The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson

When Netflix released its adaptation of The Haunting of Hill House in 2018, I followed the crowd and got hooked. Who can resist a good horror story? I adored this series and it made me think that I should read the book. A colleague at work told me that the book and the show are in no way similar, but that the book is wonderful and I should read it. I can now confirm that both of those things are true.

Hill House

The stage for Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House is set at the remote mansion of Hill House, where Dr John Montague has invited some people to spend the summer with him. He believes the house to be haunted and plans to investigate this theory during their stay. Eleanor and Theo are the only two guests to accept the invitation and the character of Luke also joins them, as he is in line to inherit Hill House. At the beginning of the book, you think you’re going to get a simple story about ghosts. As the tale progresses, it twists into a much darker and much more intriguing story. Continue reading

Everything Under – Daisy Johnson

Everything Under is Daisy Johnson’s debut novel and was shortlisted for the 2018 Man Booker Prize. Johnson is the youngest person to have been shortlisted for the Booker and the book created a lot of buzz online, so whilst browsing my library’s ebook catalogue, I was enticed to give it a go. Everything Under delves into the world of fairy tales and classical mythology to explore concepts of motherhood, loss, memory, nature vs nurture, gender, and the power of language. Set against a backdrop of modern rural England and jumping between various plotlines, it weaves a tapestry that is dark and enticing.

Everything Under

What comes back to us from that long-lost trailing river – a spine against the backbone of the country? What did we summon up there? A wildish girl and her wilder mother, living like demons or animals out where no one could get to them.

When Gretel was a child, she lived with her mother on a canal boat, separated from the rest of society. They communicated in their own language and lived in fear of something that dwelled in the river: the Bonak. As an adult, Gretel works as a lexicographer, updating word meanings in dictionaries. She has not seen her mother since she was sixteen. After years of trying and failing to find her mother, she is re-united with her at last. This reconciliation confronts Gretel with questions from her past that she thought she had left behind. Memories she thought long-gone resurface and the Bonak seems to lurk in the background of her life once more. Continue reading

The Nature of Things – Lucretius

The Nature of Things (or De Rerum Natura in the original Latin) by Lucretius is a combination of poetry, science and philosophy. The poem explores Lucretius’ belief about the gods, humanity, the senses, the world, and the universe, all through the philosophical framework of Epicurus. It was written in the first-century BC and has been lovingly translated by A. E. Stallings into rhyming fourteeners in this Penguin Classics edition. Stallings’ translation cannot have been an easy task, but it is a thing of beauty that elevated the reading experience into something truly special.

The Nature of Things

The Nature of Things is a didactic poem split into six books, which aims to explain the philosophy of Epicurus, a Greek philosopher from the fourth-century. Each book focuses on a different theme and we learn about the concept of atomism (how everything is formed of matter and void), the movement of atoms and how they connect, mortality and the soul, human senses, the beginnings of civilisation and reproduction, and weather and disease.  Reading this poem, I could not help but be struck by how far ahead of its time it seems to be. It can be easy to slip into a mindset where we assume that ancient people just used religion and the gods to explain the world around them. Works such as this remind us that humanity is far more complex than that; it is not just the modern world that seeks to understand the workings of our universe. Continue reading

Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone – James Baldwin

James Baldwin has an innate ability to cut to the core of the human experience. It is rare to find an author who is so articulate at describing the fundamentals of human emotion. I have adored his writing since first reading Giovanni’s Room in 2014 and since then he has become one of my most treasured authors. His writing means so much to me that I struggle to put in to words how I feel about his books, but I shall attempt to talk here about Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone.

Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone

First published in 1968, Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone is a story about Leo Proudhammer, a black bisexual actor who has just had a severe heart-attack.  Whilst he recovers in hospital, he thinks back over the significant moments of his life. It is through these flashbacks and present-day conversations with his friends that we learn about his childhood in Harlem and his journey to becoming a famous actor. Continue reading

Etta and Otto and Russell and James – Emma Hooper

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The Lightkeepers – Abby Geni

I’d had The Lightkeepers by Abby Geni on my wishlist for quite a while and last Christmas I received it as a present from my Mum. I’d almost forgotten that I had it on my wishlist, but I was delighted to receive it. Perhaps it was the cold January weather, but the beautiful cover and promise of a tale set on a desolate island called out to me. It was the perfect time of year to read this book.

The Lightkeepers

The Lightkeepers was published in 2016 and is Abby Geni’s debut novel. It follows Miranda, a nature photographer in her thirties, who has gone to live in the remote Farallon Islands for a year. The only other humans living on this archipelago are six biologists, each of whom have chosen to live in this isolated world for their own unique reasons. A couple of months after her arrival, Miranda is raped. The book explores the consequences of this trauma against a backdrop of the deadly and beautiful nature of the Farallon Islands. Continue reading

The Inconvenient Indian – Thomas King

The first time I heard of this book was when Mercedes reviewed it on YouTube in 2016. It immediately went on my wishlist and waited there patiently until Christmas last year, when my sister gifted it to me. Now that I owned it, I knew that I didn’t want to wait long before I read it. It became the next book on my to-read list and the first book that I started this year. I’d wanted to read it for over two years, I wasn’t about to let another two years pass.

Inconvenient Indian

In The Inconvenient Indian, Thomas King writes an account of the history of Native Americans in Canada and the US. He does not refer to this book as a history, because it does not follow a particular chronology, it has personal asides, and it has biases. All these aspects elevate the work. He also discusses his choice to use the word “Indian” when talking about Native American and First Nation people. He ends this discussion with the pertinent point that “there has never been a good collective noun because there never was a collective to begin with. Continue reading

Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert

It’s hard to grow up without having heard of Madame Bovary; it’s long been on my periphery as one of those books that I should read at some point. When I was at a ballet retreat last year, one of my friends was talking about her love of Madame Bovary and she very much encouraged me to read it at some point. A few weeks later I was walking to work and a house had put a large selection of books and DVDs outside for people to take. Amongst these was Madame Bovary. Clearly the world was telling me to read this book and who am I to argue with the universe?

Madame Bovary

Madame Bovary is a book that has been mis-sold to me my entire life. I had often read and been told that it was about a woman who got married and then, being unhappy in her marriage, has a multitude of affairs. That is not the book that I read. The book I read had a far more compelling story. Emma is a young woman when she marries Charles Bovary, believing herself to be in love. It is not long before she realises that she does not care for her husband or her new life. She is constrained by society and frustrated by the limitations that were put imposed upon women. She grows restless, depressed, and unsatisfied. In order to combat these feelings she begins to spend money they do not have, to wish for a grander life, to flirt with men to gain attention and, eventually, she ends up having two affairs. We follow Emma through her struggles, bouts of depression, and reckless choices that bring misery on all sides. I was enthralled. Continue reading

Watership Down – Richard Adams

Like many people, my first introduction to Watership Down was the 1978 adaptation directed by Martin Rosen. I can remember very little of the film now, except that it traumatised me and my sisters when we were children. The release of the recent BBC adaptation at Christmas pushed me to read the book, because I wanted to read it before watching the new adaptation. It was on my library’s ebook catalogue, so I popped myself on the waitlist and got to read it over Christmas.

watership down

Watership Down follows a small group of rabbits who decide to leave their warren, Sandleford, when Fiver has a vision that something terrible is coming. He speaks of fields of blood and the destruction of their home. We follow this band of rabbits as they struggle to find a new place to call home. It’s an intense read that is filled with danger, injury and death. Whilst it is technically a children’s book, it’s one that I would only recommend to older readers. There were times when I was so stressed out whilst reading this book that I had to take a break to calm down. Reading it has explained why the film scared me so much when I was young. The fact that threat pervades the entirety of this book is part of what makes it such a gripping read. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Continue reading

The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett

When I was younger I adored the 1993 adaptation of The Secret Garden and watched it on a regular basis. I still watch it when it’s on the TV (usually at Christmas time!) and it never fails to make me cry. I’ve been meaning to read the book since I was a child, so when I was browing my library’s ebook collection and came across it, I decided that the time had come to read it. It’s been on my “to read” list for over 15 years, so it was about time really.

The-Secret-Garden

The Secret Garden was written by Frances Hodgson Burnett and published in 1911. I read the HarperCollins edition that is filled with stunning artwork by the design studio MinaLima. The illustrations were bright, beautiful and brought the story to life in the most fitting way. The story follows Mary Lennox, who was born and raised in India to wealthy parents who had very little to do with her. At the age of ten, a cholera epidemic kills her parents and most of her household, so she is sent to live with her Uncle Craven in Yorkshire, England. She arrives at his house, Misselthwaite Manor, as a surly, bad-tempered and selfish child. With nothing to do and no one to talk to, she spends her days outside in the gardens and learns about a secret garden that has not been opened since Craven’s wife died ten years ago. Mary becomes obsessed with the idea of this garden and seeks to find it and bring it back to life. Along the way, she reluctantly makes friends with a gardener, a robin, her maid, and two boys (Dickon and Colin) who help her grow in ways she could never have anticipated.

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