We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

Published: 31st October 2006Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Penguin
Pages: 146
Format: Paperback
Genre: Gothic Mystery
★ – 1 Star

Merricat Blackwood lives on the family estate with her sister Constance and her Uncle Julian. Not long ago there were seven Blackwoods—until a fatal dose of arsenic found its way into the sugar bowl one terrible night. Acquitted of the murders, Constance has returned home, where Merricat protects her from the curiosity and hostility of the villagers.

I think it is no small feat for a book with only 146 pages to bore me so much. I had heard this was a classic, I had heard this was a Gothic mystery. A short Gothic mystery sounded like a great read. Unfortunately this was not the case.

To the credit of Shirley Jackson I was intrigued for a few chapters but then I was uninterested. I could see the Gothic mystery feel Jackson was going for. I got into the mood of the book, the small town, the eyes and whispers, not to mention the old house with the secluded family and secrets. After a good introduction to this town and these strange characters it plateaus and not a lot happens. The mystery around Merricat and her sister is decent, but there was something that couldn’t keep me engaged. I think it was perhaps the fact I figured out the secret from the beginning, but even then it is slow.

Merricat is a strange character. She is airy and absent, and if it wasn’t for the fact she interacted with villagers at the start I was half convinced she was a ghost and only Constance could see her. It’s an entirely confusing story as Jackson tries to keep not saying things and keeps etiquette from stating things outright. The dynamic between the remaining Blackwood’s is stilted, Merricat is unreliable as a narrator and she speaks in riddles half the time so you have no idea what is happening.

What was worse than it being confusing was that it became quite boring. I got myself to the halfway point and it got so dull I couldn’t bring myself to continue. I tried but I had no interest in these characters or their lives. The hook of the secret and the general strangeness wasn’t enough to hold me. I even tried skimming but didn’t care for that either. I ended up looking at the plot on Wikipedia, confirmed I knew what had happened and was relieved that I hadn’t read the rest of it, even if it was only 146 pages long I couldn’t make myself read any further.

There is an exciting ending, if one could call it that. Something happens at any rate, but perhaps this tale of Gothic mystery just wasn’t for me. In a similar vein to The Woman in Black, I cannot see the point of dragging things out endlessly for a mood. For even Hill’s story was 138 pages and it managed to have more substance than this one did.

You can purchase We Have Always Lived in the Castle via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Watership Down by Richard Adams

Published: June 1975 (print)/1 September 2005 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Avon Books/ABC Audio
Pages: 478/5 hrs
Narrator: Kerry Francis
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Classic/Young Adult/Fantasy
★   ★   ★ – 3 Stars

Set in England’s Downs, a once idyllic rural landscape, this stirring tale of adventure, courage and survival follows a band of very special creatures on their flight from the intrusion of man and the certain destruction of their home. Led by a stout-hearted pair of friends, they journey forth from their native Sandleford Warren through the harrowing trials posed by predators and adversaries, to a mysterious promised land and a more perfect society. 

The way I had heard people talk about this book I was expecting it to be filled with death, heartache and disaster. I compared it to Animals of Farthing Wood where they lost members of their party and the entire book was about their journey. This was not entirely the case, but I guess, in a way, this was also a tough journey, especially into the unknown.

The different rabbit warrens were interesting and seeing the different scenarios they came upon made for an entertaining read. Seeing our world through the rabbit perspective was curious because sometimes they knew what things were other times they didn’t. This of course was due to where they lived. They knew some human things but not others because they had never seen them before.

I listened to a dramatisation which said it was unabridged but I was looking at my physical copy later and I’m sure most of it was there, but with dramatisations there is a lot less “he said, she said” required not to mention description as you can act it out with different voices and sound effects which might have made the difference.

The actors brought the characters to life really well, I liked the voices chosen for them and it reflected their personalities. Hazel was a wonderful character, he wasn’t flawless but he had a good heart. Surprisingly Fiver didn’t annoy me as much as I thought he would with his dramatics. They never explained much but perhaps that was the mystery of the rabbit world.

Adams was clever with parallels, the stories of El-ahrairah to influence the decisions of the rabbits. It created an understanding of the rabbit community and practice and how their beliefs played into their everyday life. Inspiration from their folklore to aide their current perils. Not only that but their own ingenuity to become greater than they were in order to survive.

As heartless as it sounds, I enjoyed the ending. I liked that brains beat brawn and even if some parts were strange, overall it was a good story. I’d always heard about this horrible ending and I can see how it might be a tad traumatic if you were a kid. I watched the movie afterwards, the 1970s version, and I can see their point. Despite the cartoon nature the violence really shines through and I will agree that end scene was visually very bloody and violent.

Thinking about it, I did enjoy the story more than I might have been in the middle. I have a few questions such as their ongoing (but logical) obsession with does, but also the fact they never try to rescue anyone else from their sorry lives when they meet them. Surely there would have been others who would have loved to come and join them, but they never thought to ask. If that is my only true criticism then that’s not so bad.

You can purchase Watership Down via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audio – Dramatisation

Long Lost Review: Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (#1) by Robert C. O’Brien

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. 

Todays LLR is one I actually found in my drafts from the long ago time of 2013. It’s a short, strange review but it’s a decent start because I remember very little about the book without it. It’s so strange reading this now because I would not have written this review like this now, but that’s what 5 years of practice will do. I don’t say much in this review in terms of specifics but I seemed to quite enjoy the book.

Published: 25th July 2017Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Tinder Press
Pages: 341
Format: Paperback
Genre: Children Classic
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

Mrs. Frisby, a widowed mouse with four small children, must move her family to their summer quarters immediately, or face almost certain death. But her youngest son, Timothy, lies ill with pneumonia and must not be moved. Fortunately, she encounters the rats of NIMH, an extraordinary breed of highly intelligent creatures, who come up with a brilliant solution to her dilemma.

This story is yet another example of “why, oh why have I not read this book sooner?” It makes you wonder if somewhere in this wide world there are rats out there doing as these rats do. It was a really great read and nothing was skipped over and everything was explained in great detail, especially concerning the rats themselves, which managed to leave nothing unanswered but still keep the story interesting and engaging.

Mrs Frisby is a great mother, regardless of being a mouse, certainly a fine example of just what a mother will do when her child and family are in trouble. And so modest too, truly a darling. What was great was how everything was described and explained from the mice and rats perspective, the settings and narration took you into their world and made you realise how much they pick up from their surroundings, both in the human world and from nature.

The ending left me wanting to know more because there is such a strong investment in their story when it ends you really want to know what happened afterwards. There is a sequel that wasn’t written by the author but hopefully that fills in where this leaves off, or even just addresses the final mystery, but even without that there is a concluding feel where you know things will happen and the plans that are put in place by the mice and the rats will come into fruition.

 

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.

 

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