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 1924 Club

I had every intention of joining in with this lovely project hosted by Simon and Karen.


There was a book on the Wikipedia Literature list for 1924 I had long been intending to read – The King of Elfland’s Daughter by Lord Dunsany. I duly ordered a copy – the Fantasy Masterworks edition which has an introduction by Neil Gaiman.  I have read many of the novels in this series over the years, so hopes were high…

King of Elfland's DaughterBut it’s been a severe case of wrong time for reading this book for me. I only got a couple of short chapters in, but the language is too florid and full of multi-claused sentences which start off passively for me at the moment. Here are a couple of examples:

And there with eyes that saw every minute more dimly, and fingers that grew accustomed to the thunderbolts’ curious surfaces, he found before darkness came down on him seventeen: and these he heaped into a silken kerchief and carried back to the witch. (p4)

To the long chamber, sparsely furnished, high in a tower, in which Alveric slept, there came a ray direct from the rising sun. He awoke, and remembered at once the magical sword, which made all his awaking joyous. It is natural to feel glad at the thought of a recent gift, but there was also a certain joy in the word itself, which perhaps could communicated with Alveric’s thoughts all the more easily just as they came from dreamland, which was pre-eminently the sword’s own country; but, however it be, all those that have come by a magical sword have always felt that joy while it still was new, clearly and unmistakably. (p9)

Compared with Star Trek, a Star Wars fan I am not, and I think this Yoda-speak with added clauses would irritate me intensely at the moment if I continued. So I am putting aside the book for another time!

I have, however, previously read and reviewed two titles published in 1924, so I will give them a plug here instead:


Social Reading with Scott & Friends

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

YanagiharaI had been reluctant to read this much-hyped Booker longlisted novel, but after Rebecca’s review for Shiny New Books I was beginning to move off the fence, so that when Scott of Me & My Big Mouth announced a readalong, or as he calls it ‘social reading’ I was ready to join in.

The book has seven parts and the plan is to read one every two or three days. Today is report-back day on the first part ‘Lispenard Street‘ which is 83 pages long.

Most novels use the first chapters to introduce their characters, A Little Life is no difference in that respect.  We meet the quartet of college roommates who have now graduated, moved to the Big Apple and are busy trying to make a life for themselves a few years on.

There’s JB the Haitian painter who’s waiting to be discovered; Willem, a Scandinavian from the Midwest, waits tables while waiting for his big break as an actor; Malcolm is coasting as a junior architect at a prestigious firm while still living at home with his (well-off) parents; and there’s Jude whom we’ll come back to later.

All the bases are covered too: racially – black, white, half and half, and an unknown mix; sexually – straight, gay, undecided; economically – rich and poor; personalities – Willem is kind and handsome, JB. is outgoing, Malcolm is inhibited, and Jude is the brilliant, tortured one.

This first section concentrates on Willem and Jude finding a bijou and run-down apartment to move into in Lispenard Street, it is being sub-let by a friend of JB’s. At the viewing Willem asks:

“Does the elevator work well here?” Willem asked abruptly, turning around.

“What?” Annika replied, startled. “Yes, it’s pretty reliable.” She pulled her faint lips into a narrow smile that JB realized, wit a stomach-twist of embarrassment for her, was meant to be flirtatious. Oh, Annika, he thought. “What exactly are you planning on bringing into my aunt’s apartment?”

“Our friend,” he answered, before Willem could. “He has troule climbing stairs and needs the elevator to work.” (p11)

This is the first intimation that Jude is in some way disabled – but whether from birth, accident of other injury we don’t know yet.

The novel goes on to give us some back stories on JB, Malcolm and Willem, saving Jude for later.  We will find out a little about Jude’s present though – he’s a talented lawyer who’s good at maths. He also self-harms and is in constant pain.  Jude looks bound to be the main protagonist of the novel, with his three protectors.

Well, based on these beginning chapters, I’ve fallen for Willem already and can’t wait (although I know it’s bound to be awful) to find out about Jude.

It’s still just summertime – and the reading is easy!  I’m hooked, and it’s part two on Friday (I’ll only post again at the end, but will comment over at  Me & My Big Mouth.)

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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!!!

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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!

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