book worth reading once, but I doubt I will want to return to it anytime soon.
Although it has been more than a decade since this book was written, it remains as mind-boggling as when it was first published. Here, Ronson delves into Islamic fundamentalists, David Icke with his theories about reptilians in control of the planet, the Bilderberg Group and the shenanigans at Bohemian Grove.
We are often left wondering who the real extremists are: Is it David Icke who maintains that world leaders are really reptilians in disguise or members of the JDL who insist that "reptilian" is code for "Jewish" ("No, he really means 'reptilian'" Ickes' followers claim)? Is it the Weaver family holed up on Ruby Ridge or the quasi-military force that took them down (a very sad episode)? Part of what makes Ronson's writing (and excellent narration) so compelling is the way he juxtaposes the ordinariness of every-day lives of these people with the often bizarre extremist views they hold.
A both informative and very enjoyable listen.
This book is both very strange and VERY slow (both in content and narration). The allusion to Proust is apt as it originates in the book itself which contains repeated references to Proust’s 7 volume “In Search of Lost Time,” best known for its obsessive preoccupation with even the most trivial minutia of daily life. A variant of Proust's style is employed in this work to describe a parallel fantasy world of 1984 Japan in which there are 2 moons, the world is controlled by undefined "little people" who emerge from the mouths of dead animals and humans to create doppelgangers of existing people, and in which immaculate conceptions can occur. Despite overly frequent references to genitalia, sex, menstruation, etc., erotic is the last thing this book can be described as.
To be charitable, my guess is that this book does not translate well--either figuratively from a cultural standpoint, or literally, as the language often seems clumsy and stilted. Although there are frequent allusions to Western culture, the feeling of the book is more akin to that of the highly stylized form of Japanese Kabuki theatre--the characters seem to be stand-ins intended to represent concepts or principles rather than real people and it's difficult to empathize with them or care about their fates. There were probably some symbolic references which could have been gleaned from the various facets of the fantasy world, but frankly I was too exhausted from the book’s ponderous verbiage to have the energy to figure them out.
If you still think this book might appeal to you, I would recommend playing it at 1.5 speed. I did this for the last 3 sections—it helped me keep from tearing my hair out over its excessively slow pace and actually enabled me to finish listening to it.
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