By the Pricking of My Thumbs by Agatha Christie — Reread Review

While I enjoy all the Agatha Christie stories, I have a definite soft spot for what I privately think of as ‘the creepy ones’. And By the Pricking of My Thumbs (something wicked this way comes) is gloriously full of creeping thrills. Agatha Christie contrasts a sinister atmosphere against the anything-but-creepy antics of Tuppence and Thomas Beresford.

Someday, maybe I’ll come across it by accident!
And so – she had forgotten all about it – until a picture hanging on a wall had reawakened a veiled memory.
And now, thanks to one word uttered unwittingly by Albert, the quest was ended.

By the Pricking of My Thumbs, Agatha Christie

For the star of a mystery novel, Tuppence isn’t a very good detective. But somehow, she’s all the more endearing for that. The way she thinks, meandering from recollection to connection to frustration, is excellently depicted. She remembers things in just the way real people do, in bits and pieces and with plenty of extraneous information to sift through.

On this reread, I particularly noticed how Thomas approached exactly the same set of clues in a completely different way. And it’s not a spoiler to say that he and Tuppence both got somewhere with their lines of enquiry, which meet up again towards the end of the book.

What I’d done was murder, wasn’t it, and you could only atone for murder with other murders, because the other murders wouldn’t be really murders, they would be sacrifices.

By the Pricking of My Thumbs, Agatha Christie

I can’t go into the creepiest thing about By the Pricking of My Thumbs without giving away the ending, so I won’t mention it here. Instead, I’ll recommend that if you enjoyed this, you might like Murder is Easy or Halloween Party.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Red House by Mark Haddon — Reread Review

Despite it’s fame, I’ve never actually read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, so going in I had no idea what a book written by Mark Haddon would be like. It was a gift, too, not something I’d picked out myself. I think I can safely say that I haven’t read anything else quite like it.

The way the fields stopped halfway up the hill and gave way to gorse and bracken and screen, that darkness where the summit met the sky, Mordor and the Shire within fifty yards of one another.

The Red House, Mark Haddon

The style was the first thing I noticed. Mark Haddon jumps between different perspectives on every page, and quite often the characters’ inner monologue seems to be primarily listing details they can see. Some of which definitely went over my head. It took me a little while to sink into, but it’s not so literary that it’s off-putting.

She’d come on holiday expecting to be a spectator, to cook and help out and be good company while Richard got to know his family. But they were her family too, weren’t they, in the same way that Melissa was his family.

The Red House, Mark Haddon

The characters themselves are deep and intricate. Almost every one of them has a secret of some kind. And as they’re cooped up together on holding bringing two different families together, those secrets rub up against one another as much as their personalities do. None of them are particularly nice people – but, of course, that’s the point. There’d be no family drama if they could all get along!

The Red House is, truly, a slice of life story. You get one, time-limited glimpse into the lives and inner workings of all these people. Some of their conflicts are resolved by the end, but most are not. Which is true to life; everybody’s inner narrative doesn’t tie up in a nice neat bow all in the same week! Despite that, it’s satisfying and the ending doesn’t feel abrupt or unearned.

The style of prose is probably not for everyone, but I came to enjoy it after a very brief period of initial uncertainty.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Kindred by Octavia E Butler — New Review, Bookclub Edition

I absolutely understand why Kindred is classed as a fantasy book, and even why it’s been chosen for my fantasy book club. It’s about a character visiting another, unfamiliar world. It’s just that the world in question is the antebellum American south, not an enchanted land. From a distance, I can see how those two are still fundamentally the same thing.

But I don’t read fantasy because I want to explore our world. It’s not that I need there to be dragons and wizards and magic. I’ve read a lot of fantasy that has none of the above! And I’m not, actually, saying that I didn’t enjoy Kindred. It’s just… not what I think of when I think of a fantasy novel.

The possibility of meeting a white adult here frightened me, more than the possibility of street violence ever had at home.

Kindred, Octavia E Butler

I thought Octavia Butler’s writing was really effective. There were some lovely, subtle touches. I am, of course, predisposed to like any book that begins with characters unpacking boxes of books. But more substantially, I really enjoyed the way Octavia Butler ramped up the tension and atmosphere towards the climax.

My personal musings on genre aside, my own real criticism is that I felt as though we were promised more about how Kevin was marked by his time on the plantation than was actually delivered. Dana worried that it would mark him in some way, which added drama when she had to leave him there. But in the end, we weren’t really given any insight into whether those worries were founded.

Kindred was still a satisfying read. It added context to other books I’ve read, especially Sugar Money by Jane Harris.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery — Firm Favourite

Anne of Green Gables is one of my favourite books of all time. So much so that it’s difficult to analyse what I love about Lucy Maud Montgomery’s writing. Everything? This isn’t going to be a very balanced book review.

Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.

Anne of Green Gables, Lucy Maud Montgomery

First and foremost, for me, are the characters. Anne herself is so enchanted, and enchanting. She is different from her peers, but they can’t help falling in love with her anyway. But I love the other characters just as much. There is no more perfect man in literature than Gilbert Blythe, as far as I am concerned. And Matthew and Marilla are so beautifully drawn in their growing affection for this ‘witch child’ that they’ve accidentally adopted. I will concede that a few of Anne’s school friends are a little insubstantial but that makes sense as, from Anne’s point of view, they pale in comparison to her ‘bosom friend’ Diana.

Overhead was one long canopy of snowy fragrant bloom. Below the boughs the air was full of a purple twilight and far ahead a glimpse of painted sunset sky shone like a great rose window at the end of a cathedral aisle.

Anne of Green Gables, Lucy Maud Montgomery

Then there’s the setting. Lucy Maud Montgomery makes Prince Edward Island seem like a kind of unspoiled paradise on earth. I’ve never visited, but would love to spend a whole year there soaking up all the natural beauties that make Anne love her home so much.

Though it’s hard to describe the overarching ‘plot’ of Anne of Green Gables, the lack is more than made up for with character-driven moments. I could write a whole list of them, but for brevity’s sake I’ll just mention that Matthew buying Anne her dream dress will never not be touching. And Gilbert giving up the Avonlea school for Anne is one of the most romantic gestures ever, even more so because it fits perfectly with the hints we’ve been given at Gilbert’s character.

I know that Anne of Green Gables isn’t for everyone. But for me, it’s an absolute joy to read and I’m sorry that I let it sit on my shelf for so long between rereads.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Next in the series: Anne of Avonlea.

Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig — New Review

Reasons to Stay Alive was an unexpected gift from Ally and, after slogging through my last two books, was a delightfully quick read. When I bother with twitter at all, Matt Haig is one of the people I follow, so I was vaguely aware that he’d done writing about mental health, but I hadn’t actually read any of his books until this one!

There’s a cushion. Let’s just stay here and look at it and contemplate the infinite sadness of cushions.

Reasons to Stay Alive, Matt Haig

Given the serious subject matter, it’s impressive how light the book is, without ever seeming not to take depression and suicidal impulses seriously. The descriptions are vivid and clear, and seem to give a pretty good insight into what it’s like to live with combined depression and anxiety.

The one thing depression has told you is that a day can be a long and intense stretch of time.
THEN ME: Oh God, yes.
NOW ME: Well, then don’t worry about the passing of time. There can be infinity inside a day.

Reasons to Stay Alive, Matt Haig

Although the book is called ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’, I wouldn’t really class it as self-help. There’s not advice in there, as such. As Matt Haig himself says, reading about other people who’ve experienced depression and come out the other side can be a comfort. There’s not any one way to actually get out the other side and so, although Matt Haig describes some of what works for him, it’s certainly not a step-by-step guide.

Never say ‘pull yourself together’ or ‘cheer up’ unless you’re also going to provide detailed, foolproof instructions.

Reasons to Stay Alive, Matt Haig

Perhaps because of that, I don’t think the book is only for people with experience of depression or anxiety. It’s an interesting, easy read, and although it’s not the kind of thing I’d usually pick up, I did enjoy it. The positive thinking is contagious, which is probably part of the point! I know of a few people who’ve said it was life-changing for them, but it didn’t quite get to that level for me.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Summerland by Hannu Rajaniemi — New Review, Bookclub Edition

I don’t have the best track record with spy stories. I’ve never been a James Bond fan, for example, and I found Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (the film) intolerably boring. So, maybe Summerland was never going to my cup of tea. I found it difficult to follow what was going on, what the difference was between the Summer Court and the Winter Court, and what either was trying to achieve.

She had wanted something more than the empty nursery and the haunted man in her bedroom.

Summerland, Hannu Rajaniemi

For me, the most compelling part of the novel was Rachel. As she struggled to get her misogynistic superiors to take her seriously, I wanted her to succeed. Unfortunately, about half the novel is told from the perspective of Peter Bloom, whose aims and ambitions were never really clear to me. His body’s resting state in Summerland seemed to be a small boy, even though he died as a young adult. That, among many other things, is a mystery I couldn’t crack.

“Charles, we are both tired, let us not argue politics, please. How was HB otherwise?”

Summerland, Hannu Rajaniemi

It didn’t help that I found the prose stilted at times. Maybe Hannu Rajaniemi was trying to evoke the 1930s by using fewer contractions than we would today? Or maybe it’s just his style, but it brought me out of the book several times. Some passages flowed perfectly well, but I wonder if the inconsistency made it all the more jarring when I encountered one that didn’t. I’ve read books written in the 1930s and not had this problem.

Noel had felt some unspoken thing between them, a stone in the current of their friendship, and it had pushed them apart.

Summerland, Hannu Rajaniemi

I don’t think Summerland is a bad novel. It reminded me in places of The Eyre Affair. I just couldn’t get on with it, personally. I have two other fantasy spy novels on my TBR shelf, so I suppose when I get around to them, we’ll see whether its the whole genre I’m not interested in!

Rating: 1 out of 5.