You are currently browsing the monthly archive for May 2011.

“They’ll get hold of you,” Mrs. Carmody said, showing us her bloody palm. The trickle of blood was now running down one of the wrinkles from her mouth to her chin like a droplet of rain down a gutter. “Not today, maybe. Tonight. Tonight when the dark comes. They’ll come with the night and take someone else. With the night they’ll come. You’ll hear them coming, creeping and crawling. And when they come, you’ll beg for Mother Carmody to show you what to do.”

I have not had a great history with Stephen King. His books tend to leave me cold, sometimes even bored, which is fatal for a horror suspense novel. Yet for my entire life he has been lauded as this amazing storyteller, whereas generally he leaves me nonplussed (and I am pleased to see I am not alone on this score – although the Nostalgia Critic irritates some people as much as King does myself, so a mixed result there).

Still I persist in reading King, because there has to be some reason for his success and the affection he inspires in many readers. Here’s the thing – I like a lot of the movies and Frank Darabont in particular has proven to be a wonderful collaborator. Apparently he has even convinced the writer to submit scripts for The Walking Dead television series, which should prove interesting.

The  story opens with husband and father David Drayton narrating to us the events of July 19th, when an unusual storm hit the community of Bridgton, Maine (of course!). With his house damaged and the family in need of supplies, Drayton takes his son Billy, as well as neighbour Brent Norton with whom he has endured long-standing acrimony, to the town centre to buy supplies.

At the local supermarket Drayton encounters the rest of the cast, including store employee Ollie Weeks, the elderly town gossip Mrs Carmody and an attractive out-of-towner Amanda Dunfries. Feeling an unusual premonition, Drayton has an urge to drop everything and rush home to his wife Stephanie. Then a fog bank swoops down over the town, similar to the one Drayton saw nearby his own home earlier that morning, eerily still and white. A man bursts into the supermarket yelling about things moving about inside the fog, claiming that he heard people screaming. Some customers grab what they can, infuriating the store manager when they do not pay, and run outside to get home. The rest are swayed by talk of something unusual happening in the mist and trust to the safety of the supermarket.

The cause of the unusual phenomenon is never explained, but when night falls the supermarket is falls under siege by a multitude of horrifying, insect-like creatures and tentacled monstrosities. The people within manage to mount a basic defense against the invasion, but it becomes clear that should one of the larger entities outside attack the store they will all be killed. The strain mounts, with some committing suicide and others turning for comfort to Mrs Carmody, transformed into a prophet of doom by the event, demanding a human sacrifice to appease the creatures. Drayton attempts to plot an escape with other sympathetic folks, but the dangers inside and out of the store increase with each passing night.

I was surprised with how much I enjoyed this story. For one, given that I already knew most of the plot from Darabont’s film adaptation, it was pleasing to still be surprised by some of the tricks King pulls here. It is a tight, fast-paced yarn, which owes a lot to traditional suspense stories, where for the most part the nature of the eldritch threat outside the supermarket is left to the reader’s imagination.

I think the main reason I enjoyed the story was because it is far less bloated than other King books I have read. He excels as a writer of shorts, too overly fond of extraneous detail in his longer novels. I suspect the reason for this is the evident influence of more visual horror tales, such as EC Comics and the films of his youth. As a horror writer he carries with him a precursor to the OCD-like insistence on jump-cut gore that today’s fiction demonstrates. Consider the modern game Dead Space – whose film adaptation I reviewed here – which sets out to be a traditional spine-chiller, but is just as twitch-happy and insistent in its gore as any brain-dead horror yarn.

When King sticks to the shorts, he’s far more convincing.

‘Granny Weatherwax is going to hear about this, and you’ll wish you’d never been born…or un-born or reborn or whatever you are!’

‘We look forward to meeting her,’ said the Count calmly. ‘But here we are, and I don’t seem to see this famous lady with us. Perhaps you should go and fetch her? You could take your friends. And when you see her, Miss Nitt, you can tell her that there is no reason why witches and vampires should fight.’

Pratchett and vampires? Oh you do know how to make me happy.

I have always liked the Discworld take on vampires, which is essentially that they are pathetic poseurs (which is how you spell ‘posers’, in this instance). However, the Discworld also happens to be a fantasy world where racial pluralism is a reality (take that Tolkien!) so there are vampires who are members of the Black Ribbon society in Ankh-Morpork. Sure they are undead, but do they have to live as monsters? – is their creed and it is a very amusing take on the traditional fiend.

With Carpe Jugulum Pratchett returns to oldschool vampires, with a slight twist. No more talk of temperance. Just systematic murder, organised under the simple principle of their being superior to humans and all the other ‘low’ races of the Discworld.

The story itself is set in the kingdom of Lancre, the setting for most of Pratchett’s Witches novels. Now some folk like Rincewind, others Vimes, but my personal favourite Discworld protagonist has always been Granny Weatherwax, the witch who will brook no nonsense (needless to say I am also a big Nanny Ogg fan). At the start of the story Granny is feeling her age once again, as well as a sense of isolation. She abandons Lancre in a fit of pique, believing that she was snubbed by her fellow witches and Queen Magrat when she does not receive an invitation to the royal baptism. Of course her departure comes at the worst possible juncture. King Verence, the former court fool who was revealed to have royal blood, is once again trying to be modern and extends an invitation to a very important family from the Überwald region.  Except of course they are vampires and by inviting them, Verence has literally just handed them the keys to the kingdom.

Only Agnes Nitt seems to be immune to the glamour of the vampires. The youngest of the Lancre witches, Agnes literally has a thin girl inside her trying to get out – which is to say, she hears this voice in her head making a running commentary on everything that she does wrong. This ‘Perdita’, allows her to resist the influence of the vampires, enough for her to realize what is happening to the rest of the citizens of Lancre. Her only companion is a young priest from the theocratic state of Omnia, last seen in an early Pratchett novel Small Gods (which happens to be one of my favourites). Mightily Oats suffers from profound religious doubt about his vocation, so like Agnes he too is of ‘two minds’, about everything. Together they try to organise the people of Lancre to rise up against the racial supremacist vampires and find Granny Weatherwax before it is too late.

Pratchett is simply too clever by half at times. Yes on initial inspection this book seems like a merging of Small Gods and that *other* book about Lancre falling victim to an invasion Lords and Ladies. It is a brilliant combination of themes though. The crisis of faith suffered by Mightily Oats allows the writer to expound on his humanist beliefs to great effect.

What’s more the book also addresses the limits of tolerance in multicultural society. This is something of a bugbear with me, the notion that ‘multiculturalism has failed‘ continues to gain traction in political circles, which is absurd as the definition of what it means seems to change all the time. Different races living together is nothing new. What has changed is that now there is this expectation that races should be treated with equal respect, under a shared national identity, which is where politicos come grinding to a halt. How can a statesman exploit class and racial divisions in a multicultural society? The very idea.

Pratchett wittily dispenses with all of this in a book about vampires, little blue people with Scots accents and a dwarf highwayman. This is why he is the master.

Wonderful book.

Folks I am disappoint.

I had ambitions of ploughing through several books on the long air-journey home to Ireland. In the end a combination of tiredness and Etihad‘s in-flight entertainment service (“OMG – The Warrior’s Way…just try to stop me watching this!”) resulted in my reading only three books.

Which were –

Terry Pratchett’s Carpe Jugulum, the twenty-third Discworld novel. This one is about vampires and in the author’s inimitable style, becomes an essay on the limits of toleration.

Stephen King’s The Mist, a novella I have been meaning to read ever since I first flew to Australia and saw Frank Darabont‘s film adaptation (in-flight entertainment again). I was impressed by the film and thankfully enjoyed the book as well. Although I still don’t like King’s protagonists. He writes them with a series of flaws that are meant to express a sense of honesty I guess, but David Drayton just seems like yet another sleazy alcoholic to me.

Finally J.D. Salinger‘s The Catcher in the Rye. I remember reading this book when I was 12, on the bus from Rathcool village into Dublin city centre at 7am. It was dark and freezing cold. The material of my school uniform was pathetically thin and my coat did not stretch far enough to keep me warm (darn long legs). There I was sitting on the bus seat with my hands hiding the cover – because I thought The Catcher in the Rye was salacious! Reading it now my twelve-year-old self seems so naieve and yet I can still detect in Salinger’s prose this brilliant sense of iconoclasm, masked by the occasionally petulant thoughts of Holden Caufield.

I was also going to read Combined and Uneven Apocalypse by Evan Calder Williams, but at that stage my brain had gone to mush. It is a fascinating premise for a book – a political reading of the use of ‘apocalypses‘ (my thanks to Buffy the Vampire Slayer)  in film. Never fear, a review is coming.

I will write up more direct reviews of the three books in my usual manner in the next few days. This is just to let you all know I made it to Ireland and am happily sipping tea on a cold morning watching my dog snore in her sleep.

Take care everyone.

What happened to the boys who walked inside those doors? No one knew. But the white pony’s eyes reminded me of the cold, strange eyes of the wizards. I stared at the cliff’s edge. It was high enough ten times over. If I ran straight out and jumped, I would die. I glanced at my father. I would never again have to hear how I disappointed and shamed him, how fortunate he was that Aben was the older of his sons, the one who would inherit. My mother would weep, but she would understand, I thought. Surely she had thought about it at least once, about escaping from my father forever.

Well this is it. Tomorrow I fly out of Sydney back to Ireland for a short visit. Let my folks now I’m a-ok. And, of course, look up some much-missed friends. Still it feels unusual to be sitting here in Bulli, typing up this review. It’s been a long trek to get to this point.

On the plus side, as I am continuing with the blog, many of the old rules no longer apply. Such as my (occasionally broken) ban on reading the same author twice. So I will be attacking Stephanie’s latest challenge – to read as many books as posible on the flight to Dublin – aided and abetted by my trusty Kindle, with its collection of my favourite writers. As well as a few indie books too.

It’s been fun people.

Skin Hunger is told from the points of view of two characters. Hahp, a boy from a wealthy family starved of love and living in fear of his father; and Sadima, whose birth led to the death of her mother and crushed her own father’s heart. Both grow up to become emotionally wounded and lonely adolescents, but their fates could not be more different.

Hahp is sent to join a secret academy for wizards. Magic itself was stamped out centuries ago and the practice of it was made illegal by royal decree. In effect Hahp has vanished from the surface of the earth, as no one can know where he is or what he is doing. This new wizards for their own part deprive the young academy applicants of all comforts and sustenance, seemingly intent on starving the boys to death. It becomes clear that Hahp is little more than a guinea pig in this new push to rediscover the source of magic itself.

Sadima escapes the drudgery of life on the farm after her father passes away. Having run his household for him from a young age, filling the domestic void left by her mother, she has always dreamed of running away. For most of her life she has been different, having the ability to communicate telepathically with the various animals on the farm. One day she meets a man from the city of Limòri who recognizes her talent and invites her to follow him to the newly founded academy. When her father passes away, Sadima finally chooses to go and enters the household of Franklin and Somiss, the founders of this underground academy.

As time passes Sadima develops a strong affection for the gentle Franklin and is puzzled by his subservient relationship to the taciturn Somiss. However, she discovers her domestic skills ease along the work of the two wizards quite well and comes to enjoy her life in the bustling city. Meanwhile Hahp is trapped in a cold cell, accompanied only by fellow starving young boys fighting to survive, covered in filth and sores.

There is some initial confusion in the first half of the book as the behaviour of Somiss and Franklin to the young charges of their ‘academy’ seems to contradict Sadima’s perception of them both. Slowly author Kathleen Duey draws out the reasons behind their unusual project. The majority of the novel is concerned with the sufferings of Hahp and Sadima’s growing romantic interest in Franklin. At first I did admire Duey for introducing a vision of such cruelty to the young adult fantasy stable.

However, at times the book resembles fantasy misery lit, turgid and callous. It feels like the story was pitched as ‘The Dresden Dolls enroll in Hogwarts’! As the book is the first in a series it ends with the story unfinished, but I really cannot muster up the interest to continue with it.

Initially interesting in its depiction of the dark side of human nature in a fantasy setting, but ultimately exhausting.

Join me at The Momus Report

Vote For Me!

Share this blog

Bookmark and Share