Thursday, February 11, 2010

Current books.

"The Haunting of Hill House"
By Shirley Jackson

AKA

“Haunted Consciousness of a Pathological Liar”
Or
“Survivor, the Psychopath Edition”

Rating:
The contents of the book> 9/10

To your average horror story junkie, this book represents a weekly quota. Unlike your average Stephen King (As Books-a-minute put it, “It was a bright and sunny day, and then the evil came”) or John Michael Crichton (“Something lurks in the bushes, a few inconsequential characters die, and everyone else escapes in a balloon/helicopter/dirigible, etc”), it’s a short, psychologically charged story with a very limited character cast.

Originally, I’ve read it some months ago, but decided to re-read, both because the book is just incredibly good, and because it begged to be compared to “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”. It’s kind of ironic: when idly browsing library shelves, I tend to select books by male writers, perhaps because they tend to write in a more action-y way, but in the end, my favorite books tend to be ones written by women. And as far as Hill House vs. Body Snatchers go, it isn’t a comparison at all.

Review of the basic plot in Hill House: a professor with an interest in paranormal finds a creepy little place and decides to collect material for a book by doing some ghost-hunting the Victorian way: aka living in the house and recording, in the company of. Two are women of the said individuals are women: a (possibly lesbian), outgoing Theodora, and a shy, reclusive Eleanor, who spent large portion of her life caring for her invalid mother. The last person present is Luke, a heir to the house, who is required to be there by contract.

The married couple of caretakers supervise their stay, but are an inhospitable lot, absolutely refusing to stay on the premises after dark. At one point, the professor’s wife and her friend also come down, attempting to elicit ‘supernatural contact’ with little to no results.

A series of events happens, resulting in Eleanor seemingly becoming possessed by the house (or possessing it?), and killing herself shortly after being forcibly expelled by her fellow ghost-whisperers.

There are some points which endear this book to me, for instance, the whimsical way in which dialogue between characters takes place, and the amount of fancy or fantasy and fiction that each of the mains manages to weave in around their persona. Chief among these is Eleanor, whom one could hardly call ‘grounded in reality’. During the main characters’ first evening together, they respectfully assign themselves fictional pasts, those of a concubine, wanderer, bullfighter and princess. These assumed roles seem to influence the ways the group interacts with the house itself.

Another point is that from very beginning, the flow of the story emphasizes compartmentalization, both of the house (doors remain shut, rooms located within rooms, rooms with no windows) and of the characters, which drift apart and occasionally start off on stream-of-consciousness ramblings. In the end, the group is broken apart, and its weakest link falls prey, to what, we shall never know. (The progressive decay of Eleanor’s hold of herself is also quite thrilling, if you’re reading with an eye out for that in particular).

In short, an awesome book all around. I’d love to read Jackson’s other works.



Other books:


Invasion of the Body Snatchers

By Jack Finney
Read by Kristoffer Tabori

AKA

“The Legume Invasion”
Or
“Me Tarzan, You Jane. Them Aliens.”

Rating:
The contents of the book> 6/10

It’s funny. Before re-reading Hill House, I’d have given it a 7, maybe an 8. After the Hill House.. the character development doesn’t hold up. The story is basically this: a doctor reconnects with his old sweetheart, just to discover that some people think that some other people aren’t what they seem. They are contacted by one other couple, who’ve apparently discovered a corpse of something that looks very much like one of them. The book’s properly creepy up until that point, and up until the author starts to get technical with what these invading shapeshifters actually are, and how they function.

It goes drastically downhill from there, with possibly one of the worse horror-tale endings I’ve ever read. Aliens giving up and drifting away? Pffhhhhst.


The voice-acting> 10/10

The guy’s voice is perfect for reading this type of literature. There’s no what-if’s or but’s around it. Good intonation and range, lovely pauses in all the right places.. Just like with Richard Ferrone, I’m very tempted to start poking around just to see what else he’s read, never you mind the contents.


Geisha, a Life
By Mineko Iwasaki

AKA

“Autobiography of a Chronic Workaholic”
Or
“Geiko: Save Plenty on Face Insurance.”

Rating:
The contents of the book> 9/10

To clarify, “Geisha, a Life” and “Geisha of Gion” are the same book, published under different names in England and the US. This is the autobiography of the woman mentioned in the “Memoirs of a Geisha, and reading it makes me want to drop the Memoirs’ rating to 7 or even 6.

The book serves as a good illustration for the difference between communal and individualistic societies. Dunne deserves a solid punch in the face for blurring the line between geiko, or “woman of art”, and a prostitute. Seems that the entire point of geisha training, and what they are supposed to be embodying, is almost entirely adverse to physically intimate relationships. Not that they don’t happen; just that they are a by-product of being human in presence of the wealthier and more sophisticated layers of the society, rather than a way of making ends meet.

It’s an intriguing line of work, physically and emotionally demanding. The author makes this quite clear, what with her 3 hours of sleep per night during the peak of her career, and a failing kidney. It’s also the only line of work that I’ve ever read about, which was actually conducted in a purely matriarchal system.

To hell with political correctness, and not oogling other ‘cultures’. I find Japanese culture fascinating, though ‘d never want to be a part of it, even if I could.

Erm.

Anyway, it’s a good book. I really wish Iwasaki would’ve gone more in depth about her last three years as a geiko, but one can’t have everything.