Annabel's House of Books

Noli domo egredi, nisi librum habes – Never leave home without a book.

Category: Memes Challenges & Readalongs (page 1 of 9)

The Acrostic Meme

I found this meme over at Margaret’s blog where it comes by way of Lori’s and I thought I’d join in the fun:

The meme is to make an acrostic of your name in book titles you’ve read this year. I thought I’d extend that from Annabel to Annabookbel. Here is mine, with links to the original reviews:

A is for Annihilation, Authority and Acceptance – the Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff Vandermeer

N is for Naked at the Albert Hall by Tracey Thorn

N is for Naked in Death by J.D.Robb

A is for Acts of Omission by Terry Stiastny

B is for The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

O is for Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller

O is for Orient by Christopher Bollen

K is for (The) Knowledge by Lewis Dartnell

B is for (The) Boy Who Stole Attila’s Horse by Ivan Repila

E is for Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper

L is for (The) List of My Desires by Gregoire Delacourt

Feel free to have a go.

Extra Shiny tomorrow – back to book reviews soon!

Book Bingo update…

I thought it was time to update you on my endeavours on my Book Bingo card. As you can see, I’ve completed the top row and a scattering elsewhere:

Book Bingo Update 1

Here’s what I’ve read, with links to reviews where appropriate:

Top Row:
1. Literary Mag or Journal: The Literary Review – this was simple as I subscribe.
2. Romance or Love Story: Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler
3. Part of a series: Soulless by Gail Carriger
4. Hated by someone you know: The Martian by Andy Weir – hated by Simon Savidge.
5. Sports related: Polo by Jilly Cooper.

Second Row:
6. A Novella: The Hanged Man of Saint-Pholien by Georges Simenon, clocking in at 138 pages of actual text.

Middle Row:
15. With a Blue Cover: All Sorts of Possible by Rupert Wallis – a new YA novel I’m reviewing for Shiny New Books v.soon.

Fourth Row: Zilch yet!

Bottom Row:
21. Set in another country: The End of Days by Jenny Erpenbeck – set in Hungary, Austria, USSR, Berlin and New York.
22. Written under a pseudonym: Seeking Whom He May Devour by Fred Vargas – the French crime author aka Frédérique Audoin-Rouzeau. Review coming soon.

So not too shabby. I wish I could use The Martian to cross off some other boxes though – it’s in the bestseller lists and is Science Fiction of course, but I’m not cheating – yet!  And I can choose any book that doesn’t fit in elsewhere for the middle square.

If you’re doing this summer Book Bingo – how’s it going for you?

Shirley Jackson Reading Week

Shirley-Jackson-Reading-WeekIt’s Shirley Jackson Reading Week – hosted by Simon, Jenny and Ana. I had been planning just to scan the posts as my pile of books I must read (e.g. Anthony Powell) is rather large, but what hey! Why not read a book too? It’s not as if I didn’t have a Shirley Jackson novel ready and waiting on my shelves thanks to Simon who reviewed several of hers for the first issue of Shiny New Books.

I’m not entirely new to Shirley Jackson, having read and loved We Have Always Lived in the Castle – which I read pre-blog in 2008. I have consulted back to my master spreadsheet to see what notes I made about it then…

MerricatA creepy tale of a big house where the two Blackwood sisters, Constance and Merricat, live with their old uncle. The local villagers treat them with suspicion and hate, after six of the Blackwood family died one night from poisoning. Constance was tried and found innocent. The sisters and Uncle Julian try to live quietly in their mausoleum; Constance tends the garden, Uncle Julian sees to his papers, and the beloved Merricat patrols and protects the estate with ritual and amulets. However, one day cousin Charles arrives – and life will never be the same after that.

This short novel is an excellent exercise in paranoia, the whole ‘did she didn’t she’ question over the poisoning, the villagers’ suspicion (and jealousy, for the Blackwoods are not short of a penny, although they don’t flaunt it at all), and then the catalyst that arrives to upset everything. A very intense read and beautifully crafted tale. (10/10)

I read it in a Penguin Deluxe paperback produced for the USA. Love that cover.

But which did I choose to read this time?

The Sundial by Shirley Jackson

sundial-195x300In one sentence The Sundial is a comedy about an upper class family who all hate each other thrust into a, to quote Private Fraser from Dad’s Army “We’re doomed!”, situation with Armageddon coming at the end of August. After the paranoia of WHALITC above, I hadn’t quite expected The Sundial, which preceded it by a few years to be so funny – it was absolutely hilarious!

It starts off with the Halloran family returning from Lionel’s funeral. The huge house they live in having reverted to Lionel’s parents. Even in the first paragraphs, the extent of there being no love lost between the Old Mrs Halloran and the Young Mrs Halloran, her daughter Fancy and the others is clear:

Young Mrs Halloran, looking after her mother-in-law, said without hope, “Maybe she will drop dead on the doorstep. Fancy, dear, would you like to see Granny drop dead on the doorstep?”  […]

“I am going to pray for it as long as I live,” said young Mrs Halloran, folding her hands together devoutly.
“Shall I push her?” Fancy asked. “Like she pushed my daddy?”

As for Mrs Halloran herself, when asked by her invalid husband Richard:

“Did you marry me for my father’s money?”

“Well, that, and the house.”

Over the next few pages we are also introduced to Aunt Fanny (Richard’s spinster sister); Essex – the house librarian and Miss Ogilvie – Fancy’s governess, and the scene is set for constant bickering between the lot of them. Now that she is in charge of the house again, Mrs Halloran decides to let Essex and Miss Ogilvie go, and tells them so. However, an event happens (and we’re still in the first chapter), that will change everything…

Fancy and Aunt Fanny are walking in the further reaches of the garden. Fancy runs off and Aunt Fanny is temporarily lost and panics, but eventually finds her way to the huge sundial – in the middle of the front lawn and inscribed with the words “WHAT IS THIS WORLD?” – only to be faced with an apparition of her own long-dead father who tells her that the end of the world is coming and that only those in the house will survive. She makes it back inside and faints.

“The experiment with humanity is at an end,” Aunt Fanny said.
“Splendid,” Mrs Halloran said. “I was getting very tired of all of them.”
“The imbalance of the universe is being corrected. Dislocations have been adjusted. Harmony is to be restored, inperfections erased.”

The strangest thing is that Mrs Halloran decides to take Aunt Fanny’s ramblings seriously. She senses the opportunity for a real powerplay with herself as Queen Bee.

At this point, Jackson injects some new characters into the narrative. Mrs Willow and her two daughters, ‘friends’ of Mrs Halloran. Then Gloria, the daughter of a cousin turns up unexpectedly. With all this upheaval Essex and Miss Ogilvie are given a reprieve, (for of course Essex will have to be one of the sires of the new race after the apocalypse).

More new characters appear – amongst them we meet the Misses Devonshire who run a shop in the village; Edna’s True Believers who believe that aliens will be landing at the end of August, and the household acquires another male ‘the captain’, who is obviously not, but plays along with everything. Aunt Fanny sets about provisioning the house, meaning that the library has to be converted to a storeroom – and they burn the books – criminal! They discover that Gloria can see ‘visions’ in an oiled mirror and these confirm what is to happen…

You all know the story of Chicken Licken who believed the sky was going to fall on his head? It’s a much-loved tale that Disney had adapted in 1943 in an animated short made for the purpose of discrediting Nazism, his version having the moral of don’t believe everything you read. Jackson may well have been influenced by that with Aunt Fanny as Chicken Licken and Mrs Halloran the unscrupulous and manipulative fox. But, in the late 1950s the Cold War was really ramping up. In the timeline of the Cold War, in 1957 the US strategic air command was put on 24/7 alert against pre-emptive strike from Soviet ICBMs (not stood down until 1991!), and in November that year a report urged Eisenhower to review defense capabilities and build fallout shelters for US citizens. Aunt Fanny’s bunker mentality is well to the fore here.

Jackson takes all these elements of Gothic melodrama and puts them in a pressure cooker which will eventually explode in a brilliantly conceived ending. The humour, as we’ve seen, is often wickedly dark and the old Mrs Halloran is positively Machiavellian in her plans – I don’t think I’ve ever read such a funny apocalyptic novel.

My only quibble is that during the first third or so, I found it hard to keep up with who was who. Apart from some periods of extended description of the house and garden, the novel is almost all dialogue, and you have to keep your wits about you to know who said what, especially as Jackson is free and easy toggling between the formal names and Christian names of most of the characters or leaving the dialogue unfettered by not noting who said it. This confusion only increased whenever new ones were introduced, but the pace of the drama keeps you going.

Ultimately I preferred WHALITC, but The Sundial is also mighty fine (9.5/10) and, if the world were to end at the end of August, I’ll have had a good time that weekend at Jamie Oliver’s and Alex James’s Big Feastival so can go out on a high!!!

* * * * *
Source: Own copies. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
We Have Always Lived in the Castle (Penguin Modern Classics), paperback, 176 pages.
The Sundial (Penguin Modern Classics), paperback, 240 pages.

British Writing is Not All Grey

fiction uncovered logo

You’ll have seen this popping up around the blogosphere, originating from a call by Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize Director Sophie Rochester to celebrate contemporary British writing. People have been using it as a hashtag #britishwritingisnotallGrey on Twitter etc; Naomi blogged about it here and Susan here. So I’ve decided to join in and add my list of contemporary/living British writers I particularly enjoy and have blogged about into the mix – here they are, with links to my posts featuring them:

….. and these are only a selection of those I’ve blogged about!

Bingo!

Just to say, I’m going to join in the Books on the Nightstand Summer Book Bingo along with Simon S and Simon T and surely many others.

Here’s my card:

Book Bingo

Get your own card here and join in the fun!

Little Big Readalong update

Little Big by John Crowley

little big pbkI had such good intentions back here joining in with the Little Big readalong, but already I’ve got seriously waylaid by Shiny New Books and other things, not the least of which is that I’m now behind on Anthony Powell because I started my Annabel’s Shelves project. I once did one of those personality tests and came out as a Creator-Innovator – which means that I’m bad on following through… Yup! That’s me.

This is my excuse for saying that I’m putting re-reading Little Big on hold having made it only to page 75. The key reason for this is that I’m struggling to get into it. There is just so much description – it’s like Donna Tartt with added parentheses. It’s not that the language or style is difficult, it isn’t, but it is leisurely and I’m less time-tolerant of this quality in a text these days. Mea culpa.

However, there were bits I loved – in particular Edgewood having a multiplicity of fronts to it:

“This used to be the front,” Daily Alice said. “Then they built the garden and the wall; so the back became the front. It was a font anyway. And now this is the back front.” She straddled the bench, and picked up a twig, at the same time drawing out with her pinkie a glittering hair that had blown between her lips. She scratched a quick five-pointed star in the dirt. Smoky looked at it, and at the tautness of her jeans. “That’s not really it,” she said, looking birdwise at her star, “but sort of. See, it’s a house all fronts. It was built to be a sample. My great=grandfather? Who I wrote you about? He built this house to be a sample, so people could come and look at it, from any side, and choose which kind of house they wanted; that’s why the inside is so crazy. It’s so many houses, sort of put inside each other or across each other, with their fronts sticking out.”

Pop -up books from Smithsonian Institution's Libraries Movable books collection

Pop -up books from Smithsonian Institution’s Libraries Movable books collection

That image is amazing, but rather than the sides of a star or polygon, it made me think of pop-up books… turn the page and a new structure pops up from the folds of the book.

I hope to find another time when I’ll have the patience to savour Little Big

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