Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Haunting of Hill House -- read the book or watch the movie?

Preamble


The Haunting (1963)

Sometimes it feels like without books the movie industry would grind to a halt. Think about the biggest films of this year. Think about the hugely hyped movie that's being released this Valentine's Grey. I mean Day.

Mostly I don't see the movie. Sometimes I didn't love the book, like the Life of Pi, or I was too distressed or depressed by it, like The Kite Runner and Gone Girl. Or a really liked the book and just wanted it to stay a book. In my head. My pictures.

The adaptations I do see and love bring something new to a book. Like the BBC's Sherlock. Different, but respectful. And that's how I feel about The Haunting (1963) and The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. But enough of this philosophical crap. On with the reviews.


The Book

Eleanor has spent her whole life looking after her invalid mother. With nothing to show for her efforts, she jumps at the invitation to spend a few weeks at supposedly haunted Hill House with a professor of the paranormal. There's something so self-conscious and sweet about Nell at the opening of the book, relishing and narrating her own journey to Hill House. Then about the instant bond she forms with Theodora. After residing in the house a little while she quickly becomes self-conscious and strange. She seems to be suffering from some sort of social anxiety and a fervent wish to belong somewhere. ANYwhere. It's needy, and it's worrying.




The Movie

The first thing I'll say here is I AM TALKING ABOUT THE 1963 ADAPTATION. Not the god-awful slush that seems to be the 1999 remake. The second thing I'll say is that the premise of the film is exactly the same as the book above. It is also presented in a slick way with a short prologue stuck on the front that gives the viewer a quick (and augmented) history of Hill House. The black and white footage is stunning and the production is fantastic. What is interesting is the way the film takes the same main character, the same setting and the same basic ending, conflates things, twists others, and shoves it into a little black dress that is so damn engaging and so damn thrilling.


So, Which One?

Do you like to be scared?* No? Well, stick to the book. But if you do like to be scared, spend a little time with the movie. The book isn't scary and it has all the good things about the film except the things that go BANG in the night ... Almost.

I have to say, I like the film better. (Why do I feel like that's heretical?) I like what the film did with Dr Montague and his wife. (His poor wife!) I like all the creepy statues in the house and the doors that swing open, not closed. I like the trapdoor (spoilers, won't say any more). It's tense. It's direct. But most of all I like the clever, clever ending. The book gives you two plausible endings. The film gives you three.

*My boyfriend wasn't scared. But he's scared by movies like Jaws, not by ghosts.

Have you read the book or watched the film? Which one did you like?

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Good, the Bad, and the Gothic

I've been on a bit of a gothic kick this last fortnight. It started with The Art of Gothic documentary and Dracula (1958) on the BBC for Halloween.


Above, Christopher Lee as Dracula, emerging from his coffin. His suave, classy and ferocious interpretation of Dracula is probably my favourite. From interviews he seems to have a love/hate relationship with playing the role, and with Hammer Production, the British film company behind the 60s and 70s horror revival. Playing Dracula made him famous, but he was frustrated that the films ignored just about every line that Stoker wrote for the character. For the purists, you can find recordings of Lee reading the 1897 novel -- Stokers words and Lee's stentorian voice. *frisson*


The Good

As well as loving the above, like The Very Hungry Caterpillar I've munched my way though The Castle of Otranto, Horace Walpole (1764), The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Washington Irving (1820), and Honeysuckle Cottage, P.G. Wodehouse (1975). Otranto is one of the silliest novels I've ever read. I rather liked it. Sleepy Hollow could have done with more talk about ghosts and less of food, but the writing was fantastic. And Wodehouse, what can I say. Always a pleasure. In this short story a dead aunt is exerting not a malevolent influence on the residents of her former house, but a soppy, sentimental one.

On Halloween itself we watched Don't Look Now (1973), an adaptation of a Daphne du Maurier supernatural thriller, The Wicker Man (1973) and Taste of Fear (1961).



Don't Look Now was very good, but I sense that the book would be better. The Wicker Man ... more on that below. But Taste of Fear! What a gem. Another Hammer horror film.



A young wheelchair-bound woman comes home for the first time in ten years to find her step mother (above, top) acting strangely. Her father's corpse keeps appearing and disappearing around the house. The doctor (above, below) seems to be in league with the stepmother. Yes, that's Christopher Lee again. He says its his favourite Hammer film that he was in, but I would say it's far from his best role. It might have been if they'd fleshed out his character a bit more, like they did with the chauffeur. 



Above is a photograph I took at the British Library yesterday. What an UTTERLY FABULOUS exhibition. It had handwritten Blakes, Brontes and Byrons, original models of Gothic houses, old film reels, paintings, set sketches from Hammer horrors. Do go see it if you're in London.


The Bad

You can't love everything as much as you want to. This book and this film are classics with legions of adoring fans but they are just not for me. The Turn of the Screw (1898) is a famous ghost novella about a governess who keeps seeing the ghosts of the previous governess and the former valet about the place. They had an affair, and the governess suspects that the children know, and now their Innocence Has Been Tainted. Are the ghosts real, or are they hysterical projections of the governess's Victorian fear of sex? It is a good book as far as themes (oh my god the themes the themes) go, but frankly the writing is impossible. If pressed, I might even say rubbish.

Ah, The Wicker Man. A cult classic. Horror's answer to Citizen Kane, apparently. Appearing in Top Ten British Films of All Time lists since the 90s. Christopher Lee's self-professed best film he's ever been in. (Yes Lee again!) I make a habit of ignoring reviews before I see a film but these tid bits I gleaned from the IMBD. I can proudly say I didn't know what it was about before I watched it.

Now I've seen it I'm still not sure what I watched. I think it was conservative paranoia. Or possibly a musical. But it wasn't scary and I don't think it was very good. Perhaps in 1973 it would have struck a chord with me.

The best part of it was Edward Woodward. Not his acting, but just saying his name. And then saying it without the ds: Ee-war Woo-woo. Hours of fun.

The other best part was LAUGHING AT CHRISTOPHER LEES OUTFITS.





Dracula, what have they done to you? *sobs*


The Gothic ... on my reading and watching list

The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), and more Hammer horror in general
The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson
M.R. James short stories
More Susan Hill -- I saw her speak at the British Library a week ago, she's fantastic
Finally finishing the epic The Castle of Udolpho

What have you been reading and watching for Halloween?


Saturday, October 4, 2014

THE END IS NIGH

You are all being so patient and I am so, SO close to writing THE END it's not even funny. Blood Queen has been a very tough book to write because of the book itself and because of silly old real life getting in the way. I know! What's that about!

I want Blood Queen to be as vivid and entertaining as the first two books, and getting it right is the most important thing. Zeraphina won't let it be anything other than just so, or she'd be so pissy with me. It's her story, after all.


Monday, August 11, 2014

This week in Portugal ...

This is where I'm staying, a remote villa outside Silves in southern Portugal. It's hot and peaceful and there's lots of fresh fruit and Portuguese custard tarts to eat. The water is very cold and refreshing.


This is where I'm working on Blood Queen this morning (below). There's a sea breeze blowing and a few puffy white clouds blowing overhead, but soon it will pass 30 degrees celsius (80 F? 190F? I have no idea) and I'll go to the pool to read and swim. I finished A Wizard of Earthsea yesterday and loved it. Review soon.



And these are keeping me company as I write, a family of tabby cats, a mother and two younger cats I think. They are very friendly and semi-domesticated. They love pats and scratches but never venture into the house, and they don't know what laps are for. They're skinny but not unhealthy, but I'm feeding them up anyway with lots of cat food and tid bits from our cooking.


There are only birds and cicadas to be heard. It makes such a change from London life. Now, back to Blood Queen for me.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Review: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, Holly Black

I have been in such a reading slump. I mean, I've been reading, but no YA. Instead it's been mags and history and Longreads, and that's FINE, you know. But it's not getting lost in an amazing story in the genre that I love.

On the weekend I was in Brooklyn with a friend and we went to Word and had a nose around. They have a small but very good YA collection, mostly fantasy and PNR. The Coldest Girl in Coldtown was a fat blue hardback on the shelf and tacked underneath it was a handwritten review that went something like "Thought you were over vampires? Read this!" And of course I'm not over vampires, but I still had to read it. (I also got Graceling for my friend as a thank-you for letting me stay, but also cos he was lovelorn and Katsa can wallop that right out of you.)

This girl called Tana goes to a party and wakes up in a bathtub the next morning, and everybody who was at the party is dead. In a bedroom she finds her friend Aiden tied to a bed, and on the floor is a vampire in chains. Outside the door are more vampires, and they want to kill all three of them. Tana doesn't want to die and she doesn't want her friend to die and she doesn't really know who this vampire is but he probably shouldn't die either, right? So she gets them all out of there, stuff happens, he's bit, she's sorta bit and the other guy is a vampire, so they head for a Coldtown.

Now, Coldtowns are like the Big Brother house but they're cities and the apocalypse has happened inside. And also The Bachelor and Strictly Come Dancing Too. All at the same time. They're where vampires and infected humans have to live, and were wanna-vamps go to try and get turned. There's a big baddies and little baddies and some good guys too, and they're all mixed up together in this place. And Tana might or might not be becoming a vampire.

There are so many quotable quotes in this book, and most of them come out of Gavriel's mouth. Gavriel is the vampire who Tana impulsively saves. I'm not going to quote any of them, though, because they're much better in the book.

OK, maybe just one quote.

Gavriel closed his eyes, sooty lashes brushing his cheek. "I'll stay with you.""What? No," she said automatically. "No! That's crazy.""I'm crazy," he reminded her. 
Do you know when you get a really strong picture in your head of how a character looks in the book you're reading? Here's how Black describes Gavriel:

He must have been handsome when he was alive and was handsome still, although made monstrous by his pallor and her awareness of what he was. His mouth looked soft, his cheekbones as sharp as blades, and his jaw curved, giving him an off-kilter beauty. His black hair a mad forest of dirty curls.

He's also got a strange accent and he's all handsome and mad and charming, and I could help picturing ...


... everyone's favourite prince who got cocky dropped the GODDAMN BALL. GAH. (Prince Oberyn of Dorne, I still love you. You IDIOT.)

But back to The Coldest Girl in Coldtown. Basically this book is cool and sexy as well as being well written. What a trifecta. Loved it.

EDIT: Did I mention this book is gory? It's really gory. Gory-good. 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

euphorYA: A Speculative Fiction Scavenger Hunt - Elizabeth Wheatley Guest Post


Today I'm hosting Elizabeth Wheatley, author of Fanged Princess (we like vampire princess around here!) for the euphorYA Scavenger Hunt. Enter the competition below to be in the prize draw!

Now on with the guest post ...

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Welcome to euphorYA and I’m delighted to share with you an extract from my vampire novella series, Fanged Princess. Fanged Princess revolves around Haddie, a teen vampire whose brother is in love. The only downside? The girl is human. Haddie knows firsthand the dangers of falling for a human and this loss is a large part of what drives her to help save her brother’s girlfriend. Today I’m showcasing a scene from Haddie’s backstory, the day she met Fletcher, told in his perspective. When I was writing this, I started to hate myself because I know what happened to Fletcher by the beginning of the first novella. It will probably make you all hate me, too. So check out the scene below and don’t forget to hop on over to the other blog stops today for cool extras on books you love and a shot at the scavenger hunt grand prize!

Read Fanged Princess: Extra I on Figment!

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I will not let my brother suffer the same loss… Hadassah’s father, the Vampire King, punished her for her choice to love a human. Now her brother, the only person in the world who still matters to her, has fallen for a human girl. Determined to keep the girl safe, the three of them flee from their home in New England and find themselves cornered with their father’s minions closing in. If they want to escape, their only hope may be to join forces with the mortal enemies of their kind… Be ensnared in this dark tale of enduring love, loyalty, and revenge from teenage author, Elisabeth Wheatley. Find Fanged Princess on Goodreads


Find Fanged Princess on Amazon About the Author

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Elisabeth Wheatley is a teen author of the Texas Hill Country. When she’s not daydreaming of elves, vampires, or hot guys in armor, she is wasting time on the internet, fangirling over indie books, and training her Jack Russell Terrier, Schnay.

Where to find her: Blog Facebook Goodreads Twitter Pinterest Tumblr

a Rafflecopter giveaway Here's the schedule for the EuphorYA Scavenger Hunt. Each blog stop features exclusive content from one of our authors as well as a giveaway. Collect the blue / red / pink colored words to make the daily secret phrases. Then enter for your chance to win the Grand Prize Giveaway--$75 Amazon / Nook gift card (first prize only), books and swag (first, second and third prizes). Day One Stops, Friday ,June 20 - Blue Phrase Anna Silver | Chloe Jacob's World | Elana Johnson | Books By Intisar | Ali Cross Day Two Stops, Saturday, June 21 - Red Phrase Elisabeth Wheatley | T.L. Shreffler | RaShelle Workman | Kelly Walker | Hannah L. Clark | Christy Dorrity Day Three Stops, Sunday, June 22 - Pink Phrase Rhiannon Hart | Natasha Hanova | Tracy E. Banghart | Kaitlyn Deann | Jadie Jones 

Monday, May 19, 2014

Jane Austen and the Guinness Book of Records

You know what doesn't happen enough? Wandering around Bath dressed in an empire gown and bonnet and pretending it's 1810.

I just found out there's going to be two attempts to break the most Lizzie Bennett (and Mr Darcy) wannabes all in one place, and one of them is going to be this September in Bath.

I think I have to do it. I'll look a right wally by myself because I think I'd struggle to find someone to do it with me in a country where I *do* know a lot of people, let alone here. But then everyone will be looking fabulously silly anyway. It sounds too delicious not to do it.

I'll want to make my own gown and accessories so I'll have to beg or borrow a sewing machine from someone. This pattern has a lot of good reviews:


I can see it in a textured cream-coloured fabric, or perhaps something sprigged, with a paisley shawl, teeny reticule and a bonnet. I would love to get the man done up a la Wentworth, but feel that getting him into silk stockings might stretch the relationship.

If you're planning on going, let me know and we can look fabulously silly together!