Why I Don’t Read Dystopian/Apocalyptic Fiction

It’s an active choice. I don’t read fiction that is set in a dystopia or an apocalyptic world.

I realise that many people do read such fiction and that they may even enjoy it. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I respect your reading preferences.

For me, reading is about enjoyment as much as it is about exploring new ideas or having set ideas questioned and examined. But I draw the line at ruined, unnaturally mechanised, grey worlds of abject misery and despair.

I don’t want to read about how the world could be worse.

I don’t want to read about how humans could be worse.

I don’t want to read about even more widespread social inequalities than in our world.

I don’t want to read about the loss of nature and the loss of humanity.

I want to read books that inspire hope. And if not hope, then books that move me, set in either our own beautiful but flawed, problematic world, something like our world, something completely fantastical, or something better.

Why dwell on destruction when we can be inspired to make our world better with books like the Discworld series?

Batman Through the Lens of Psychoanalysis & Transactional Analysis

Warning: Lots of psychological jargon here. My understanding of the character through the lens of two psychological theories. Likely to contain SPOILERS for Batman films and/or graphic novels.

downloadPsychoanalytic: The Batman universe is rich in material for psychoanalysis. For me, what stands out the most is the fascinating interplay of Superego and Id and the use of Sublimation (a Freudian defense mechanism). The bat, a symbol traditionally associated with the Id (all animal instincts, darkness, feral), is presented as the chosen mask of the superego (rules, right and wrong, morality). Where conventionally the two are believed to be in eternal opposition, through the Batman persona the Id is presented as successfully ruled over by the Superego.

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Freud’s Model of the Mind

The mediator between Id and Superego, the Ego, is shown as the Bruce Wayne persona – the mask of the mundane, covering a moral centre driven to repeatedly attempt the symbolic “undoing” of a pivotal childhood trauma. Why is Bruce so driven to fight crime and try to make Gotham a better place? Because on an unconscious level, he is attempting to prevent the very incident that made him who he is – the murder of his parents. But because it is impossible to actually undo the murder, he is stuck being the Batman – it is a persona he cannot give up, even if he should ever want to, because to do so would be an emotional and symbolic “betrayal” of his parents. The very cause of his pain is now his life’s purpose and to give it up, or move forward, would be to give up that purpose.

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Defense Mechanisms

Sublimation (to make sublime), in psychoanalysis, refers to a defense mechanism through which one’s unacceptable impulses are transformed into socially acceptable ones. The near-murderous rage, desire for revenge and violence that Bruce Wayne feels is sublimated into the more acceptable vigilantism of the Batman.

As his alter-ego (or rather, his true self) he can let loose these violent impulses in a controlled manner and context thus discharging the impulse and retaining moral ground and emotional equilibrium.

imagesFurthermore, the Batman identity is masked not just for practical reasons but for the freedom offered by masks. To be an unidentified vigilante allows Bruce to be his true self and to drop the mask he wears everyday (To quote ‘The Dark Knight Rises‘, this mask is “Bruce Wayne: eccentric billionaire”). He can transform himself into whatever he wishes to be as the Batman – he is not bound by the same socio-cultural limits as he would be as Bruce Wayne. (And to quote again from Christopher Nolan’s trilogy, Rachel notes, at the end of Batman Begins, “This is your mask. Your real face is the one that criminals now fear”).

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PAC model from Transactional Analysis Theory

Transactional Analysis (TA): One of the foundational concepts of TA is the Parent-Adult-Child (PAC) model which posits (in simple words) that each person is made up an inner Parent (our rules for living, how things are done – akin to the Superego of psychoanalysis), and inner Adult (our here-and-now processing and decision-making) and an inner child (feelings and perceptions stored from the past). It is hypothesised that we utilise all three parts, but it is usual for one or two parts to be dominant. This model is akin to the Superego, Ego and Id but with subtle differences.

In terms of the PAC model, it seems that Bruce Wayne has a strong inner Parent. The virtues of his parents are idolised and frozen in time because of the distorted perception of childhood memory and trauma. Thus, the recordings of behaviours, thoughts and feelings in the Parent state are very clear and fairly intense. The Adult state is developed and present, but with apparent contamination from the Child state (i.e., Bruce’s thoughts, feelings and behaviours in the here-and-now and consciously and unconsciously influenced by the thoughts and feelings experienced originally in his childhood) and the Parent state (i.e., the rules, shoulds/musts).

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Model of Injunctions & Counter-Injunctions by Lee (1988)

Additionally, TA also theorises that we develop injunctions and counter-injunctions to direct our lives. Injunctions are statements about how we ought to exist, often phrased as “Don’ts” (i.e., “Don’t enjoy”) whilst counter-injunctions are means of coping with injunctions (“I can ONLY enjoy things if I am perfect/work hard/am strong/ please others”).

Injunctions and counter-injunctions are often subconsciously received either from those around us or developed by ourselves.

For more on injunctions and counter-injunctions, see this.

Bruce Wayne appears to have the following injunctions and counter-injunctions:

Injunction 1: Don’t be a Child – This appears to be an injunction that Bruce may have given himself after the traumatic loss of his parents, feeling it unsafe to be a child – to be vulnerable, dependent on others or to possess the natural free creativity and joy of childhood.

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Panel from “The Killing Joke”

One of the experiences associated with the Child state is laughter – and there are almost no instances of Bruce laughing in the graphic novels or films. The only time when we see him laughing freely (and even very disturbingly) is in the graphic novel, “The Killing Joke” at a moment when his very sanity is in question.

People with this injunction tend to be overly responsible, in control and along the lines of what is known as a Type A personality. The subconscious messages received may be “Always act like a grown-up!” “Don’t be so childish” “ “You need to be responsible” “You must be in control”.

Injunction 2: Don’t be Close – This too appears to be a self-given injunction in the absence of his own parents. Again, it seems to me, that this injunction arises from the traumatic loss of his parents (i.e., “I loved once and it brought me pain so I will not let people in again”). Variations of this injunction are “Don’t Love” and “Don’t Trust”. As is evident, people with this injunction stay distant and have difficulty with intimacy and affection.

Depending on which series of graphic novels one is reading (Pre-Crisis, Post-Crisis, or Post-Crisis Revised), there are different reasons for the eventual distancing of Dick Grayson and Bruce Wayne, but the reading that fits with this injunction is that Grayson grows tired of being Wayne’s protege and surrogate son in the face of Wayne’s apparent emotional distance. Much of Damian Wayne’s relationship with his father is similarly charcaterised by emotional distance and apparent coldness, leading to him being a very different Batman as compared to his father (‘Time & the Batman’ – amazing graphic novel, highly recommended).

Counter-injunction: Be Strong – Related to the ‘Don’t be a Child’ injunction, Bruce appears to function with a ‘Be Strong’ counter-injunction that requires toughness, emotional control and resilience. People with a ‘Be Strong’ injunction can often push themselves well beyond their emotional or physical limits (Bruce Wayne in Batman Beyond and in The Dark Knight Rises), failing to recognise healthy restrictions. This counter-injunction masks inner feelings of “Not Okay-ness” (inadequacy, rejection, sadness, rage etc), and as long as it is in place a person feels “Okay” or in control or able to accept themselves (conditional self acceptance). And so it is with Bruce: as long as he follows this counter-injunction via the Batman persona, he can live with himself, which is why he is never likely to give up his secret identity – it is so deeply tied to his very existence on a psychological and emotional level.

TA also proposes the idea of ‘life scripts’ i.e., that each of us decides upon a life story for ourselves (usually by the age of 7 years, with minor tweaking in adolescence) and then proceeds to live out that story.

imagesBruce seems to have a winning script, i.e., he is able to set goals for himself and is able to meet those goals. Eric Berne, the originator of TA theory, described a winner as “one who accomplishes (their) declared purpose” – and to which Robert Goulding added – “and makes the world a better place as a result”. The application is self evident here, I feel. Bruce sets out to be a vigilante and reduce crime in Gotham, and in most versions of the graphic novels and films this end is achieved to a large degree.

Arguably, however, his script may be considered a hamartic script. A hamartic script is one where the likely end is “the morgue, the madhouse or the courtroom”. In other words, a self-destructive script, and in Bruce Wayne’s case, his script is indeed likely to end in one of the three institutions mentioned formerly. In the absence of healthy emotional relationships, resolution of trauma and looking forward towards the future, and a life rich in positive experiences of self growth, Batman’s script is indeed self-destructive as it holds him bound to a trauma in the past.

In addition to winning, losing and hamartic, Berne also characterised script types as analogous to Greek myths (Script Process). Bruce appears to have an “Until” script process, otherwise known as a Hercules script. This script is characterised by “I can’t have fun/be happy/live my own life UNTIL XYZ is accomplished”. This is very much the case with Bruce. To quote from The Dark Knight (2008) “that day that you once told me about, when Gotham would no longer need Batman” is a day that shall never come – there will always be another evil to confront, another criminal to catch, another cause requiring justice or vengeance; and yet Bruce lives his life working with that day in mind, never pausing to savour his life as it passes him by.

And there you have it – my interpretation of Bruce Wayne/ Batman via aspects of psychoanalysis and transactional analysis. Share your thoughts in the comments section!

Sororal Affection in Coronavirus Days

What evidence of sororal affection could one hope for, in these depressing times? Why, a beautiful folio society book, of course!

It is no secret that I adore the beautifully bound and illustrated folio society books. But it was still an unexpected joy to receive one from my (very thoughtful) sister. It looks like my quarantine/self-isolation reading list has a welcome new addition.

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Muchos Gracias Natasha!

 

 

Uncle Vanya (Play) – Impressions from the first performance (14th January 2020)

IMG_20200114_181103I was so, so very excited to see this play. My good friend (the lovely Miss M.R.) and I are huge Richard Armitage fans (for want of a better word – sadly, “fan” seems to have such negative connotations sometimes) and I would have so loved to have shared the experience with her, but alas, it was not to be (at least this time). Anyway, I was lucky enough to be able to attend the first performance of the previews on the 14th of January – after spending a good 40 minutes or so trudging around in the rain trying to locate the theatre via Google Maps (it was so worth it though. SO WORTH IT).

(And the delay in writing about the experience comes from the fact that whenever I truly enjoy something, I need time to really think about it before taking to the keyboard).

Confession: I’ve never read Chekhov. Or much Russian literature at all (notable exceptions being Bulgakov’s The Master & Margherita and a collection of Pushkin’s fairytales). Nonetheless, being familiar with the plots of some of the great works of Russian literature, I was expecting something dark, depressing and bleak and with lots of brooding.

The play proved me wrong. Its a wonderful adaptation – a tragicomedy done perfectly. But more on that later.

IMG_20200114_180956First – the set and the lighting. WOW. The play of light and shadows was just right: the bright yellow light ‘outside’ pouring in from the windows, illuminating the characters on stage in a room of shadows both literal and metaphoric.

And obviously it helps that Richard Armitage was one of the first performers on stage, portraying Dr. Astrov. Armitage has a powerful stage presence (if you had the good fortune to see The Crucible in 2014, you’ll know what I mean) and he does broody, complicated characters so well.

Astrov is a fascinating character – he’s a point in his life where he is thinking about whether he’s lived a life of substance – whether he’s done anything to make a difference, whether his life will have any meaning or value. And as he ruminates along these lines, we discover that he appears to feel stifled by his dull, unstimulating and dreary existence as a country doctor. Whilst a passionate environmentalist, he longs for something more. He wishes he had done something of greater significance.

And the rest of the cast are just as brilliant. I really liked Toby Jones’ Vanya; a character that garners many laughs but is equally tragic in his vacillation between resignation to a purposeless, one-day-after-another existence and desperation to do or feel or experience something with deeper meaning like Astrov – echoed in other characters too (in Rosalind Eleazar’s Yelena, in Aimee Lou Wood’s Sonya).

All of the chief characters appear to be experiencing a sense of “stuckness” and to be lacking “response-ability” (to borrow terms from Gestalt therapy), and the atmosphere in this house in the middle of nowhere in the Russian countryside amplifies that feeling of people trapped and confined in oppressive life patterns.

The “stuckness” is most apparent with the introduction of Yelena (Rosalind Eleazar is truly amazing in her portrayal), the young wife of Vanya’s brother-in-law Professor Serebryakov (Ciaran Hinds). Yelena paces across the stage with this barely repressed urgency – this influx of vitality that draws both Vanya and Astrov. She, too, appears to long for something deeper, more real and yet she seems resigned to an unfulfilling marriage to the professor (despite a clear connection with Astrov).

Yelena as a catalyst for both Vanya and Astrov’s awareness of their own “stuckness” reminded me of the character of Susannah from Legends of the Fall – another female character who in a very different context also acts as a catalyst crucial character developments. Yelena prompts feelings of deep sadness in me – she represents someone who is vitally alive, confined to restriction; a limited existence that will eventually (in all likelihood) extinguish all the “fire and freshness” (one of my favourite Fitzgeraldian terms) of her soul.

More than any other character, I was most affected by Aimee Lou Wood’s Sonya. She is truly heart-breaking in her vulnerability and earnestness. Her unrequited feelings for Astrov were devastating (I’ve been there; it is AWFUL) – I so wanted to give her a hug. And her body image struggles/ feelings of not being attractive also resonated with me (Sometimes it feels like if one isn’t attractive as per conventional standards – ie anorexic and plastic barbie doll perfect – no one cares how nice of a person you are, or how much you might have in common with them. Ugh. Enough personal sharing; I’m going to stop now). Her most effective scene was the closing scene of the play – her dialogue here was heart-wrenching: the words of a young woman, failed by the selfish adults in her life, resigned to a fate of seeming drudgery, desperately hanging on to the belief of reward in the hereafter to keep herself and her uncle going.

This was a play that will certainly stay with me for a while.

Z: The Beginning of Everything (TV Series) – Review

Z: The Beginning of Everything is a historical drama series based on Theresa Anne Fowler’s novel ‘Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald‘. It is a fictionalised account of the courtship and marriage of the icons of the Jazz Age, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald.

Readers of my blog will know that I am a huge fan of the Fitzgeralds. Quite naturally, this show sparked my interest and I was very excited to watch it upon its release.

Sadly, I was not impressed. The show lacks something fundamental; much like Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby. I felt Luhrmann’s film to be devoid of the essence of the story, with a heavy focus on sets, CGI and costumes. Similarly, Z: The Beginning of Everything lacks life – the sets, costumes and trailers look good. The casting looks good (in costume, David Hoflin makes a fairly convincing Scott Fitzgerald, and Christina Ricci looks believable as Zelda Fitzgerald). But the electric aliveness of the Fitzgerald’s is missing; the chemistry between the two is non-existent; the “fire & freshness” is absent; the passion is nowhere to be felt. These essential qualities are better experienced whilst reading Scott’s fiction or the letters exchanged between Scott & Zelda.

The dialogue is exceedingly bland; for a series on the Fitzgeralds I’d expect better writing.

Sample of the dialogue:

“I’m going to be a famous writer one day. You should know that” (CUE: EYE-ROLL)

Additionally, I did not like the characterisation. Within the first two episodes, Scott Fitzgerald comes across as a self-important narcissist, obsessed with the idea of his “legacy” and with in love with an idea of himself and of Zelda. In other words, a complete air-headed loser. I just can not watch this.

This review/recap is far more entertaining than the series: https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/2017/01/137403/z-the-beginning-of-everything-recap-episodes-synopsis

The Binding by Bridget Collins (2018) – Brief Review

The Binding promises much in its synopsis and the endorsements on the cover extoll its greatness, creating curiosity and wondrous anticipation in the minds of potential readers thus:

“Spellbinding”

“Utterly brilliant”

“Immersive prose”

“Intriguing, thought-provoking & heart-breaking”

Sounds interesting, right?

downloadThe story is set in a fictional/alternative version of Victorian (I think?) England, where books are feared and bookbinders are viewed with suspicion, inspiring dread, terror and superstition. This is not without reason: bookbinders are born with the skill to ‘bind’ painful and traumatic memories into books, leaving the experiencer of those unpleasant events free from their suffering – albeit in a semi-zombie state for a while after – Think Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind in a Victorian-seeming setting and with darker elements.

It is in this context that one of our chief protagonists is introduced, Emmett Farmer (who, coincidentally, is also a farmer by profession), recovering from a mysterious, unknown but clearly debilitating illness. Emmett is devastated to discover that he has been apprenticed to the local bookbinder. However, after semi-settling into his new life situation, things get darker; there’s a narrator shift; there’s an unexpected romance; but in the end, the story proves less satisfying than hoped.

Sadly, I did not find the prose particularly immersive. I found it difficult to keep my interest up, and had to plod on through much of the book (I struggle with DNF-ing books).

I also found it a challenge to connect with the central characters. Emmett was so annoying at certain points.

And finally, my disappointment was cemented by the fact that the book barely even mentioned or dwelt on bookbinding or the actual process of this magical binding.

Some might find this a good read, but unfortunately it was not for me.

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton – Mini Review

Stuart Turton’s prize-winning novel is well-written and incredibly suspenseful. It was unputdownable for about 95% of the time*.

downloadThink of it as Agatha Christie + Cluedo (the board game) + Matrix-y Sci-Fi.

*I say that I was hooked for 95% of the book because the ending felt rushed and slightly disappointing considering the build-up to the denouement.

I’d still recommend it because the narrative device used is fascinating and the plot is (for the most part) riveting.

I am Heathcliff (curated by Kate Mosse) – Review

I’m a sucker for pretty/ interesting covers, and I bought this book because the cover looked gorgeous. Not a wise decision, obviously, and one that I have come to regret more after reading the stories in the collection. This is a collection of 16 short stories inspired by Wuthering Heights, and brought together in this anthology by Kate Mosse.

37646074._SY475_The thing is, I LOVE Wuthering Heights. I love the use of language, the power of the emotions conveyed, the imagery, the atmosphere, the dark gothic story and the ever-evolving possible readings of the novel.

I know that no writer will be able to replicate Emily Bronte’s skill with language or the impact of her story, and so for most of my life I have avoided all Wuthering Heights prequels, sequels, retellings and point-of-view shifting narratives. And now, I’ve succumbed to the lure of a pretty cover. Ugh.

Let me start by saying that this collection of short stories is not all bad. There are some good stories and I enjoyed Mosse’s introduction. In fact, I think I would have enjoyed the anthology a lot more if Mosse were the author of the stories – from her introduction, it seemed to me that she really got it – I felt that she understood the novel and the enduring love for the novel that its many fans hold in their hearts.

Many, many of the original novel’s themes and ideas have been completely ignored or erased or deemed insignificant by most of the contributors. Everything great about Wuthering Heights has been lost since its interpretation and branding as only a novel “glorifying” toxic and abusive relationships. Hence, numerous stories in this anthology are about abusive relationships and creepy, highly disturbed men – unpleasant reading material to say the least. Yes, Wuthering Heights is dark but this is contemporary dark – in-your-face dark, not subtle; vomit-inducing, not shiver-inducing.

I also got quite tired of the near-constant references to the “I am Heathcliff’ quote. Yes, I know its the title of the book, but honestly – reading ‘I am you’ in nearly every other story gets extremely tedious extremely fast. And the ‘I am you’ is understood so poorly and so superficially, it is as though the writers haven’t really read or thought about the ‘I am Heathcliff’ scene for any reasonable amount of time.

On the upside, there are some interesting stories, however few. See below for my brief opinion of each:

  1. Terminus by Louise Doughty: I liked this story – there was a constant undertone of menace and fear which was effectively created, and there was such a weighty sadness to it that made it at least slightly reminiscent of Bronte.
  2. Anima by Grace McCleen: *shrug*
  3. A Bird, Half-Eaten by Nikesh Shukla: A good story certainly, but not one that felt inspired by Wuthering Heights. Still worth reading.
  4. Thicker than Blood by Erin Kelly: Wuthering Heights’ characters and story transplanted into the 21st century and made much more gross than needed. It was disturbing and sickening – what I suppose some people feel might be apt for a story inspired by the original, but that doesn’t resonate with me.
  5. One Letter Different by Joanna Cannon: *shrug*
  6. The Howling Girl by Laurie Penny: *shrug*
  7. Five Sites, Five Stages by Lisa McInerney: Meh
  8. Kit by Juno Dawson: *shrug*
  9. My Eye is a Button on Your Dress by Hanan Al-Shaykh: One of the few that I did enjoy. A tale of psychological manipulation and doomed ‘love’. Could easily have been developed into a novel on its own.
  10. The Cord by Alison Case: Not perfect, but really quite good. Case also gets it. I felt like she understands the themes of isolation, social ostracision and trauma as being integral to the characters and the plot.
  11. The Heathcliffs I Have Known by Louisa Young: I lost sleep over this one. I am being completely serious. I actually had trouble sleeping because the last page of this story really annoyed me. The writer does not see or appreciate or even understand anything about Wuthering Heights other than “Heathcliff = toxic masculinity”. More on this below.
  12. Amulet & Feathers by Leila Aboulela: Interesting enough.
  13. How Things Disappear by Anna James: Bleh
  14. The Wildflowers by Dorothy Koomson: Meh
  15. Heathcliff is Not My Name by Michael Stewart: *shrug* Not terrible
  16. Only Joseph by Sophie Hannah: *shrug* Does not feel Wuthering Heights – inspired at all.

****SPOILERS BELOW FOR ‘HEATHCLIFFS I HAVE KNOWN’******

So here’s a shocker for you: Wuthering Heights is not a tale glamourising toxic masculinity, nor is it some insane teen ‘romance’ portraying a love that should be aspired to – NO.

What is it? A powerful story of the intergenerational impact of trauma and abuse; the impact of social ostracision and racism; the Victorian class system; revenge; a strong (but unhealthy) connection formed between two abused children and the impact of that childhood abuse on their later relationships.

This connection between Catherine and Heathcliff is love, but not traditional or even adaptive/ healthy/ “normal” love. It is not glamourised; it is not implied in the novel that this is something to aspire to; instead we are shown the destructiveness of this ‘love’. This love is a bond born from their shared history which each sees as defining their identity. I’ve written about this too often to go into all the details of psychological readings of this relationship again, but briefly, I’d suggest (for those interested) to take a look at Lacan’s idea of the Anima and the Animus. Catherine is no passive, meek, reluctant ‘victim’ to this relationship. I refer you to a scene in the novel where she eggs on Heathcliff to beat up her husband Edgar Linton.

For me, their relationship is best explained by Arnold Kettle in his Introduction to the English Novel,

“…in their revolt they discover their…need of each other…And it is from his association in rebellion with Catherine that the particular quality of their relationship arises. It is the reason why each feels that a betrayal of what binds them together is in some obscure and mysterious way a betrayal of everything, of all that is most valuable in life and death.”

Below is the excerpt from ‘Heathcliffs I Have Known’ that left me highly irritated, and made me wonder how this story made it into this collection (supposedly celebrating Emily Bronte and her work).

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Let’s take this paragraph by paragraph.

Paragraph 1: Yes, Heathcliff does commit acts of violence and brutality in the novel. But these acts are not excused by Bronte, she never gives him a free pass – he does those things not “because he’s in love” but because he’s full of rage and wants revenge – if you fall prey to the misconception that Bronte was condoning these acts by writing them into the story, that’s your own shortcoming, not Emily Bronte’s. He does horrible things and becomes a terrible person, and despite reading the novel over five times, I have yet to have come away with the impression that Emily Bronte considered his acts ‘romantic’ or acceptable. Also, I’m a psychologist, and I absolutely loathe the throwing around of psychiatric terms, especially when the use of the word is incorrect. Yes, Heathcliff is a bully, a controlling drunk, a narcissist – but he’s not psychotic. If you mean he’s psychopathic, that would make way more sense than saying he’s psychotic. You might want to read more about psychosis here.

Paragraph 2: Okay, so you hated Wuthering Heights. Fine. You are entitled to your view, but why did you decide to contribute to an anthology purportedly celebrating the novel and the writer? And again with the psychiatric terms! Borderline Personality? Ha. No. Antisocial and Narcissistic maybe. For goodness’ sake. Did you ever wonder about how people develop personality disorders in the first place, since you so seem to love psychiatric diagnoses? There is almost inevitably a childhood history of trauma, violence, abuse or neglect. Maybe you should have read Kate Mosse’s introduction to the anthology. A history of abuse or neglect is not an excuse for what Heathcliff does or who he becomes, but it is an explanation. In the novel, Heathcliff is an outsider and an outcast from the beginning to the end – he’s obviously not white (being described as ‘gypsy’), imagine what that might have been like in a Victorian society (if you haven’t been able to see that in the novel); he’s the heir to nothing, a nameless orphan in a society that prized position and ownership; he’s taken in by the Earnshaws but is mercilessly brutalised by Hindley and Joseph, constantly insulted and reviled, there were no consistent loving or supportive adult figures in his developmental years… Hmmm, I can’t really understand where his anger issues might come from – with such a history, I’d expect him to become a saint.

Paragraph 3: This is the worst of the worst. I was not so irked by the two former paragraphs as I was by this one. You do not get to insult Emily Bronte simply because you did not find her novel to your taste. Again, how many times do I have to say this, EMILY BRONTE DID NOT INTEND FOR READERS TO VIEW CATHERINE AND HEATHCLIFF’S RELATIONSHIP AS ‘LOVE’- THIS IS NOT A ROMANTIC NOVEL. And clearly you have no idea of the impact Emily Bronte’s novel had on the writing of Victorian women. Her novel was iconoclastic – it shattered conventions of what women were expected to write and what readers ought to read. It shocked, it horrified, it troubled reviewers upon its release because it was so different and non-conformist. And you would rather that Emily were an imitator of Anne, who had her own unique writing style and ideas? If that’s how you feel, goodbye. I sincerely look forward to not reading any of your other work.

The Way of All Flesh by Ambrose Parry – Review

First things first: This book wasn’t as gruesome or disturbing as I was expecting it to be, given the title and the premise – thank goodness!

51Axuq4S+hL._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgSynopsis: Will Raven, a medical student in Edinburgh in 1847 – in debt to the wrong people and troubled by the sudden and strange demise of an acquaintance of his, a ‘lady of the evening’ – begins his apprenticeship under the wealthy, renowned and brilliant Dr. Simpson. In Old Town, a number of young women are found dead, in the same manner as Raven’s acquaintance. Attempting to balance his apprenticeship to Dr. Simpson with his own investigations into these deaths, Raven is joined by Sarah Fisher, Dr. Simpson’s independent-minded, intelligent and strong-willed housemaid who has her own interest in solving the mystery.

I am strongly tempted to describe the structure of the chapters as a staccato rhythm. Each chapter is quite short, much like the chapter lengths in Sedgwick’s A Love Like Blood. This makes for easy reading, but there are times when one is aware that 2 or 3 chapters could easily have been merged into one. In my experience as a reader so far, chapters denote a division of content or of time in a piece of writing. Here, the chapters seem almost arbitrarily created, though they make for quick and easy reading.

The story, which is certainly interesting at some points, failed to make a strong impression on me or to impact me in any way. This is not to say that I expect all works of fiction to effect me deeply, but rather that I need to feel something (however mild) about the story that I’m reading – interest, suspense, thrill, joy, relief. I finished this book but there was no excitement at knowing the answer to the mystery, I followed the characters’ in this story but I did not feel anything for them. This may be because this is the first book in the series, and the writers (the wife & husband team behind ‘Ambrose Parry’ – Marisa Haetzman & Chris Brookmyre) were attempting to set the foundations here with just enough exposition whilst keeping some stuff for the books yet to come. Yet, I was emotionally invested in March Middleton by the end of MRC Kasasian’s first Sidney Grice book, The Mangle Street Murders.

I guessed the ending quite soon, because there weren’t really that many viable suspects. Additionally, when Will and Sarah do discover the identity of the person responsible for the murders, we the readers don’t get a proper denouement. I wanted to know more. Maybe I’m too used to Poirot’s style of drawing everything together with an explanation of the psychology of the culprit.

I would hesitate to call this a “bad” book. It isn’t. There’s definitely potential here. It made for light reading. But I would like to see more character development (other than certain ‘mysteries’ the answers to which are way too obvious) and perhaps a slightly more complex plot (in that the culprit shouldn’t be too obvious early on).

The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell – Review

**THIS REVIEW MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

Madness, as we call it, manifests itself in many ways. People do not always wail and shriek… But it does seem to run in families, I have observed, particularly through the female line. Hysteria – womb to womb. Diseased blood will out. There is no hiding from it, I am afraid

downloadLaura Purcell’s debut novel ‘The Silent Companions‘ is a gothic neo-Victorian psychological – supernatural thriller/horror. It’s plot, and particularly the opening scene of the novel, reminded me of James’ ‘Turn of the Screw‘ and its film adaptation (2009) starring Michelle Dockery and Dan Stevens.

Like ‘Turn of the Screw‘ (the novel), Purcell’s work also leaves one with an ambiguous ending where one is not quite sure whether our unreliable narrator is suffering from some form of psychosis or whether the events that have occurred are truly supernatural.

Synopsis: Recently widowed and pregnant Elsie Bainbridge retires to her husband’s decrepit country estate (The Bridge) with only his orphaned cousin Sarah for company and a very modest staff. The house itself is bleak, and the surrounding country-side seems unfamiliar and equally unwelcoming to Elsie – especially since the local villagers refuse to have anything to do with The Bridge or its residents because of old and sinister rumours about the house. Elsie and Sarah soon discover the diary of a former resident of The Bridge, Anne Bainbridge, and a collection of Silent Companions in the attic – a discovery which is followed by an escalating series of disturbing events that have drastic consequences for Elsie and those around her. The novel begins with Elsie in an asylum, where her doctor advises her to relate her story to him through writing, and so begins Elsie’s journey into the traumatic events that her mind has repressed.

The story is related over three time-lines: the present (late 1800s) when Elsie is confined to a psychiatric facility, the winter of 1865 when Elsie and Sarah stay at The Bridge, and the account of Anne Bainbridge from the 1600s via her diary. The present and Elsie’s stay at The Bridge is recounted in third person, whilst Anna’s diary is naturally in first person. Nonetheless, I found it easy to connect with Elsie and become invested in her story; Anne elicited some sympathy but I wasn’t quite as drawn into her story as I felt it added to the ambiguity, the tragedy and yet provided few answers if any.

The novel is well-written and keeps the suspense alive throughout. The breaks in narrative, when switching to Anne’s diary, were sometimes a bit annoying since I was interested in Elsie’s story and Anne’s diary seemed like it had put the plot on hold however briefly. As much as I would like answers, I do think the ambiguity of the novel is its strength as it provokes much contemplation. The writer effectively creates a sympathetic, tragic protagonist for whose fate we, the readers, come to care deeply.

My heart broke for Elsie, particularly when at one point, “… she realised, with a relief so sharp it was almost pain, that he was on her side.”

Possible Spoilers Below

There are some traditional horror tropes in the book – inanimate objects that seem to move of their own volition; locked doors that lead to strange rooms; dark family secrets; and possibly an evil/demon child.

My reading of the novel lent more towards a psychological explanation – I was largely convinced that Elsie, in her vulnerable state, had been manipulated by Sarah. Throughout much of the novel, Sarah repeatedly makes Elsie feel like a usurper and an imposter by referring to her ancestors; there are numerous exclamations from Sarah about “my ancestors!” – for instance, when the ladies are travelling to The Bridge, Sarah mentions that she is curious to see the place as it belongs to her ancestors; when Elsie discovers a family necklace that her husband intended for her to have Sarah again mentions that it belongs to her ancestors; when they first discover Anne’s diary, Sarah says she is desirous of reading it as it belonged to her ancestors.

She continually undermines any sense of belonging or entitlement that Elsie might have had. Sarah also conveniently drops a mention of the fact that she had once hoped that Rupert, Elsie’s deceased husband, would marry her – thus she appears to have motive.

Additionally, Sarah appears to plays a devious double-game. She seems to pretend to be concerned about Elsie’s mental health in front of others, and yet encourages Elsie to believe a supernatural explanation. Sarah is the one who insists on bringing the Silent Companions out of the attic, and it seems entirely possible that she is the one moving them around the house, especially since she has access to Anne’s diary and could use the material in it to create an atmosphere of fear and terror for Elsie. This interpretation of Sarah and her actions seems even more likely to me given the ending of the novel, where we learn that Sarah cruelly abandoned Elsie, and now re-appears in her life only to practically condemn her to death. At the end, I found myself feeling terribly sad for Elsie, and incredibly angry at Sarah.