Friday, March 24, 2017

Book Review - Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
Published by: Penguin
Publication Date: 1962
Format: Hardcover, 235 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

None of the villagers go to Hill House. No one will hear you scream, in the dark, in the night. Dr. Montague views the house as the ideal location for his research of supernatural phenomena. The house's history coupled with the right participants should yield him the results he's looking for. Yet he only heard back from a few people selected as the perfect candidates for his summer long program, for sensitivity combined with previous supernatural encounters. In the end he gets the shy and awkward Eleanor who has spent much of her life caring for her recently deceased mother. She doesn't even remember the incident for which Dr. Montague recruited her she just views Hill House as her first real adventure and a way to get out from under the stifling life she's living on a cot at her sister's. Theo was chosen because of her apparent psychic abilities. Then there's Luke. Luke is the heir to Hill House. He doesn't have abilities or haunting experiences, he just needs to get out of his troubling patterns and his grandmother thinks locking him away at Hill House as a guarantee against Dr. Montague's lease is a lovely idea.

After each of the participants successfully battle their way past the suspicious caretaker, Mr. Dudley, and get explained the rigorous rules as regards the meals and cleaning up by his wife the group settles in. It does not take long for weird knocks to happen at doors in the night as well as severe temperature drops. The doors don't like to remain open, if this is Mrs. Dudley, or the house, they can't figure it out even with the aid of large doorstops. Very shortly they instigate a rule that no one is to wander alone, especially at night. Yet what is actually happening, if they where to write it down as per Dr. Montague's research guidelines, they wouldn't or couldn't be able to put it into words. Strange writings, noises, voices, drafts, and above all four very different personalities clashing, not counting the possible personalities of the house's former occupants. Is any of this real? Or are they hallucinating? Or should they all leave the house as fast as they can and never look back?

The Haunting of Hill House is the standard to which modern ghost stories are held. Even Stephen King has been known on more than one occasion to extol the virtues of this book. When I first read this book I couldn't help wondering why. But as more time passed I realized The Haunting of Hill House had left an impression on me and that I had perhaps judged it based on what I thought it should be versus what it was. Going back to the book I was once again drawn into Jackson's writing. She is able to depict places and characters so well that you feel you are inhabiting them. I also was able to pinpoint my dissatisfaction from my first reading. It's the ending. While I'm fine with open ended ambiguity it's that it was rushed. The book has a very languorous pace from Eleanor's daydreaming drive to Hill House through the daily routine the four occupants adapt, living like they are on holiday. And then Doctor Montague's wife arrives. This is when the story falls apart and just rushes headlong like Nell through the halls of the house until she goes straight into a tree. While this could have been Jackson's plan, having Mrs. Montague be the final push to Nell's death, instead it just feels like Jackson used Mrs. Montague to end the story in an abrupt if timely fashion.

Another reason I was initially dissatisfied was that there really isn't a plot per se. The book goes for impressions over tangibility. Any time anything vaguely spooky happens it's just glossed over or made light of when day breaks. The big scene where Theo and Nell are running from something, that's it, they ran, cut to the next morning where it will never be mentioned again. Yet over time this lack of substance works it's way into you building suspense and paranoia. This book is a slow burn, you might not feel the effects for a long time. Jackson is literally playing with our minds and the more you're willing to go back to the text the more the story works. A cumulative horror that becomes a compulsion that gripes you every fall. Because of all the things that Jackson doesn't say and doesn't spell out this allows The Haunting of Hill House to be interpreted a thousand different ways. Even the ending can be debated. As Nell slams her car into the tree so that she can forever stay at Hill House we aren't even certain of her death. All that we know is she longed for death, either because she was already suicidal or because she was driven there by supernatural means. Nell is the key here, because it's through her we are told the story and this might just be the biggest corker of an unreliable narrator ever.

Nell is interesting, but you can't really get a read on her. You know what it's like to be inside her mind, but it quickly becomes clear that this won't help you figure out what's happening, you just have to give in and let go. Her mind jumps and contradicts and doesn't make any kind of sense. Yet she is a sympathetic character. You're not sure if she's crazy but you become complicit in Nell's actions during the drive to Hill House. As she travels to her destination she sees glimpses of houses in different towns and wonders, what would her life be like there? What would happen if she decided this town was her final destination and it was her new home? Who hasn't while out walking or driving looked at a house or through an illuminated window at night and wondered what would their life be like if that was their house. Who would they be in a different setting? And that's how we become one with Nell. Whatever happens from that moment forward, whatever fantasy she spins about her and Theodora, whatever she see or hears, we are fully invested. We give in and let go with her and love the ride aboard the crazy train.

In fact, this analysis of Nell leads into the idea that Nell is in fact the haunting... but as I've said before you can interpret this book so many different ways that I find saying Nell is the haunting is wrong. I don't think the encounters the four occupants of Hill House come up against are manifestations of Nell. I think the house is it's own entity. It isn't just a building, it's a home, with personality, and once you have personality it is one quick step to being a person, a character in your own right. Therefore I fully believe that the house is haunted and it's not Nell. Well, it's not Nell at first. Because I think Nell is sensitive and is tuned into the house and as time goes on they are becoming one, which would be why she'd kill herself to never leave it. This is very obvious once Mrs. Montague arrives. Before this time the banging on the doors and the noises were unnatural phenomena that the house was creating, but once the good doctor's wife arrives Nell is the one banging on the doors. I think this is because the house is now using her for what it had to do by itself before. Nell has become an extension of the house and therefore helps with the haunting. It's no wonder she doesn't want to leave when this is the only place she's ever felt welcome.

In fact going back to this book I've realized that there's only one real problem with the different interpretations, and that's the lesbianism. I'm not against this at all and think that Nell and Theodora would make a lovely couple and they balance each other so well, what I see as problematic is Jackson's vehement denials that The Haunting of Hill House has anything to do with sex and in particular lesbianism. She didn't see sex as entering into her story at all. But so much of her story goes against what she later stated. Theodora is obviously a woman of the world while Nell is the virginal character who just doesn't understand, an innocent nature that the house can corrupt. Yet there's a connection between them long before there's a connection between Nell and the house. Also the fact that Jackson never comes out and says that Theodora's partner whom she left behind is male or female, though female is strongly implied, then why write this? Why have this omission if you didn't want the book to be read this way? If she was so against this interpretation just a few clarifications could have solved it. But then she wanted to leave her readers mystified and perhaps, despite her denials, this was just another mystery she enjoyed dangling in front of her audience. She was a master manipulator after all.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Book Review - Kate Riordan's Fiercombe Manor

Fiercombe Manor by Kate Riordan
Published by: William Morrow
Publication Date: August 11th, 2015
Format: Paperback, 368 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Buy

Alice has failed to live up to her mother's expectations. Yes, Alice has a good job, but no gentlemen callers to raise her from typist to wife, the best promotion she could hope for. Maybe if she got a job in a restaurant she could have more opportunities to catch a guy's eye, but Alice likes the prestige of where she works. Alice also has a secret, one that won't be hidden for much longer. There's a reason there are no gentlemen callers, because Alice fell for a married man. A married man who has gotten her pregnant and, in the eyes of her mother, disgraced. Alice's mother's priority is to get her daughter secreted away so that none of their acquaintances will know their shame. To that end she contacts an old friend, Mrs. Jelphs. Mrs. Jelphs is the housekeeper of Fiercombe Manor, a grand old estate in Gloucestershire where the house is kept in ready for a family, the Stantons, that live entirely overseas. Alice can have the baby, give it up for adoption, and return home as though none of this ever happened, with Mrs. Jelphs being fed a line about painful memories due to the sudden death of Alice's non-existent husband for her need to convalesce in the country. This plan could have worked perfectly if not for the fact that as Alice's condition proves nothing in life goes according to plan and Fiercombe Manor holds secrets darker than Alice's. When Alice meets young Tom Stanton, home on family business, she is determined to route out the secrets of what happened thirty years earlier to the pregnant Lady Elizabeth Stanton, Tom's Aunt, as she starts to fall for the young heir. Can disastrous decisions lead to a happily ever after for Alice or is her fate just as tragic as Elizabeth's?

Funnily enough this is the book that kickstarted my plunge into Gothic literature. Last July various pressures were impacting my life and I just wanted to escape somewhere gloomy, away from the heat and the present. I wanted a book to fit my mood, with a grand old house and a supernatural bent set anytime but now. I went to the Internet and the Internet spat Fiercombe Manor back at me. Literally everyone kept recommending this book to me. Compared to Rebecca, a classic that can never be imitated, and The Little Stranger, a book I have a complicated relationship to, I should have started to be wary. I so hoped this book would fill this void in me, this need, but it just wasn't to be. Nothing in the book lived up to the moniker of Gothic and trying to escape the heat of a Midwest summer by reading about the unseasonable heat of a English summer... yeah... not what I had planned. I actually struggled with finishing this book. It threw me off my reading goals entirely. I hate it when a bad book knocks you off the rails and you just can't get past it to get back into the reading groove. Eleven days it took me to slog through this book and I was left unsatisfied. In fact I picked up more and more books hoping to find some solace in good Gothic literature, and the truth is I should have just stuck with the classics, Du Maurier, Jackson, they knew their craft and set out to do something original not be poseurs and ride the coattails of other greater authors. They are the standard to which all is judged and most found lacking.

The main problem I had with this book was that it was trying way too hard to be in the style of Daphne Du Maurier. Yes, there's a reason people keep comparing Fiercombe Manor to Rebecca, and that's because Riordan is trying SO HARD to make you believe it. I actually wonder if she was able to delude herself with the recluse valley, the hidden home, and the lush vegetation. It didn't fool me for a minute because there is no one who will ever be able to write like Du Maurier with her ability to capture nature with her lyrical descriptions of effulgent flowers coupled with looming dread. NO ONE! I mean seriously, stop trying. Any book compared to the classic that is Rebecca is bound to let the reader down. This is one of the most perfect books ever written and to try to say this author whom, let's face it, I've never heard of until now could come close? I should have known it was not going to happen. But this leads to an interesting question, a lot of people look for books that are read-a-likes, books that evoke or are similar in style to other books they love. When do recommendations turn sour? Because in the instance of Fiercombe Manor I could tell Riordan was trying to emulate Du Maurier, but there are other books compared to Rebecca that just have a similar feel without trying to BE it. Over on Goodreads there's a list that actually recommends Nine Coaches Waiting as a read-a-like, and here I'd agree. Same vibe without any authorial delusions that lead to disappointments. Originality while maintaining the proper "Rebecca" mood is the line that needs to be walked. So publishers, be careful in your blurbs, they could alienate your readers.

Belabouring this whole Rebecca vibe, because I'm totally going to eventually just go out and get a stick and start hitting this book, I have to go back into how Riordan captures the sense of place; that little valley somewhere in Gloucestershire. Or should I say how she fails to capture the sense of place. She needed to draw herself a freakin' map. I am not joking. While Du Maurier had the benefit of Manderley being based on a real location, Menabilly, just from her descriptions alone you could draw a map. You knew where everything was. The place was a character. Now if Riordan really wanted to make this book like Rebecca she could have at least tried to make the place's character stick. Because every time she talks about that valley there's something not quite right. You can never get a sense of it. The new house feels like it's jumping all the compass points, the pond is shifting locations, now where's the road? I mean I was just darn confused. Now this could be a gimmick, disorient your readers and maybe you can trick them into thinking it's Gothic and it's supernatural elements at work. I call foul. Some of the best Gothic writing out there I can picture perfectly. How Hill House sits just so with the drive coming right up to the door after passing through the gates with the hills behind. Manderley and how the new rooms face away from the sea... details don't take away from your story, they add to it. Just add it right.

Yet I think the key to Fiercombe Manor is that unless you are pregnant this book is not scary at all. Seriously. Not. One. Scare. There's no ominous vibe, there's nothing. Oh, should I count that random thunderstorm? No, because it was just a little thunder! So what have we got for the Gothic in this book? An outcast heroine, a "haunted" house, and babies... um... seriously? And totally not in the right proportions. I'm not joking when I say that there is more time spent with Alice cleaning silver than there is in actually trying to discover what the secrets of the house are. And you know what the secret is in the end? This is a sad tale of a wife who was depressive with a large helping of children issues, from dead babies to postpartum depression that is treated in insane asylums... So at the end of the day, you're not chilled from the spectres of dead children, you're just sad. Sad that what happens to a woman before and after pregnancy wasn't understood at the turn of the last century. Also, let's be honest, it wasn't really understood when Alice was pregnant in the thirties either. This is a book that has the mindset of today being thrust back in time. Just like I had similar issues with Angelica because of this, I feel that this book just didn't live up to it's potential. But stripping it down, seeing what it's skeleton is, I can't really see how it could have become a successful Gothic tale. It was just sadness and melancholy, and seeing as that was what I was trying to escape from... yeah, not the book for me.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Tuesday Tomorrow

Mary McCarthy: The Complete Fiction by Mary McCarthy
Published by: Library of America
Publication Date: March 21st, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 2220 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"For the first time in a deluxe collector's edition, all seven novels and eight classic stories by the witty and provocative writer who defined a generation.

Seventy-five years ago Mary McCarthy provoked a scandal with her electrifying debut novel, The Company She Keeps (1942), announcing the arrival of a major new voice in American literature. A candid, thinly-veiled portrait of the late-1930s New York intellectual scene, its penetrating gaze and creative fusion of life and literature--"mutual plagiarism," she called it--became the hallmark of McCarthy's fiction, which the Library of America now presents in full for the first time in deluxe collector's edition. The Oasis (1949), a wicked satire about a failed utopian community, and The Groves of Academe (1952), a pioneering campus novel depicting the insular and often absurd world of academia, burnished her reputation as an acerbic truth-teller, but it was with A Charmed Life (1955), a searing story of small-town infidelity, that McCarthy fully embraced the frank and avant-garde treatment of gender and sexuality that would inspire generations of readers and writers. In McCarthy's most famous novel, The Group (1963), she depicts the lives of eight Vassar College graduates during the 1930s as they grapple with sex, sexism, money, motherhood, and family. McCarthy's final two novels--Birds of America (1971), a coming of age tale of 19-year-old Peter Levi, who travels to Europe during the 1960s, and Cannibals and Missionaries (1979), a thriller about a group of passengers taken hostage on an airplane by militant hijackers--are both concerned with the state of modern society, from the cross-currents of radical social change to the psychology of terrorism. Also included are all eight of McCarthy's short stories, four from her collection Cast a Cold Eye (1950), and four collected here for the first time. As a special feature, the second volume contains McCarthy's 1979 essay "The Novels that Got Away," on her unfinished fiction."

When I got my newest Library of American catalog I saw this and instantly new I HAD to have it. Also, doesn't the cover look a little Hitchcockian?

All These Wonders: True Stories About Facing the Unknown edited by Catherine Burns
Published by: Crown Archetype
Publication Date: March 21st, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Celebrating the 20th anniversary of storytelling phenomenon The Moth, 45 unforgettable true stories about risk, courage, and facing the unknown, drawn from the best ever told on their stages.

Carefully selected by the creative minds at The Moth, and adapted to the page to preserve the raw energy of live storytelling, All These Wonders features voices both familiar and new. Alongside Louis C.K., Tig Notaro, John Turturro, and Meg Wolitzer, readers will encounter: an astronomer gazing at the surface of Pluto for the first time, an Afghan refugee learning how much her father sacrificed to save their family, a hip-hop star coming to terms with being a “one-hit wonder,” a young female spy risking everything as part of Churchill’s “secret army” during World War II, and more.

High-school student and neuroscientist alike, the storytellers share their ventures into uncharted territory—and how their lives were changed indelibly by what they discovered there. With passion, and humor, they encourage us all to be more open, vulnerable, and alive."

OK, I so didn't know what The Moth was, but that cover and Neil Gaiman caught my eye, now I'm really fascinated to read this collection. 

Friday, March 17, 2017

Book Review - Cat Winters's The Uninvited

The Uninvited by Cat Winters
Published by: William Morrow
Publication Date: August 11th, 2015
Format: Kindle, 368 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Buy

Ivy Rowan has been abed with the flu for days. The last night she is to spend at home she awakes to see the ghost of her grandmother. She instantly knows something is wrong. She has only ever seen these uninvited guests, these ghosts, as harbingers of death; someone close to her will die. Her grandmother came to warn Ivy, her father and brother have killed a man. They have murdered the owner of the furniture store, who was a German immigrant. Ivy's brother Billy died the week previously in the Great War and there are rumors that the Germans are responsible for this plague that has descended on Ivy's small Midwestern town. Her brother and father committed this horrible act of vengeance on an innocent man. Though the papers will ascribed the death to patriotic vagrants, Ivy knows the truth. Ivy's mind and body rebels, she packs her belongings and flees into the night. Out in the world, Ivy, the virtual recluse, starts to live life and form friendships amongst all the death. She helps two red cross nurses ferry the ill, she lodges with the widow of a former classmate, but most importantly she tries to make amends to the grieving brother of the man her family killed, Daniel Schendel. She is drawn to Daniel as much as she is drawn to the jazz music playing every night across the road from his store. As their relationship grows more intense Ivy starts to realize that not everything is at it seems. There are secrets too horrific to face so one should just face the music and dance.

One of my friends said that I should have been forewarned that I wouldn't like this book because the blurb declaimed that it was "perfect for those who loved The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield." To say I loved The Thirteenth Tale would be grossly untrue, even saying I liked it would be a lie... so I should have had an inkling that The Uninvited wasn't for me. But it was the deal of the day on Kindle and that cover... well, that cover has more atmosphere than the whole book and I seriously need to stop being tricked by a pretty cover. The main problem I had was that I was looking for a good Gothic read and while this does have all the elements of Gothic literature it has all these elements without them ever coming together into a cohesive whole and being Gothic. Ghosts, check, virginal heroine, check, olden days, check, laws flouted, check, add to that a horrid plague and well, I am just baffled. I think the reason it failed is twofold. The ghosts aren't scary, they're just a part of the virginal heroine's life during the Great War. On top of that while a world destroying plague is terrifying and does have the Gothic element in spades, the problem is us modern readers aren't scared of this plague. We know what the cause is. You have to take this truth and spin it or distort it in order to keep the horror relevant to modern readers.

But everything about this book was like Gothic Literature turned upside down. You think it will work and it doesn't. I had this feeling from the first pages as Ivy raised herself from her sickbed that this felt like the conclusion of a story. That we missed Ivy's story, we missed her imprisonment and illness, we missed her journey and here we are at the end and she gets her happily ever after. She is no longer in seclusion but enjoying life and getting a chance at love. Oddly enough it turns out I was somewhat astute in this observation. Because the irony is, and this is a big spoiler folks, Ivy is dead. So this whole story happens after her death. Therefore her journey has happened, her day is done, what we read here is some imagined ghostly happily ever after that Christopher Reeve was so desperately searching and then dying for in Somewhere in Time. It's most likely Winters did this setup on purpose, but that doesn't satisfy me. It makes me feel like I was manipulated from page one. I went in expecting a certain kind of book and I basically got The Others, the disappointing Nicole Kidman movie. So if you're looking for a slightly otherworldly World War I book set in the Midwest that will give your tear ducts a workout, go for it.

Your tear ducts won't be the only thing getting a workout, because this book is determined to pull out your heartstrings and beat you to death with them. One of the reasons I like Gothic literature is that it preys on other emotions, fear being the primary one. I don't like chick flicks, I don't long for a good cry, I'm not pining for something new from Nicholas Sparks. I don't want my emotions manipulated. If in the telling of a good story my emotions suffer, well, that's fine, it's the sign of good storytelling. On the other hand, if a story is written just to play merry havoc on my emotions, well, it starts to piss me off. The repeated reveals of just how many of Ivy's friends are actually ghosts besides herself was unnecessarily cruel. Yes, Winters wanted to show that these people were more than just statistics, that each and every life claimed by the Spanish Flu was a life someone missed, a life that mattered, but there's a point when you just can't take anymore. This drain on my emotions was too much to handle. The first time Ivy returns home to talk to her mother, what with everything that's been going on in my own life at the moment I just couldn't deal with it. I wanted this book to be banished from my sight. I wanted it to stop hurting me. At one point I thought, I'll hurt it by giving it one star! But then I thought, no. While this book isn't for me, while it's not what I expected, Winters is still too competent a writer to punish, like she did to me.

What with everyone being dead you can't help to start drawing conclusions to the aforementioned The Others, or to The Sixth Sense, or more importantly to the television show Life on Mars and it's sequel Ashes to Ashes. In particular the television shows spent seasons building your rapport with these characters only to have the finale of Ashes to Ashes reveal that they are in a way station after their deaths awaiting the next phase of their journey, through a pub, The Railway Arms, which leads to heaven. Now let's look at The Uninvited Guests, ghosts, stuck continuing their lives until they go to the Jazz Club and ascend... so basically exactly what happens in Ashes to Ashes without the time slip... this similarity, even if the author has never seen or heard of these shows made me feel like there was nothing truly original in this book. It felt like it was never trying to be it's own thing, just a combination of other things that worked more successfully. With Ashes to Ashes when the reveal was made with the character of Shazzer I lost my shit. This wasn't a narrative that had ever made me cry, but I was so connected to the characters that this undid me. Whereas, as I've mentioned previously, here Winters just repeatedly pulls the rug out from under you. It's not a real connection, it's not real emotion, she never works to get you to feel, it's a false feeling. Whereas Shazzer's death will always stay with me, I don't think this book will stay with me after a few more weeks.

Though there is one thing that might stick. The jazz of it all. Once you realize the characters are dead and it's basically a siren song it makes a little more sense how much the music is driving Ivy. The thing is, while I love certain artists, play piano and even saxophone at one time, I'm not one of those people with music in my veins. If you cut me I will likely bleed ink from being such a word person. Therefore I have a hard time connecting to people like Ivy who hear music and just can't stop their toes tapping. Who can't stop the call of the music as it pumps through their veins. If music is pumping through my veins I'm usually the person wondering if we can turn the music down a bit cause it's loud. Also if there's one kind of music I detest it's jazz. Seriously. Can. Not. Stand. It. Therefore this jazz that runs through the book was annoying but also was antithesis to trying to get any Gothic vibe going. So it alienated me as it blithely made the book more and more the opposite of what I was hoping for. Can we also talk about how depressing it is that these ghosts are drawn to jazz? While it was popular at this time it wasn't until the roaring twenties when this genre took hold, a decade none of these characters are going to live to see. The music and the characters are full of false life. Their story is done, thankfully for me, and it was a bleak one.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Book Review - Susan Hill's The Woman in Black

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill
Published by: Vintage
Publication Date: 1983
Format: Paperback, 164 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Buy

Arthur Kipps could easily contribute to his family's tradition of ghost stories on Christmas Eve... only his ghost story is so dark and so disturbing he dare not utter it. After the holidays he decides he will commit it to paper so that it is recorded, exorcised from his life. A life that was destroyed by him going to Crythin Gifford to deal with the estate of Mrs. Alice Drablow. As a young solicitor he was excited at the opportunity this job gave him to prove his worth. He planned to spend a few days sorting out the elderly widow's papers and return to London and his fiance. Though the townspeople seemed reluctant to endorse his staying out at Eel Marsh House by himself. Arthur thought it was because of the Nine Lives Causeway which would cut him off from the mainland during high tide... but the seclusion wasn't the only reason. The main reason is a woman in black Arthur saw at Mrs. Drablow's funeral. A woman whose appearance presages something which the villagers dare not discuss. Despite vocal opposition Arthur ensconces himself at Eel Marsh House and is subjected to many supernatural apparitions, terrifying noises coming from the causeway, as well as many revelations. He learns who the woman in black is and what she wants, and what she will take from him... though, even in death, it looks like she will forever be unsatisfied.

I remember when the Daniel Radcliffe adaptation of this book arrived in cinemas, everyone who saw it kept insisting that it didn't capture the book. How The Woman in Black was a classic of Gothic storytelling and the stage adaptation was brilliant, but how I should avoid the movie and just go to the source. Of course I did both. I picked up the book at Barnes and Noble and then I eventually got around to watching the movie. Oddly for me I actually decided to watch the movie first and was unimpressed and confused. The sequel, The Woman in Black: Angel of Death, which had almost nothing to do with the book or the adaptation, might actually be my favorite among the three. As for the book, I don't know if it's because people were building it up to me or if it's just that horror films and other Gothic stories have gone so far beyond what Hill did here in the early eighties that it fell flat. The worst person though in building up this story is Hill herself. She set herself up for a fall with all the allusions to this story being too terrifying for Christmas Eve, and that it really shouldn't be uttered. I'm sorry, but if your narrator is telling a story about his past right there almost all jeopardy is gone. He's alive at the end. He survives into old age. He's never in real danger, so why is this story so scary if he makes it out alive?

But Hill keeps insisting on the danger... and with each insistence, with each demurral from daring to tell the tale she comes across as smug and overly pleased with herself. Oh Arthur was so damaged he never recovered... yet here he is with his new family surrounded by love and light at Christmas! So Hill thinks she's SO clever trying to break all the tropes? Others have broken the tropes and FAR better. She thinks the beauty of nature and the surrounding country makes it not your typical ghost story? I think that Mary Shelley kind of blasted apart the setting trope with her Gothic classic. Breaking with genre locals and connecting with nature... sorry to say but a pretty place doesn't a book make. The question of who is really the baby's mother? Um, yeah, it's not like this is anything original. Especially in Gothic literature! As for the townsfolk who don't trust outsiders and close ranks? Seriously, you think this was groundbreaking? In fact, this is also to everyone who recommended this book to me. Seriously? And no, you're not allowed to use the excuse that she did it first, because 1983 isn't that long ago and many many people did it better first. I just couldn't shake this feeling of Hill thinking she was superior throughout the book and this continually alienated me.

The narrative just didn't sit right with me. But then again this could all be Arthur's fault. Arthur isn't a good lead. Skipping over his dramatics about even wanting to tell his story, let's just go with him being a whiny little pretentious bitch. He views this job as a real feather in his cap. Oh, he'll just do this job so well that he'll get a huge promotion enabling him to marry his fiance sooner and well, his boss will just love him and never want to let him go, just throwing money at him for simply doing his job. I could say that this was Hill showing the naivety of youth that will be jaded by experience... but the fact is I wanted to smack him so bad that I couldn't relate to him on any level. Plus he's like manic depressive or something, split personality perhaps? Because during the days at Eel Marsh House nothing bothers him, he's all rainbows and puppies and oh, that noise was nothing, look at the beautiful view out these glorious windows, and the night falls and he's running around like a chicken with his head cut off screaming about the noises on the causeway. Maybe Jekyll and Hyde is a more apt way of describing Arthur. Yes, things can get scary at night, in the dark, but having him so blithely swan through the day talking about how lovely everything is? He's in serious denial and needs help. But it's not coming from me.

What does "help" Arthur is that lovely trope of the fever that puts him abed. Suffered by any overactive man who just collapses from strain. I kind of wonder if this is a trope that women writers use to just poke fun at men who have been claiming that women are weaker and prone to fainting... because whenever I've seen this trope used so heavy-handedly it's always been from the pen of a female author. Like they're saying, "we'll show you a wilted flower!" Which amuses me to no end. But then again Conan Doyle even used this trope in a Sherlock Holmes story... so maybe it was really a thing. And I have to say, if this is a real thing, how can I get in on this action? Because I'd seriously like a month off to just lay in bed and read. Because I don't want to take it to the extreme of delirium, but just a slight wasting problem that needed bed rest. Can you seriously, in this day and age, imagine someone saying that they are convalescing for the foreseeable future do to nerves? Everything is so diagnosable now this isn't something that can be believable in novels written in present times about the past. We know better now and so this trope too must pass.

The Woman in Black was actually in a perilous position. Until the last few pages it was about to receive the dreaded one star rating and then it surprisingly redeemed itself, just a little. If you don't know the motives of the woman in black, Mrs. Drablow's sister, now is the time to get a fever and take to your bed. OK, so I assume now if you're still reading you either already know or don't care to be spoiled that the woman in blacks appearance heralds the death of a child, which is why the villagers never wanted to talk about it, because it might be their child next. So Arthur figures this all out we and think he's getting his happily ever after, he gets married, has a child, but turns out, things aren't so resolved. Because the woman in black, she is a ghost that is unrepentantly evil. She is not able to be "put to rest" or "exorcised" and THIS is the selling point of the book. There is no happy resolution. Arthur loses his wife and child to the woman in black because she is pure evil. This is rare in ghost stories, I can only think of a few, usually Japanese in base, where there is no tidy resolution, evil wins. Yes, you could say that Henry James did this with The Turn of the Screw, but he didn't do it effectively. Here there is no doubt that evil wins. And I like that. It's spelled out cleanly and clearly, like the vengeful ghost in The Ring. So if you stick with it, there's this lovely light at the end of the tunnel. Sure it's actually a train, but it brings you some satisfaction.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Tuesday Tomorrow

In This Grave Hour by Jacqueline Winspear
Published by: Harper
Publication Date: March 14th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Sunday September 3rd 1939. At the moment Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain broadcasts to the nation Britain’s declaration of war with Germany, a senior Secret Service agent breaks into Maisie Dobbs' flat to await her return. Dr. Francesca Thomas has an urgent assignment for Maisie: to find the killer of a man who escaped occupied Belgium as a boy, some twenty-three years earlier during the Great War.

In a London shadowed by barrage balloons, bomb shelters and the threat of invasion, within days another former Belgian refugee is found murdered. And as Maisie delves deeper into the killings of the dispossessed from the “last war," a new kind of refugee — an evacuee from London — appears in Maisie's life. The little girl billeted at Maisie’s home in Kent does not, or cannot, speak, and the authorities do not know who the child belongs to or who might have put her on the “Operation Pied Piper” evacuee train. They know only that her name is Anna.

As Maisie’s search for the killer escalates, the country braces for what is to come. Britain is approaching its gravest hour — and Maisie could be nearing a crossroads of her own."

New Maisie Dobbs! Muppet arm flail! 

Before the War by Fay Weldon
Published by: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: March 14th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"London, 1922. It’s a cold November morning, the station is windswept and rural, the sky is threatening snow, and the train is late. Vivien Ripple, 20 years old and an ungainly five foot eleven, waits on the platform at Dilberne Halt. She is wealthy and well-bred―only daughter to the founder of Ripple and Co, the nation’s top publisher―but plain, painfully awkward, and, perhaps worst of all, intelligent. Nicknamed “the giantess,” Vivvie is, in the estimation of most, already a spinster. But she has a plan. That very morning, Vivvie will ride to the city with the express purpose of changing her life forever.

Enter Sherwyn Sexton: charismatic, handsome―if, to his dismay, rather short. He’s an aspiring novelist and editor at Ripple and Co whose greatest love is the (similarly handsome, but taller) protagonist of his thriller series. He also has a penchant for pretty young women―single and otherwise. Sherwyn is shocked when his boss’s hulking daughter, dressed in a tweed jacket and moth-eaten scarf, strides into his office and asks for his hand in marriage. But his finances are running thin to support his regular dinners on the town, and Vivien’s promise to house him in comfort while he writes is simply too good to refuse. What neither of them know is that she is pregnant by another man, and will die in childbirth in just a few months…

With one eye on the present and one on the past, Fay Weldon offers Vivien’s fate, along with that of London between World Wars I and II: a city fizzing with change, full of flat-chested flappers, shell-shocked soldiers, and aristocrats clinging to history.

Inventive, warm, playful, and full of Weldon’s trademark ironic edge, Before the War is a spellbinding novel from one of the greatest writers of our time."

Come on, doesn't this just sound fascinating? Past, present, tragic death in childbirth! 

A Death by Any Other Name by Tessa Arlen
Published by: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: March 14th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 336 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Building on the success of her last two mysteries in the same series, Tessa Arlen returns us to the same universe full of secrets, intrigue, and, this time, roses in A Death By Any Other Name. The elegant Lady Montfort and her redoubtable housekeeper, Mrs. Jackson, investigate a murder among a group of amateur rose-breeders while the idyllic English summer days count down to the start of WW1. When Mrs. Jackson receives a visit from a cook who believes she was an indirect witness to murder from a poisoned dish of breakfast kedgeree Lady Montfort promises to do what she can to clear the cook's name, and contrives an invitation to Hyde Castle, the home of a self-made millionaire, to investigate a murder of concealed passions and secret desires. With the help of the invaluable Jackson Lady Montfort sets about solving the puzzle surrounding the death of the rose society's most popular member and discovers a villain of audacious cunning among a group of mild-mannered, amateur rose-breeders.

While they investigate, the headlines bring news of the continuing conflict in Prussia following the assassination of the heir to the Austrian empire. As each day brings more threatening news and the very real fear that Britain will be drawn into war Lady Montfort and Mrs. Jackson must race the clock to solve the mystery before Britain declares on Germany.

Brimming with intrigue, Tessa Arlen's latest does not disappoint."

Is it just me or is this week all about war?

Elementary, She Read by Vicki Delany
Published by: Crooked Lane Books
Publication Date: March 14th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Gemma Doyle, a transplanted Englishwoman, has returned to the quaint town of West London on Cape Cod to manage her Great Uncle Arthur's Sherlock Holmes Bookshop and Emporium. The shop--located at 222 Baker Street--specializes in the Holmes canon and pastiche, and is also the home of Moriarty the cat. When Gemma finds a rare and potentially valuable magazine containing the first Sherlock Homes story hidden in the bookshop, she and her friend Jayne (who runs the adjoining Mrs. Hudson's Tea Room) set off to find the owner, only to stumble upon a dead body.

The highly perceptive Gemma is the police’s first suspect, so she puts her consummate powers of deduction to work to clear her name, investigating a handsome rare books expert, the dead woman's suspiciously unmoved son, and a whole family of greedy characters desperate to cash in on their inheritance. But when Gemma and Jayne accidentally place themselves at a second murder scene, it's a race to uncover the truth before the detectives lock them up for good.

Fans of Sherlock Holmes will delight in the sleuthing duo of Gemma and Jayne in Elementary, She Read, the clever and captivating series debut by nationally bestselling author Vicki Delany."

Cozy fun with the Holmes canon? Yes please!

Friday, March 10, 2017

Book Review - Arthur Phillips's Angelica

Angelica by Arthur Phillips
Published by: Penguin Books
Publication Date: April 3rd, 2007
Format: Paperback, 331 Pages
Rating: ★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

The Barton household is about to be violently upset. Whether it's of a supernatural nature or a more prosaic nature is dependent on who you are listening to. The simple facts are these. Constance Barton and her husband Joseph had a hard time having a child. Two painful miscarriages and finally Angelica was born. In an attempt to thwart her husband's sexual advantages Angelica has been living in their bedroom for four years. Constance couldn't handle more disappointments and Angelica is enough for her. Angelica is her everything. But things are changing and Joseph finally imposes his will, which is a rare occurrence, and Angelica is removed to her nursery and the master bedroom is once more home to the martial bed. That is when the trouble starts. Constance views it as a haunting. There are smells and spectres and while Joseph points out that it could all be due to her high strung nature, she is convinced something more is at play; and is Angelica playing along? Could the child actually be scared or is she feeding off her mother's emotions? When Joseph claims his martial rights with Constance the spectre takes on physical form and something must be done. The maid Nora has heard of a spiritualist who specializes in cleansing houses, Anne Montague, a failed actress who is supplementing her income via overwrought housewives. But Anne sees something in the Barton household to change her mind about her "calling" and helps Constance. As for Joseph, he is easily taken care of... and as for Angelica? It turns out this is her story in more ways than one.    

If you're looking for a book strewn with contradictory stories and lack of resolution, than this here is the book for you! If instead you're looking for a psychological thriller that has supernatural elements, then I'd suggest you walk away. Or at the very least only read Constance's viewpoint, because the only thing going for this book was, aside from Phillips's ability to capture the language of the time period heavily reminiscent of Lewis Carroll, the first section with it's paranormal activities. Because this book isn't about the supernatural it's about unreliable narrators and the fallibility of memory and how each and every person sees the world differently. Which is all fine and good, it's just not the book I thought I was signing up to read and therefore I was a very dissatisfied reader. But more on my complete dissatisfaction later, with spoilers aplenty, so you've been warned. The problem with having four distinct perspectives is that they will never agree, add to this that Angelica is technically the vehicle for the other three narrators, and it's a jumbled mess. Yes, it's interesting to see the different interpretations of the same events, but overall it needed some grounding. There needed to be some character that you could connect to over the others, someone needed to be a little more believable so that you could take that away as what you believe is the truth. Instead, by not having this element the inconclusive ending makes for dissatisfied reading.

Seeing the story in order from the POVs of Constance, Anne, Joseph, and finally Angelica, who we've really been hearing from all along because this is her therapy session, Phillips seemed to want to discount the previous POV. Yes, everyone sees the world in their own unique way, but he seems determined to lessen the book in each section by paving over what came before and making it unbelievable. Therefore instead of being able to pick apart the POVs and find some thread of truth, we have each subsequent narrator totally disproving what came before. With Constance it's a ghost, but then Anne comes along and it's not a ghost it's sexual abuse, though she still lets Constance think it's a ghost. Then along comes Joseph and it's not sexual abuse it's that women be crazy yo. As for Angelica... she confirms nor denies any of these stories. So all is plausible. Say what!?! All is true and nothing is true? I know you can mimic the writing of Carroll, but please, no. Phillips you are no Carroll when it comes to nonsense and riddles. Unreliable narrators are really popular at the moment from Gone Girl to The Girl on the Train, heck this book technically has the ever popular "girl" in the title with Angelica's name, but these books succeed, and I really can't believe I'm saying there's something successful in Gone Girl, but they succeed because you get closure, not some supposedly deep yet ultimately aggravating non-ending.   

But then again, this is a book that basically writes itself off in the end. In fact, rarely have I hated a book so much in it's last few sentences that I grew to despise it and wanted to throw it more than anything."Flames, on the side of my face, breathing-breathl- heaving breaths. Heaving breaths... Heathing..." So let's break down that ending. At the conclusion of the book Angelica, the gimmicky narrator/manipulative bitch we've been hearing from tells her therapist to just ignore everything she's said, he will never understand her and he should just bring on the next "pretty hysteric." Now I've had long talks with one of my friends over this abrupt ending, seeing as we read this book for book club. Her conclusion, in as simplified a manner as I can make it, is that Angelica realizes that the therapist will never understand her, a complex modern woman, and the slight is to the therapist. Whereas I think it's the exact opposite. I think it's the author not bothering to understand women but just flipping them off at the end. They're women, they aren't worth figuring out because this wasn't Angelica's story it was Joseph's story all along. And why do I think this? Because Phillips, while writing so much about women here can't help that he is a male and as evidenced strongly in Joseph's section all his sympathies are with the male of the species so he's just writing from his entitled white male POV. Yeah, so let's throw this book out a window shall we?  

Going back to Joseph's section, not only does it discount everything that Constance and Anne have said, it makes Joseph this tragic figure who isn't understood at work or at home and he just has no friends and blah blah blah blah. I'm sorry your wife doesn't want to sleep with you, could it be because there is no birth control and she doesn't want to almost die having a stillborn child again? Every aspect of Constance's life is put under the microscope, every thing she does, says, feels, is up for debate, whereas Joseph, well, it's just poor Joseph don't pick on him, he's having a bad day, so let's let him be. Why not scrutinize Joseph? Put him under the harsh lights he uses in experimenting on animals, a job that is noble and not at all amoral! The true theme of this book isn't about memory and differing POVs, in Joseph's section we see Phillips's true motive, everything comes down to "poor men." Because obviously, like the recent Portlandia sketch, men have been pushed aside and marginalized too long. All women want from them is to trick them into marriage so they can have babies. Yeah, that's right. This very modern and topical view that women are out there to trick men into baby making is thrust into this Victorian period piece. I just kept thinking, yes, things are cyclical and men could have felt that way then, but more I kept thinking, is the author's girlfriend trying to get him to put a ring on it and a bun in the oven?

So as you can imagine by this point, I'd sworn off the book. Whatever good had happened with Constance and Anne, all was washed away by the modern hypocrisy just screaming at me from these pages that made up Joseph's section. Was there hope that Angelica could redeem the book? As you've read already. No. There wasn't. In fact Angelica's section is so slight it barely deserves a mention, except for one point; Constance and Anne hooking up. This is an issue I have with many male authors, they think that women will just randomly be lesbians if it suits the needs of the men. George R. R. Martin might be the worst, but can't they get that people are born who they are and that's that? You can see why Constance and Anne might be drawn to each other, Constance hasn't fared well at the hands of men, especially in regard to reproduction, and Anne is a wonderful protector and provider. But like the male entitlement that just oozed off the pages earlier, this just seems to be another nail in the coffin of women as manipulators. They got the child they wanted, killed Joseph, and now can live happily ever after. Or you could look at it as Constance doesn't like Joseph or his attentions so therefore she must be gay. In other words, everything in this book is seen through male entitlement glasses, I wouldn't say they're rose colored, they're more shit colored, because what makes you think that it's OK to think like this? Women are people too. I know many men are trying to change this, and reading a book that thinks that way... it just enrages me.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Book Reveiw - Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
Published by: Modern Library
Publication Date: 1847
Format: Hardcover, 400 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Mr. Lockwood has rented Thrushcross Grange in Yorkshire as an escape from his hectic London life. Being an amiable man he is perplexed by his landlord, Heathcliff who is standoffish and lives a remote life with an odd household at Wuthering Heights. After being trapped the night at Wuthering Heights Lockwood beseeches his housekeeper at Thrushcross Grange, Nelly Dean, to tell him the tale of Heathcliff and the other residents of Wuthering Heights. Nelly agrees, because she remembers it all, starting thirty years earlier when Mr. Earnshaw lived at Wuthering Heights with his son Hindley and his daughter Catherine. After a trip to Liverpool he returned with Lockwood's landlord, Heathcliff, a foundling to incite the jealousy of Hindley and the love of Cathy. When Mr. Earnshaw finally died and Hindley returned home with his new wife it was time to enact his revenge on Heathcliff, banishing him to the stables as a lowly servant. Before Hindley's return Cathy thought that she and Heathcliff would never be parted, but soon she is betrothed to Edgar Linton of Thrushcross Grange claiming she could never marry Heathcliff because it would degrade her. Heathcliff leaves Wuthering Heights and only returns once he is a wealthy man and seduces Edgar's sister for revenge. Death soon claims Cathy and then Hindley and the feud goes to the next generation fueled by Heathcliff. But can love come back to a place where hate has flourished?

The problem with reading a book like Wuthering Heights is that this is a book that has been adapted to death, and I've watched them all. From the Laurence Olivier adaptation that eliminated the second generation for expediency and a stab at a happy ending, to the 1998 version solely watched for Matthew Macfadyen as Hereton Earnshaw, to the badly bewigged Tom Hardy in the only version I actually like. I've seen them all. Each one brought a new perspective and a twist with the interpretation of the text, so that going back to the source I found that nothing new was brought to the table. I'd seen it all and not to throw too much shade at Emily Brontë, but her framing device of narrators within narrators akin to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein feels a bit forced. But yet I needed to read it. The reason I finally decided to read Wuthering Heights was that I had been meaning to for so long it seemed like a glaring oversight and might be considered as the book in longest residence on my "to be read" pile. I had years earlier picked up the book and made it through a few chapters of Lockwood's overwrought rambling only to put it down and forget about it. In the intervening years I had read all of Anne Brontë's work, re-read Jane Eyre more times than I can count, and started viewing Anne as the most talented of the Brontës, but I couldn't secure her the title without finally giving in to a reading of Emily's one prose piece. PS, if the star rating didn't tip you off, Anne wins.

The main problem with Wuthering Heights is that you quite literally hate everyone. These are not nice people. I mean they are SERIOUSLY NOT NICE PEOPLE! They are threatening to murder each other daily and that's what, OK? Is that supposed to show the strength of their attachments? And that is somehow supposed to translate into one of the greatest love stories ever? Hell no. It's dysfunction city. There's a reason why when Thursday Next is assigned to help council the characters in Wuthering Heights in her third adventure, The Well of Lost Plots, that it is a comedic highlight, because these people SERIOUSLY need counseling. All books need you to have someone worth rooting for, and I can't think of a single character I would like to spend one minute with. Even the "nicer" characters at Thrushcross Grange are lured into Heathcliff's world of revenge and hate and tainted by association. The second generation doesn't get a pass either, they are so passive that by letting this happen they are continuing the cycle. Yes, with Heathcliff eventually gone there's a tiny little ray of hope at the end. But is it really hope? Hundreds of pages of hate and rage and passion, because I don't think we can call it love, and once the house has been exorcised of Heathcliffe everything can be fine? Nope. Burn that house to the ground and move far far away.

Yet there is a reason this is a classic. And no, I don't think it's because of anything to do with the characters or the plot. It might have to do with the passion, because it was rare for a book then to show such cruelity and be so harsh while in the throes of so-called love. But I think the only real reason it survives is two fold, one is the connection to this great literary dynasty that is the Brontës, but secondly, in among the dross, there are lines of sheer beauty. Emily was a poet, she was not a prose writer, so it makes sense that she can capture beauty and emotion in a single line that she couldn't accomplish with chapters and chapters of storytelling. In chapter nine is perhaps the best example of what Emily could do when giving full reign to her powers: "It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now; so he shall never know how I love him: and that, not because he's handsome, Nelly, but because he's more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same; and Linton's is as different as a moonbeam from lightning, or frost from fire... I cannot express it; but surely you and everybody have a notion that there is or should be an existence of yours beyond you. What were the use of my creation, if I were entirely contained here? My great miseries in this world have been Heathcliff's miseries, and I watched and felt each from the beginning: my great thought in living is himself. If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger: I should not seem a part of it.—My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods: time will change it, I'm well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I am Heathcliff! He's always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being"

Though for all the beauty, all the evocation of emotions in this one section, easily the most quoted of all, there are pages and pages of limp prose. Just unintelligible horrible writing. In particular there is Joseph; an elderly servant who lacks all humanity and is therefore very religious. The problem with Joesph is his stupid dialect. Yes, dialect is important, it gives the reader a feeling for the time, the place, and the character. But bad dialect, or dialect used improperly can ruin a novel. Look to The Secret Garden, the children use the broad local dialect to mock the servants cruelly, yet for some bizarre reason we're supposed to view this as cute. I don't. It made me hate that book. Joseph's dialect is 100% unintelligible. I quite literally have no idea what he was saying. A dialect should be a compromise to some extent. You need to capture all that I said above, time, place, BUT you have to make it accessible to readers. If you've seen the Red Riding Trilogy you'll understand where I'm going here. Like Wuthering Heights, these are films set in Yorkshire. Now some of the actors went too far with their accents, making them too heavy and unintelligible, then there was Sean Bean, who knows the acting business and made a nice compromise between accent and accessibility. Look to Sean Bean! Because really, Joseph became a joke, like in Hot Fuzz where Karl Johnson as PC Bob Walker is pretty unintelligible and needs a translator, usually Nick Frost's Danny Butterman, but there's the one scene where Bob has to translate for David Bradley as a local farmer because even Danny can't understand him. That's what it felt like here! But it wasn't meant to be funny!

Yet even without all this, even if I hadn't watched all the adaptations and hadn't hated all the characters there is one thing the this book lacked, and that was the element of surprise. At the beginning of the book there is a family tree. This tree gives everyone's birth and death and a quick perusal shows you, wow, yes it shows you everything. All their kids and the marriages, everything. I'm like Patrick Stewart on Extras. Yes, genealogy is to me interesting in books, especially when you start going Game of Thrones epic, but here, with such a small cast of characters, the book is spoiled from page one. Which makes me wonder, was this in the first printing? Because this comes after Charlotte's introduction to the book, so did she maybe add it for spite? Everyone knows Charlotte wasn't a fan of Emily's writing, with rumors being that Emily actually had another finished manuscript that Charlotte burned... so was Charlotte trying to just alienate the readers? Or was it Emily who just felt like everything was a foregone conclusion and that we should know from the start we're in for death and misery... because that's what this book is, death and misery. It has become a classic just by proximity to other great works and really, classics do need to be challenged and re-evaluated, because a hundred plus years later I don't think this book has anything left to give us whereas Jane Eyre and even The Tenant of Wildfell Hall are constantly surprising.

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