Saturday, November 8, 2008

Book Review: The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

I’m not a big fan of ghost stories. The mental images conjured by words don’t even begin to match the fear I feel when watching scary movies. I do, however, feel frightened when reading psychologically twisted stories, like The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells. Maybe it’s that aspect that made The Turn of the Screw the first “ghost story” that has held my attention and even scared me some.

It's been so gloriously gloomy the last few days that I just had to pick up a ghost story in hopes that I would finally find a creepy one. I think it says a lot for the book that I picked it up around midnight and kept reading until 2, and when I finally did go to bed I prayed I wouldn't have to get up in the middle of the night to pee or anything because I would be freaked out.

The story is about a governess taking care of two young children. She's there at the house alone because her "master", whom she is infatuated with, doesn't want to be involved in the care of the children at all. Without spoiling the story, she starts seeing what appear to be demonic apparitions. James is tantalizingly ambiguous about much of what happens which, in my opinion, makes for a scarier ghost. Leaving things to the reader's own imagination ensures that the reader will think of the scariest thing he or she can.

Scarier than the ghosts, however, is the psychological aspect of it. Fairly early on in the novel the reader is troubled with doubts about what the governess is seeing, and about her own sanity. This adds more layers to the story by making the reader think about things just as frightening, or perhaps more frightening, than ghosts.

It's autumn. The air is cold, the skies are grey, the leaves and blowing around making a sound like rattling bones. Pick up a ghost story. I'd recommend this one.

Booking Through Thursday: Conditioning

From BTT:
Are you a spine breaker? Or a dog-earer? Do you expect to keep your books in
pristine condition even after you have read them? Does watching other readers
bend the cover all the way round make you flinch or squeal in pain?

I am emphatically not a spine-breaker. No no no. I hate that. I have been known to occasionally dog-ear books to mark a quote or something. That's mostly with non-fiction books or school books, books that I feel were made to get worn in. My fiction books are not handled with gloves on or anything, but I do treat them respectfully. The edges of covers tend to get a bit beaten up from being put in purses or balanced on a table, but nothing gets ripped or bent if I can help it.
I don't like seeing people bend the covers around unless it's a novel or something for school. Since most of us buy used copies anyway, they're already beaten up, wirtten in, etc.

Book Review: Casino Royal by Ian Fleming

Like any American growing up with a father and brother, I am familiar with the James Bond movies. I even had a brief thing for Pierce Brosnan at 14. So this year I figured I should read at least one of the books. Casino Royale happens to be the first in the series and gave rise to an excellent movie adaptation.

I started off really enjoying this book. Fleming is very good at conveying mood, and he has a gift for moving the plot swiftly. I would look back and wonder how so much had happened in just a few pages without me feeling rushed. I could have really like this book and wanted to read more had it not been for the “love interest”.

I wasn’t bothered so much by the woman herself. I read old books, so I’m used to the weak heroine or the useless woman. It sucks, but I’m used to it. What unsettled me was the attitude Bond took towards her. I was expecting sexism (it was written in the 50s, after all) but it was so over-the-top, edging into misogyny. Bond veered between feelings of resentment and severe dislike for this woman trying to do “a man’s job” (his quote, how original) and wanting to fuck her. Pardon my language but that’s what it was. I shouldn’t even say “veered” really, as those feelings were uttered in the same sentence or thought throughout the book. There were referenced to Bond wanting to spank her, but as a form of punishment. He thinks to himself that because he doesn’t fully know her inner thoughts, whenever they have sex it will have “the sweet tang of rape”.

I read the whole book, but it left me feeling a little disturbed, and not wanting to read more if this is what I will get. It’s a real shame, because I wanted to like these books.