Thoughts on “Dark Matter” by Michelle Paver

WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE BOOK. IF YOU DO NOT WISH TO HAVE ANY FOREKNOWLEDGE OF THE CONTENTS OF THIS NOVEL, READER DISCRETION IS ADVISED. 

Summary: January 1937. 28-year-old Jack is poor, lonely and desperate to change his life. So when he’s offered the chance to join an Arctic expedition, he jumps at it. After they reach the remote, uninhabited bay where they will camp for the next year, Gruhuken, Jack feels a creeping unease.

I love books about the arctic.

It’s a bastion of cruelty set against a backdrop of incomprehensible beauty. It’s so hostile and isolated yet life miraculously persists in spite of it all.

I think that is what makes it the perfect landscape for a horror novel.

Not only are characters forced to contend with whatever supernatural entity is on their tail, the very land itself threatens their survival on a daily basis.

So how was it?

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I can’t pin-point precisely where the story lost me.

It started off strong, setting the scene and describing the hopelessness that would motivate someone like Jack to forgo all he knows to venture to no-mans-land.

Then it got dull real frigging quick.

I’m all for a slow-burning horror, but this book was a drudge to get through, which is quite an achievement when you consider it’s a meager 252 pages.

If I had to hazard a guess, I would say this novel’s greatest failing is its characters. Our supposed hero Jack in particular makes for a tedious protagonist.

Jack is supposed to be the underdog, the only lower-class citizen in a team of upper and middle-class scholars who do this sort of thing on a lark, but I couldn’t bring myself to feel sorry for him.

Jack is moody, whiny, and, frankly, he acts like a petulant child even though he’s nearly in his 30s.

“I’ve moved to my bunk because Algie is using his collapsible safari bath, and I’d rather not watch. All that wobbly, freckled flesh. His feet are the worst. They’re flat pink slabs, and the second, and third toes protrude way beyond the big toe, which I find repulsive. Gus saw me staring at them, and flushed. No doubt he’s embarrassed for his ‘best pal.’- 78 pg

70% of his narration in the first act is either devoted to giving tongue baths to Gus or berating Algie for even the slight infraction. Granted Algie is kind of a dick, but the way Jack carries on about him reminds me  too much of my high school days when girls started petty feuds with one another for no reason.

In fact, Jack’s whole demeanor is effeminate to the point of irritation. I can’t tell if it’s because he’s gay, or if the female writer struggles writing from a male perspectives.

Speaking of being gay, I thought things were going to get interesting after it became obvious that Jack was developing feelings for Gus. After all, this novel takes place prior to World War II when feelings like this were not only socially unacceptable but illegal as well. Would Gus reciprocate? Would he be disgusted? Considering they would have to live with one another for a year in confinement, this had the potential to brew some real drama. With no societal conventions to keep them apart in this world so detached from the rest of civilization, how would two Englishmen who truly love each other interact? Would their affections survive the harsh climate and high tensions of living in such an inhospitable part of the world?

Don’t worry.

These question are never answered.

Instead of developing the milk-toast character of Gus, the author gives him appendicitis so he and Algie are forced to leave the island.

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Yeah.

Really.

Bet you thought this would be one of those character-driven novels where people start off as one-dimensional cardboard cutouts but develop as the story progresses, didn’t you?

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No, instead we are held hostage by Jack for the remainder of the tale.

I admit he does become more sympathetic as the story progresses. At first he hated the canine companions they purchased for the trip, but he eventually grew to love them and appreciate them for the good-boys that they were. It’s hard to dislike someone who appreciates dogs for the amazing beings they are.

Nevertheless, I would hesitate to say Jack ever truly becomes “interesting.”  The writer had a chance with leaving him alone to delve deeper into his subconscious to see what makes him tick. Instead it’s mostly surface-level information and him making O-face over Gus.

I never felt a sense of urgency on Jack’s behalf either. In The Terror, the crew were constantly in peril, not only from the monster, but also food shortages and rampant illness. Other than been spooked, Jack is fine. Even though he is isolated, he has ample food and supplies to last him over a year. Hell, now that the rest of his expedition team is gone he actually has more. Why am I supposed to be scared again?

….Oh, yeah, there’s a ghost, I guess.

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Personally, I think the spirit’s story was over-explained. Nobody knew his name or his true origins but the fact that we have his motives explained to us kind of takes away from the dread. If they just left him as some vague, malevolent force that communicated through dreams and visions, he would have been more terrifying.

It could have been like a ghost story/mystery where Jack had to piece together what the ghost wanted and why it was there. Or better yet, it could be called into question whether or not what Jack was seeing was actually real or not. They addressed men go crazy in these parts of the world, so why not play with that?

Instead we’re spoon-fed the whole story by ye old trapper guy. It’s not even that unique of a story.

In the end, the ghost really didn’t do much anyway.

By the time he actually started raising cain, I lost interested and was reading purely for completion’s sake.

In the end, Gus dies like we knew he would due to an accident the ghost caused….somehow. I don’t know, it wasn’t explained very well.

Jack and Algie become friends after this tragic event because the story said they did, and the protagonist and his good-boy husky live some semblance of happily ever after.

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Part of me feels guilty for giving this book a poor review. After all this is Paver’s first novel for an adult audience, which might account for its lack of depth. Nevertheless, this book didn’t do anything for me. The plot had a lot of potential, it just didn’t reach it.

I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed.

Spoiler-Free Thoughts on “Drood” by Dan Simmons

Summary: On June 9, 1865, while traveling by train to London with his secret mistress, 53-year-old Charles Dickens–at the height of his powers and popularity, the most famous and successful novelist in the world and perhaps in the history of the world–hurtled into a disaster that changed his life forever.

Did Dickens begin living a dark double life after the accident? Were his nightly forays into the worst slums of London and his deepening obsession with corpses, crypts, murder, opium dens, the use of lime pits to dissolve bodies, and a hidden subterranean London mere research . . . or something more terrifying?

I love Dan Simmons’ The Terror and consider it one of my favorite novels of all time so  I thought I would give this novel about Charles Dickens and the mysterious vampiric figure named Drood a stab.

To sum up my thoughts:

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Based on the summary, you would think the focal point of this novel would be Dickens and his relationship with Drood.

Well….you’d be wrong.

To start, the main character of the novel is not Charles Dickens, but rather Wilkie Collins, real-life writer, contemporary of Dickens and full-time toss-pot.

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This bitch

I love flawed characters but Collins is the most tedious narrator I have ever had to sit through. And coming from someone who used to read a lot of YA, that is saying something.

It’s not enough he’s sexist even for the time period, he’s also a baby and hypocrite with virtually no positive attributes.

Scarlett O’Hara had her indomitable spirit, Holden Caulfield his relatable loneliness. But this guy? There’s nothing worth gravitating towards. When he isn’t suffering from undiagnosed schizophrenia no doubt exasperated by his rampant drug-use, he’s a boring douche-bag.

Did I mention he’s a total mama’s boy?

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As for the novel itself, it begins on a hight note when Dickens describes the train accident at Staplehurst that left dozens of people dead and Dickens alive but shaken.

The titular character of Drood, a vampiric figure with horribly mangled features and ambiguous dark powers, is brought into the picture and from there we are left to wonder who (or what) he could possibly be. Is he a vampire? Is he a human with arcane abilities? This is the perfect introduction to such a frighting figure so mired in mystery.

The problem is for a great chunk of the novel Drood is not only absent from appearance but conversation as well.

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me for half the book

The narrator abandons the hunt for Drood for long stretches at a time in favor of going through his and Dickens’ life and their respective professional careers.

While I enjoy historical fiction and learning about famous people of the past, there was at least 100 pages worth of material that should have been cut from the story.

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When the focus is on Drood and his origins, the story flourishes. When it isn’t it’s a mixed bag of mild curiosities and abject boredom.

I, personally, think the novel could have benefited from a split perspective, one following Dickens and the other Collins. That way we could have had the benefit of viewing both characters from the other’s perspective as well as thrown in a red-herring or too.

In Drood‘s defense, there is a pretty satisfying twist at the end. I had a hunch about the direction the story was going, but that didn’t stop me from being impressed by it. That being said, the drama of it was undercut by the main character’s anti-climactic response which, in turn, soured my enjoyment of it.

I guess you can’t have everything.

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I’ve been sitting on this review for a couple of weeks now because I’ve been indecisive about whether or not I like this book. While I was engrossed most of the time, there are just as many parts to this story that I don’t like.

The atmosphere is haunting and visceral as any Victorian drama should be, yet the numerous digressions and pit-stops in the plot tempted me to put it down for good.

I suppose if you twisted my arm, I would give this book at 6/10.

It wasn’t a horrible read, but I think it could have been a lot better if an editor had taken the red pen of death to it.

If you are more interested in the life of Charles Dickens (and Wilkie Collins) than the supernatural, then you will likely enjoy this book more than I did. However, if you find yourself more interested in Drood, I would suggest reading something else.

Overall I don’t regret reading Drood, nevertheless, I am hoping my next Dan Simmons book will be a bit more on-point.

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Thoughts on “You” a Netflix Series

WARNING: THE FOLLOWING CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE SHOW “YOU”. IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN THE SHOW AND PLAN TO DO SO, STOP READING NOW.

P.S.  I wasn’t aware it was a novel until after I started watching the series, thus, all of my opinions are based solely on the Netflix show.

Some people find stories told through a mentally-disturbed character’s perspective distasteful.

I’ve never been one of them.

I adore stories with morally dubious protagonists and their unnerving compulsions and I knew from the first moment I heard Joe talking to Beck via voiceover that I was going to get my fix.

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I’m not new to stories like this so I was expecting to see all the usual tropes: the criminal mastermind, the hard-boiled detective who is on his tail unbeknownst to him, the grisly murders, etc. However,  I was surprised with the creative choices the story took, especially in regards to Joe’s character.

Unlike in many shows of this caliber, Joe is not an evil genius a la Walter White or Hannibal Lector. He has an above average IQ, sure, but his M.O. is more impulse-based than the characters I just mentioned.

When he kidnaps Benji and places him in the glass prison downstairs, he has no idea what to do with him and doesn’t formulate a solution until later.

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Similarly when he “plans” to kill Peach, he simply runs up on her and beams her in the back of the head with a rock.

In Central Park.

In broad daylight.

And then doesn’t take two seconds to make sure she’s actually dead.

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I thought Joe’s lack of preparedness made his character more life-like and kept the story grounded in reality.

On the other hand–and this is just my personal opinion–I think they made Joe’s character a bit too affable. I know some psychopaths are able to blend in with people with reflexive ease, but I thought he was too in-the-know when it came to normal human behavior. There was the occasional slip up, like when he saw an elderly couple and he said “that will be us” to Beck even though this was only their first or second date. But, overall, he functioned just fine and was even willing to conform to most post-modern societal norms like oversensitivity to certain off-color comments.

I’m torn if I should praise or condemn the show for giving us only slivers of  Joe’s backstory. On the one hand, not giving away too much kept the plot from being bogged down by too much exposition. On the other hand, what we got was a bit lackluster in my opinion.

What Mr. Mooney did to Joe was disturbing in principle, but we didn’t get a real taste of what Joe experienced psychologically while under Mooney’s care. We basically saw him being locked in the cage, and then in the next scene he was fine with no visible signs he had undergone some disturbing metamorphosis. No vomit-stained shirt, no disheveled hair, no crazed look in his eyes. On all fronts, he seemed to be fine. Only now he was conforming to Mooney’s warped sense of love and protection.

Stockholm Syndrome doesn’t just happen. It is the mind’s last resort to keep from giving into utter despair and research has shown that it only works on about 8% of victims. I think the story could have benefited from delving just a few minutes more into this psyche in those moments.

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There aren’t that many “You” gifs on Google so here is a cat representing Joe being trapped in the Mooney’s bookstore basement.

As for the love interest….

I frequently vacillated between liking Beck and thinking she was terrible (even compared to Joe who is a literal serial-killer). This continued on throughout the series where she went from being a flake, to having an affair, to breaking up with him for no reason (at least none she knew of, yet). I still don’t know whether or not I like her as a person. Nevertheless, I still think she was a well-written character in spite of my own personal hang-ups with her many faults.

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All things considered, Beck is a very accurate representation of a damaged person and I have to applaud the writers for that.

People like her do sabotage their own happiness because they are afraid they are undeserving of it. They will cheat, they will lie, they will project their insecurities onto other people and go out of their way  for friends that cause them psychological harm. We see this in her blind loyalty to Peach. I think that’s what can make her character so irritating at times. I’ve known people that are exactly like her and so I want to reach through the screen and slap her.

In a truly warped way, Joe made her the best she could be. By forcibly removing all the negative people from her life, he made it so she could focus on achieving her dreams. I would like to say she would be strong enough to eventually cut all these people out of her life on her own accord, but considering how demurring she was in the face of Peach’s constant interference, it’s not clear if she ever would have become a published author.

I know it’s messed up, but I admit that I shipped Joe and Beck together.

Even when she found out the truth about him, I was still hoping for a Stockholm-isque romance between them.

They should have scrapped the ending where she died and made the whole second season about them covering up Joe’s past crimes and evading the intrusive hand of the law. It could have been like Bonnie and Clyde but with more psychological damage.

I know! I know!

It’s problematic and I bet there would be a butt-load of controversy over how this was a harmful representation of a relationship—

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–but…dammit if they aren’t cute together.

It doesn’t help that literally every other male character in this show acts reprehensibly towards her to the point where the freaking serial killer looks like the healthiest option.

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As for the ending, I thought it was a bit disappointing.

Beck was literally at the top of the stairs, screaming for her life and then…boom! He grabs her and we cut to the aftermath where her book is being sold at record rates at the bookstore following her death.

I wasn’t crossing my fingers for a torture-porn session, but come on people. If your show has an MA-rating you might as well go for broke.

Besides, Beck was a main character. To kill her off-screen feels kind of cheap. I forgave them when they didn’t show Peach’s last stand to its grisly conclusion because she was a side-character, albeit an important one.

But this was Beck!

They killed the douche-bag cop on screen, why not Beck who is way more important?

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Okay, I wasn’t that distraught about it but…still.

Also, I’m not sure what to make about Candace being alive. I’m not sure if season two is headed in a positive direction. Based on how good this season was, I’ll at least give it a shot.

8/10

My Emotionally Abusive Relationship with Daphne Du Maurier

I can say with unshakeable certainty that Rebecca is one of the best horror novels I’ve ever read. It wasn’t an action-packed gore-fest like many books of the same genre, but in my mind that’s what makes it one of the greats.

It’s a British novel positively dripping with atmosphere and dramatic tension with an excellent pay-off.

It’s for this reason that I’ve found many other of Du Maurier’s works to be…less than stellar.

After reading Rebecca, I thought I had discovered an unsung hero of classic literature. Why had I gone so many years without knowing who Daphne Du Maurier is? Why had I been deprived of knowing her name?

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I looked farther into her works and rejoiced to find My Cousin Rachel, a novel that promised more atmospheric English countrysides, three-dimensional characters, an intriguing storyline and a gut-punch ending…..

Well, three out of four isn’t bad….

You see, the more you read Daphne Du Maurier, the more it seems that you run into this problem. The woman can write. She is a wonder at creating haunting environments, interesting characters and working up mysteries.

The problem is, more often than not, her endings tend to be woefully underwhelming. And when they aren’t, they’re just frigging weird.

One such example is Don’t Look Now wherein a couple that has just lost their child decide to go on holiday to Italy. While there they meet a pair of elderly twins, one of which purports to be psychic and prophesies doom for John, the main character. Well, the story keeps you on the tips of your toes in true Du Maurier fashion. Red-herring after red-herring is thrown at you, Then…the climax and……!

He’s murdered by a serial-killing midget…..

A serial….killing…midget….

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Kay, that was f*cking weird, but the next ones gotta be….!

Okay, guy is randomly murdered and random weird greek symbolism that doesn’t…really relate to the climax…

Okay, this next one will….! Okay, massive homophobia-

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In spite of the many times she’s disappointed me, I just can’t give up on her.

She’s just good enough at what she does that she is able to draw me in again and again. But those endings…man, those endings kill me. And not in a good way.

I just don’t understand how someone could have such a strong character and personality, only to demure when it matters the most. She makes all of these promises and she never keeps them. She beguiles me with gorgeous imagery and diction, only to leave me crumpled on the floor like a used tissue.

Why? Does she feel too much pressure to perform? Am I more invested than she is? Has she just moved on to bigger and better things?

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Why, Daphne? Why didn’t Rachel just kill Philip when she had the chance? It doesn’t make sense, Daphne.

I’m currently working on Jamaica Inn and I’m fretful that I’ll drudge through it and experience the same kind of disappointment again. But I’m just so curious….I have to know what happens.

Maybe this time will be different. Maybe she will have that jarring jump-out-of-your-pants ending I’ve been waiting for. I mean, it’s not like all her endings were that, bad right? Maybe I was being too hard on her. Perhaps I’m the one to blame for my high expectations.

I’ll give you another shot, Daphne.

I can’t quit you.

Thoughts on “My Cousin Rachel” by Daphne du Maurier

WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE NOVEL.

As an avid fan of du Maurier’s Rebecca, I have to confess that I was a bit disappointed with My Cousin Rachel.

It started off very strong with little Philip coming face to face with the corpse of a man who had been hanged for murdering his wife, a scene which instantly hooked me into the story as it seemed to indicate that shit was going to go down.

Unfortunately nothing that happens in the novel thereafter really has as much of a punch as the beginning would seem to indicate.

What I did like: 

Du Maurier does a fantastic job of setting up atmosphere and generating feelings of unease as well as mystery. I think she also does a magnificent job of creating characters and relationships. None of them came across as flat or one-dimensional, even the side characters who didn’t do all that much.

I award du Maurier bonus points for writing a male for the lead. As someone who often struggles writing for members of the opposite sex, I thought du Maurier did an excellent job of capturing the mindset of a 19th century Englishman. If I had no indication as to who the author was, I would have thought this book had been written by a man.

The pacing is excellent too, never focusing on any one scene for too long.

What I didn’t like: 

As I mentioned earlier, there was a lot of build-up for not a lot of pay-off. It became clear as soon as Philip recovered from his “illness” that du Maurier was not going to go balls-to-the-wall as I was hoping she would do.

What puzzles me is why Rachel allowed him to get better. Did she have second thoughts? Was it because the writer needed him to? I’m so confused.

Also I’m disappointed there was no final confrontation between the two of them where Rachel dropped all pretense and showed Phillip her true colors. Perhaps that would have been a little too soup opera, but it would have been more satisfying for me to see the real Rachel for a moment, instead of just the repercussions of her actions.

It  would have been so interesting to see how she interacted with someone who has her confidant, a.k.a the doctor. You could make the argument that it’s creepier because we don’t know but I disagree. I think more would actually be better in the case of this story.

Overall opinion: 

This was by no means a bad book, I’m just disappointed because I know it could have been better. If it had been just a little bit more I would probably rank it up there along with Rebecca which is one of my favorite horror novels of all time.

I’m curious to see if the movie does a better job on delivering on scares. Based on Hollywood’s track record, I wouldn’t hold out much hope.