The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

Published: 1st December 2001 Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 David R. Godine Publisher
Pages: 138
Format: Paperback
Genre: Classic/Paranormal Gothic
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

What real reader does not yearn, somewhere in the recesses of his or her heart, for a really literate, first-class thriller–one that chills the body, but warms the soul with plot, perception, and language at once astute and vivid? In other words, a ghost story written by Jane Austen?

Alas, we cannot give you Austen, but Susan Hill’s remarkable Woman In Black comes as close as our era can provide. Set on the obligatory English moor, on an isolated causeway, the story has as its hero Arthur Kipps, an up-and-coming young solicitor who has come north from London to attend the funeral and settle the affairs of Mrs. Alice Drablow of Eel Marsh House. The routine formalities he anticipates give way to a tumble of events and secrets more sinister and terrifying than any nightmare: the rocking chair in the deserted nursery, the eerie sound of a pony and trap, a child’s scream in the fog, and most dreadfully–and for Kipps most tragically–The Woman In Black.

I read this expecting to be unnerved and unsettled but it didn’t quite reach that point. Overall it was enjoyable, but I found it a bit boring and slow at times. I understood the haunting, creepy nature but it didn’t grab me like it probably should. For the most part it was an ok story and I was curious about it, but that was as far as I got.

Reflecting the stories of centuries past this isn’t a horror story to frighten you, it’s meant to put you ill at ease with stories of ghosts and a mysterious woman lurking in graveyards. Small towns on moors with constant fog with secrets and unwilling to trust strangers.

You have to wait for the story to kick off and once that happens the plot unfolds properly and you get a few explanations and events that keep you intrigued. One thing I wasn’t expecting was how much the ending affected me. After reading about Kipps and his life, his experience with this old house and what he finds there I was anticipating the ending, but when it came to read about it I was quite moved. It’s that I remember most from this book, for that I give Hill credit for her writing. It burrows in when you think you aren’t paying attention and then turns your emotions on you in unexpected ways.

This is a relatively short book and it was better than the film, though both tell the story well. I think I missed that ending from the film which to me made this book all the better.

You can purchase The Woman in Black via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Angus and Robinson | Dymocks | Wordery

Fishpond | Amazon Aust | Amazon | Audible

Long Lost Review: Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay

Long Lost Reviews is a monthly meme created by Ally over at Ally’s Appraisals which is posted on the second Thursday of every month. The aim is to start tackling your review backlog. Whether it’s an in-depth analysis of how it affected your life, one sentence stating that you only remember the ending, or that you have no recollection of reading the book at all. 

Published: 2nd July 1998Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Vintage
Pages: 189
Format: Paperback
Genre: Classic/Mystery
★   ★  – 2 Stars

It was a cloudless summer day in the year nineteen hundred.

Everyone at Appleyard College for Young Ladies agreed it was just right for a picnic at Hanging Rock. After lunch, a group of three of the girls climbed into the blaze of the afternoon sun, pressing on through the scrub into the shadows of Hanging Rock. Further, higher, till at last they disappeared.

They never returned.

Whether Picnic at Hanging Rock is fact or fiction the reader must decide for themselves.

I read this last year and while most of the actual plot has been forgotten, I still recall my disdain and unenjoyment. This terrible “classic” has managed to be one that has the rare privilege of having a much better and more enjoyable movie. With the knowledge that movies only take a small percentage of the true depth and meaning of books, I figured the film version of Picnic at Hanging Rock had done the same. What I discovered instead, was that the first 13 pages of the book is the entirety of the movie.

I was confused and intrigued when I started to read, how can this book fill all these pages when the picnic is right at the start? But it is such a small part that propels the rest of this story into the strange and dull thing it becomes. I loved the mystery, I loved the eerie feeling and I loved how unexplained it was. But after it happens, it was hard to find the same enjoyment from the remaining book. The confusion remained, but the intrigue was replaced by boredom.

After the famous picnic the narrative becomes a longwinded story about guilt and nightmares, boring descriptions of boarding school, and page after page of nothing. There is probably meant to be a mystery in there, detective questions, curiosity and fear about the missing girls was mentioned after all. And yet eventually I found myself dreading each page, dragging myself through this book for the desire to finish it, to hope it got better. I hated this book so much in the end I couldn’t even finish it, I think the final ten pages remain unread because I was interrupted reading it and genuinely had no desire to pick it back up again. They could have found them in those ten pages but I find that highly unlikely.

I think I’d like to have my memory remain where I thought that the book itself was just the trip to the rock, that it ended with the unanswered questions and mystery about what happened without the stuff afterwards. That is much better than the other 176 pages where I wanted to claw my eyes out.

 

The Women in Black by Madeleine St John

Published: 30th March 2009 (print)/10 September 2012 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Text Publishing/Bolinda Audio
Pages: 233/5 hours 56 minutes
Narrator: Deidre Rubenstein
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Fiction
★   ★  – 2 Stars

Sydney in the late 1950s. On the second floor of the famous F.G. Goode department store, in Ladies’ Cocktail Frocks, the women in black are girding themselves for the Christmas rush. Lisa is the new Sales Assistant (Temporary). Across the floor and beyond the arch, she is about to meet the glamorous Continental refugee, Magda, guardian of the rose-pink cave of Model Gowns. With the lightest touch and the most tender of comic instincts, Madeleine St John conjures a vanished summer of innocence. The Women in Black is a classic.

This is a curious book. It was a decent read, the characters were all unique in their own way and yet have the wonderful conformity of the 1950s, and the era comes to life with St John’s words. I am caught between liking it and thinking it was just ok. Somewhere in the 2.5 star field because somehow I couldn’t give it a three.

If I stopped listening I found myself forgetting I was reading it at all. There was nothing in the story to get me back into it, and yet I didn’t hate it while I read it. I wasn’t bored per se, it’s just that nothing happens. I think it was the final third or even further when something happened that I finally got into it, and even then it’s not much. I think that was more the ending coming to a head so it felt conclusive.

This is a novel that is character driven, certainly more so than plot. I certainly have nothing against character driven novels, I think though that enjoyment comes from having characters that interest you so you want to read about their lives. I enjoyed Magda, and Lisa was endearing, but so few others piqued my interest. I felt two or three of these women took centre stage and felt more real than others which may have had something to do with it.

I did love the writing style. St John’s words are elegant and natural without being formal or unnecessarily complicated. The language puts you into this era and it separates the characters from one another with ease, almost so you don’t even notice it. This is emphasised by Rubenstein’s narration. Her use of voices and tone brought this story to life and highlighted St John’s beautiful words. There is slight humour but not enough to be a distraction, and the conversations are often humorous simply for their stark contrasts to modern times. This language was also why I enjoyed the ending. St John concludes this novel with style and it was a seamless ending that suited the characters she had created. There was a heartfelt sentimentality that gave extra meaning to all that had come before it, all through the characters she uses to bring this story together.

Oddly enough, I also found the obituary at the end of my audiobook quite enjoyable. I enjoyed listening about St John and her life from someone who knew her. It was interesting too because I learnt that the book was actually published in 1993. I was impressed because St John captures the language and the feel of the 50s remarkably well. It didn’t feel forced or over the top and there was class and charm in her words that she managed to recreate the era remarkably well.

I will be interested in the movie now (retitled Ladies in Black) because I would like to see how they portray this, if not for the story, but to see these wonderful cocktail frocks for myself.

You can purchase The Women in Black via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Angus and Robinson | Dymocks

Fishpond | Amazon Aust | Amazon | Audible

Long Lost Review: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

Long Lost Reviews is a monthly meme created by Ally over at Ally’s Appraisals which is posted on the second Thursday of every month. The aim is to start tackling your review backlog. Whether it’s an in-depth analysis of how it affected your life, one sentence stating that you only remember the ending, or that you have no recollection of reading the book at all. 

Published: 6th November 2008Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Penguin Classics
Pages: 253
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Gothic Literature
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

Enthralled by his own exquisite portrait, Dorian Gray exchanges his soul for eternal youth and beauty. Influenced by his friend Lord Henry Wotton, he is drawn into a corrupt double life, indulging his desires in secret while remaining a gentleman in the eyes of polite society. Only his portrait bears the traces of his decadence. 

The famous Dorian Gray. I always was intrigued by this story and was very pleased when I finally made myself sit down and read it. Now of course, can’t remember much about it. I remember being very confused for the first part of the book because it is written in the old style, wordy and lots of odd conversations and language, but I do remember enjoying the obvious sexual attraction between Basil Hallward and Lord Henry which was a delightful read.

For a classic piece of literature I didn’t hate it which was a surprise in itself, but I think I realised that the idea of this novel is much more enjoyable than the actual book itself. It’s very much a novel of its time; wordy and filled with gentlemen having strange conversations that all sound like sexual innuendo. Though this was Wilde, maybe it was actual sexual innuendo.

With a four star review I must have liked some parts of it, I think once it finally got going and the story took off it improved much more. I don’t remember much about what actually happens, I might even endeavour a revisit so as to reacquaint myself because I did always think I’d enjoy this book, and with four starts I obviously did, I just wish I could remember a bit more about it.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang by Ian Fleming

Birthday

Today marks the 106th birthday of author Ian Fleming, best known for his novels turned movies about 007 spy James Bond. However, writing novels is not how Fleming started out. Born in 1908, Fleming was the second of four bothers to parents Valentine and Eve. Valentine was a Member of Parliment for Henley in London and they lived in the wealthy district of Mayfair. Just before Fleming’s ninth birthday his father was killed in the First World War, and family friend and fellow officer, Winston Churchill wrote the obituary.

Fleming had a range of jobs, he attempted a career in the army, failing his officer’s exam and his attempt to get into the Foreign Office, he instead joined the Reuters news agency. It was here he learnt the basics of journalism and relished in reporting on the espionage trial in Russia. He left this position and worked in a bank in London before moving onto a stockbroker company. He soon changed jobs again and became, unexpectedly, the personal assistant to the Director of the Naval Intelligence, a job that transformed his life.

The first Bond novel, Casino Royal, was written in 1953, with one being released every year afterwards until 1966. Fleming had a major impact on British culture and there is a lot written about him. I could spent forever discussing all the things he did, especially about James Bond, so instead I suggest you check out the superb official website. Here you will find video, details information about Fleming’s life, his creation of the Bond novels, as well as his literary career, family, and even trivia.

Fleming is the kind of author I know of, but know little about aside from what he wrote. I have not read any of the James Bond novels, and I do not feel qualified to discuss them but there has been so much written about them it is worth looking up to find about the themes, ideas, and style through Flemings many books. I have however, read Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

I’m not sure how many people know that the creator of the suave spy James Bond is also the creator of the magical flying car that was turned into a wonderful movie with Dick Van Dyke but this little story is one that continues to delight. Three additions to the series were added by Frank Cottrell Boyce that carries on the magical adventures of the car, each having a new adventure and going new places..

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was a story created for Fleming’s son Caspar. In 1962 when Dr. No was being turned into a film, Fleming suffered a heart attack and was under orders not to work, instead he hand wrote Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the story of adventures with a family and their magical car.

 

Exciting Bits and Pieces

Website
More about Ian Fleming
James Bond
Fun Facts

Published: 22 October 19643349b-goodreads-button
Publisher: 
Puffin
Pages: 
113
Format: 
Book
Genre: 
Junior Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★   – 4 Stars

“Crackpot” is what everybody calls the Pott family. So when they go to buy a new car and come back with a wreck, nobody is surprised. Except for the Potts themselves. First, the car has a name. And she tells them what it is. Then they find out that she can fly. And swim…Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is a car on a mission to stop a criminal gang in its tracks — and she is taking the Potts with her!

 

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang follows the story of a car and the Pott family. Comander Caractacus Pott is an inventor, husband to Mimsie Pott and father to two twin children Jeremy and Jemima. After selling his whistle-like sweets to a sweets factory owned by Lord Skrumshus, Commander Pott buys and renovates an old car. At first the car is just big, impressive and powerful, but the Pott family soon learn that the car is alive, and just a little bit magical.

This was something I enjoyed because unlike the movie version it is made clear that Chitty herself is alive, not that Pott made her special. Chitty initiates all her magical elements such as flying, and floating through various scenarios in the book, not all extraordinary circumstances either. She indicates to Pott which buttons need pushing and what levers need pulling and marvellous things happen.

After a mishap at a family outing the Pott family end up in France where their adventures really kick off. I can’t say many of my family outings included dynamite and blowing up criminal hideouts, but then again what the British did in their free time is not my concern.

Some parts of the plot are actually really interesting and well written. Being a true Fleming story there are marvellous cars and technology, danger, gangsters, and thrilling plots galore. It is definitely an intriguing read and one that you can tell has come from the mind of the great James Bond creator. There is a great story here if you accept some of its peculiarities and absurdness. I understand this is supposed to be a children’s book of magic and adventure but you can’t ignore that some parts are slightly silly. The fact that the Pott family thought they could just blow up a part of the French cliffs and nobody will make a fuss, “Probably even give us medals” I recall Mr Pott saying, made me smile. Nothing like a good old British stab at the French. And the proximity of small children to dynamite was an interesting turn, but being the 60s and from the mind of Fleming it just adds to the excitement.

Having grown up on the film I enjoyed seeing the Pott family as a whole unit, and Commander Potts as quirky but competent. The key here, as with most children’s books, or any books really, is don’t expect them to be exactly like the film. Characters are added, removed, all in the name of storytelling. Unlike in the film, there is a Mrs Pott in the book, which immediately rules out the chance of a romance occurring for dear Mr Pott with the Skrumshus daughter (who is also absent). They always seem to break up the families, either for pity or for love interest when these movies are made, the same thing happened with Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory if I recall.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is a relatively short book, definitely an easy read, and one that has and will continue to delight. I haven’t read any of the other books in the series by Frank Cottrell Boyce, and I am not entirely sure I want to. I am quite happy to enjoy Chitty Chitty Bang Bang as a standalone book, but who knows, one day I may stumble across the others and give them a go. As I say, don’t come looking to this book thinking it is like the movie, aside from some vague similarities in the beginning the rest is not the same at all and in its own right it is just as good.

Previous Older Entries