Three Short Reviews – Eileen (2015) – The Loney (2014) – Saturday (2005)

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I finished so many novels recently that I will never be able to review them all. That’s why I decided to do a post with shorter reviews. It doesn’t mean that the books weren’t as good as other books I’ve read. Just bad timing review-wise. I’ve added some blurb quotes at the beginning. Either as a contrast to what I wrote or to emphasize my opinion.

Ottessa Moshfegh

Fully lives up to the hype. A taut psychological thriller, rippled with comedy as black as a raven’s wing, Eileen is effortlessly stylish and compelling. – Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, The Times

First up is Ottessa Moshfegh’s Eileen. The tale of a crime that is instrumental in freeing the main character. Now this is a book I’m not likely to forget. The writing is so assured and strong. The voice of the narrator is original and the way the book was told worked remarkably well. The narrator, who was once called Eileen, is now an older woman, looking back at something that happened a long time ago. Back then she was an insecure woman who lived with her alcoholic father in a very dirty, sordid home and worked in a boy’s prison. When the new counselor, the glamorous Rebecca, arrives at the school, things first get very exciting for Eileen and then they get out of control. Eileen is a very unpleasant character. It’s not always a joy to be inside of her head. She has perverse fantasies and some of her hidden habits are really gross. The reasons why I enjoyed this taut noir so much, is that the older Eileen constantly adds information about her future life and because we sense that things will go wrong, we wonder how she managed, in spite of everything we are told, to have an almost normal life. I also enjoyed that it’s never really clear whether she’s totally unreliable or just completely deranged. Ottessa Moshfegh has been on my radar for a while. Many of her short stories have been highly praised. She certainly is a very assured and very talented writer. I’m really keen on reading more of her stories and hope she’ll write another novel soon

If you’d like a more detailed review here’s Guy’s post on Eileen. I discovered the book on his blog.

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‘The Loney is not just good, it’s great. It’s an amazing piece of fiction’ Stephen King

The Loney won the Costa Prize in 2015. I received the novel as a Christmas gift. I’d never heard of the book before but the person who gave it to me, knows that I like dark and gothic tales. I’m really glad that I’ve read it but not entirely sure I liked it. The atmosphere is amazing. It’s set in a bleak desolate part of England, near the coast in Lancashire. The Loney is a stretch of land that gets cut off and turns into an island during high tide. Getting lost between the land and the sea is very dangerous. The tide comes in quickly and surprisingly. The narrator is an older man. The story he tells takes place when he’s still a young boy. For a long time it’s not clear if what happens in the book is just the result of religious fanaticism or whether there is really a haunting. I found that interesting but wasn’t too keen on the ending. The story takes place during Easter. The narrator’s parents, especially the mother, are fanatics. They hope that they will be able to cure the narrator’s older brother through prayer. The mother is a really chilling charcater and sounded a lot like Jeannette Winterson’s mother.

What didn’t work so well was the subdued tone. The writing is deliberately old-fashioned, but takes, in my opinion, too much time. The atmosphere is spooky from beginning to end; the mood depressing, but there’s no real climax. It’s very well written though. I’ll keep an eye out for other books by this author. This was Andrew Michael Hurley’s first novel.

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“A book of great moral maturity, beautifully alive to the fragility of happiness and all forms of violence… Everyone should read Saturday… Artistically, morally and politically, he excels” (The Times)

I know that a lot of people love Ian McEwan. Many even think he’s an outstanding writer. While I find him entertaining, I don’t really think he is all that good. The whole time I was reading Saturday I kept turning the pages quickly, which means I was captivated by the story, but at the same time I couldn’t help but think that this was a lot like Grey’s Anatomy in book form. Captivating but also a bit trashy. Saturday tells the story of one day in the life of neurosurgeon Henry Perowne. The details are so minute that it actually made me laugh. You can sense that McEwan did a lot of research but did he have to pack all of it into his book? I found this very heavyhanded. Almost like the novel of a beginner. Now, the neurosurgery part was actually OK. Not the most fascinating topic for me, but OK. But since he wanted to add other subjects, we get a lot of information on literature—one of Perowne’s kids is a poet, and so is his father-in-law— and information on music— his son is a musician. After a while, I felt like being invited to one of those boring dinner parties where everyone has a “great career”, reads the latest books, has seen the latest movies and talks a little bit about politics and endlessly about food. There’s even a recipe in this book. Ha! Perowne and his entourage are the kind of people I’ve seen referred to as “Champage Socialists” here in Switzerland.

At the beginning of the day, Perowne thinks he witnesses something horrible. He’s unsettled. Later, he really experiences something terrible. It all left me completely cold. I’d lost patience with the character. All in all, yes, I was entertained. In a way it felt like spying on someone or like living someone else’s life for a day. Nonetheless, I can’t say I found it great or that it’s a must read.

Have you read any of these?

R. I. P. VI

Autumn is slowly approaching and Carl’s eagerly awaited R.I.P. VI has finally started. Of course I’m joining. Here is what Carl wrote in his post.

Every September 1st through October 31st for the last 5 years I have hosted the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril Challenge, affectionately known as the R.I.P. Challenge. I began this reader event, I blinked, and now I am hosting this for the 6th time. Wow, that is so hard to believe.

The purpose of the R.I.P. Challenge is to enjoy books that could be classified as:

Mystery
Suspense
Thriller
Dark Fantasy
Gothic
Horror
Supernatural

The emphasis is never on the word challenge, instead it is about coming together as a community and embracing the autumnal mood, whether the weather is cooperative where you live or not.

I am going to aim high this year and want to read 4 books, watch a movie and join the group read for Deborah Lawrenson’s The Lantern.

I am not sure what I am going to read but here are a few ideas:

Daphne Du Maurier’s The House on the Strand

Alice Thomas Ellis The Inn at the Edge of the World

John Harwood’s The Ghost Writer

Jennifer Archer’s Through Her Eyes

Victoria Schwab’s The Near Witch

Stephen King’s Full Dark, No Stars

Neil Gaiman’s Coraline

I wanted to re-watch Interview with the Vampire and the one or the other Vincent Price movie like Dragonwyck or House on Haunted Hill.

As written before, I will join the group read for Deborah Lawrenson’s The Lantern but there are two other possibilities if you’d like to participate.

If you want to join or know more about the details of the event here’s the link to Carl’s post.

Louise Welsh: Naming the Bones (2010)

Knee-deep in the mud of an ancient burial ground, a winter storm raging around him, and at least one person intent on his death: how did Murray Watson end up here? His quiet life in university libraries researching the lives of writers seems a world away, and yet it is because of the mysterious writer, Archie Lunan, dead for thirty years, that Murray now finds himself scrabbling in the dirt on the remote island of Lismore. Loaded with Welsh’s trademark wit, insight and gothic charisma, this adventure novel weaves the lives of Murray and Archie together in a tale of literature, obsession and dark magic.

I read a few intriguing reviews of Louise Welsh’s books and Naming the Bones was the one that tempted me the most. Set in Glasgow, Edinburgh and on the Island of Lismore, off the West Coast of Scotland, this is a very atmospherical read. The first 150 pages or so, it did remind me a lot of Kate Atkinson but farther into the novel, this changed considerably. And that is a bit sad. The novel had the potential to be great but the denouement wasn’t to my liking and so I would say, yes, it is a very good novel but not a great one.

Murray Watson, a professor of English literature at the University of Glasgow has a passion that makes him ask for a sabbatical. Since he was a very young guy, he loved the poems of Archie Lunan. Lunan has only had one slim collection published before he died an untimely and mysterious death. Living on the Island of Lismore for a certain time, together with Christie, his girl friend, he took a boat in stormy weather and never returned.

Murray wants to write his biography, do extensive research on the poet, interview people who knew him and secretly wishes to find a few undiscovered poems. Fergus Baine, the head of the department and husband of Murray’s lover Rachel, disadvises this approach. He tells him to concentrate on the poems, not the man.

It is obvious that Naming the Bones is exploring these two approaches to literature; the biographical one and the one leaving out everything related to the life of the author.

Murray is an interesting character. We meet him at a junction in his life. He has just been dumped by Rachel and realizes that Fergus may have known all along that he had an affair with her and that he may not have been the only one whith whom she had affairs. Fergus and Rachel seem to have a very unhealthy relationship.

Murray’s father died of Alzheimer’s and Jack, his brother, who is an artist, made an installation, showing their demented father on film which infuriates Murray.

Murray is a good looking, very attractive man and his charms are the reason why all through the novel women feel attracted to him.

What reads for the first 100 and so pages like a character study and an adventure story circling around the core theme of researching a deceased poet, starts to get dismal once it seems obvious that some of the people in Murray’s life knew Archie and that there may be secrets tied to Archie’s death that are far more disturbing than the possibility that Archie committed suicide.

When the reasearch in Edinburgh and Glasgow is finished, Murray leaves for the Island of Lismore where Christie lives. She doesn’t want to give him an interview or any other information, still Murray wants to see the place where Archie lived and died.

As beautiful as the island may be, it is a lonely and desolate place. Murray’s mood seems to get darker and darker, along with the developments in the novel. It also seems as if other people looking into Archie’s life had met with an untimely death and the further we read into the novel the more uncanny it gets.

I saw the term “gothic” mentioned a few times along with this book and couldn’t understand the use at first. I love gothic books but I do not like the blend of gothic and crime/thriller because that invariably means that  a “satanistic cult” or some such thing serves as part of the background. It’s not as bad as that here but the elements are present. Lucky the outcome isn’t tied to anything supernatural or occult. What we find out at the end just shows some young people’s depravity.

As said in the beginning, this is a very atmospherical novel. I have been to Scotland and know Glasgow and Edinburgh as well as some of the islands off the West Coast and I must say they are very well rendered. It is also an extremely well written novel, the numerous main and secondary characters are without any exception interesting and complex. There is more than one theme explored in this book which gives it additional depth. Welsh tackles topics like old age, research, poetry, alternative life styles, modern relationships, death and suicide with intelligence and a great deal of insight.

All this together makes Naming the Bones a very entertaining read on an autumn or winter afternoon when the world outside is as rainy, stormy and dark as the world in the novel. If you like a gothic atmosphere, you will enjoy this a great deal.

Here’s the island’s website should you plan a trip to Scotland: Island of Lismore.