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 most likely would have thought this book was 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. 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 I think it would have been more satisfying 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.

Why I’m Disappointed By Neil Gaiman’s “Trigger Warning”

Perhaps I’m just whingeing over semantics here, but I had to get this off my chest.

When I purchased the audiobook for Neil Gaiman’s book on short stories I was very excited. Not only am I a fan of Gaiman’s writing, I am also a big fan of his narration. His dulcet tones and faint English accent make him a perfect narrator.

I was preparing myself for another boring day of organizing charts upstairs at the dermatology clinic where I worked and I needed something to listen to in order to keep the monotony from reducing my brain to yogurt.

So I placed the charts on a table, plugged in my earbuds, and I began to listen.

Gaiman gave a perfect introduction into this collection, explaining how he’d come to discover the term “trigger warning.” He conceded that, while trigger warnings may be well intentioned, sometimes we need to read things that make us uncomfortable, that force us to ponder imponderable things, see the world in darker hues.

He warned us readers (or listeners in this case) that what we were about to read would likely disturb us.

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I listened for several hours, nearly finishing the book in it’s entirety during a single shift. It was interesting, imaginative, captivating, visceral, everything a book should be. However, there is one thing that it was not: triggering.

I loved the stories, loved the narration, but I kept listening with a growing sense of expectation. Is this the story that’s going to trigger me? Is this the story that’s going to challenge my preconceptions about life and put me on a 2001: A Space Odyssey styled journey to self-discovery?

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The answer to that would be a nope.

Again, I loved the stories, in fact I consider this the best short-story collection I’ve ever read.

But with a title like Trigger Warning you expect something a little more…triggering. That’s not to say they weren’t disturbing. There are stories with murder, revenge, cannibalism, monsters, stalking, etc. They’re horrifying and dark with lovely twists and turns, but nothing I wasn’t expecting from something written by Gaiman.

And they were not what I was advertised.

Now, it’s not Gaiman’s responsibility to make sure that I, specifically, have all of my desires met. He is perfectly entitled to write what he wants and I believe he he does an excellent job of it.

However, let me explain why I was a bit disappointed.

There has, I think, been a shortage of books and stories in recent years that truly push the envelope. Books and stories that challenge ideas and behaviors that we see routinely in our day-to-day lives.

In our new easily-offended world there are any number of taboo subjects that deserve to be explored, but it would seem as if  no one has the nerve to tackle them in a literary capacity in a long while, lest someone get their grandma panties in a wad.

I was hoping that Gaiman, in his uniquely stylized way, would touch upon such subjects or, at least, ignore the restraints that these perpetually offended people insist writers use. Nonetheless, there wasn’t much in his book that would truly “trigger” someone, provided that person doesn’t live in a perpetual state of duress.

I just wanted something a little more challenging. I wanted Gaiman to approach the likes of Lovecraft or King and throw down the gauntlet, saying, “No, gentlemen, this is scary.”

I’ve read a handful of the Sandman comics, I know what he’s capable of.

I only wish he’d gone balls-to-the-walls the way he did with that series.

Or Coraline.

Now that would have been truly triggering.

Thoughts on the “IT” 2017 Trailer

I am going to tell you something I wasn’t sure I would ever admit on this blog…..

A secret that I have been keeping under wraps for fear of being ostracized by the literary community.

*takes a breath*

I don’t like Stephen King novels.

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I know, I’m sorry. It’s not for want of trying. I’ve made the attempt to read several of his works in the past, but the only one I’ve been able to complete in its entirety is Carrie.

I think his writing style is excellent. His manner of describing things is very visceral and it’s easy for a person to feel as if they are standing right there beside the character, going through the same experience that they are.

It’s the stories themselves that don’t make a lot of sense. Reading King, for me, is a lot like doing drugs or alcohol. Everything you do makes sense while on these substances, but once you get off them you start to question what you could have possibly been thinking. Like how in the novel It, Beverly had to sleep with every boy in the group to protect them from the clown because….reasons…

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I just don’t think King is my thing. If you enjoy his work, good for you.

Regardless, I did watch the TV mini-series It when I was a kid and it scared the bejesus out of me. My best friend and I had to watch it while talking on the phone to draw strength from one another so we could watch the whole thing.

In hindsight, however, this movie is laughably awful. Especially after watching the Nostalgia Critic review of it. If you haven’t seen it already, I highly recommend it. No pun intended.

Nonetheless, upon seeing the trailer for the remake, I was pleasantly surprised.

It was genuinely eerie and atmospheric. Not to mention, it seems more grounded in reality than the original movie….

That is…until Pennywise shows up.

A lot of people are complaining that he doesn’t look like the way the novel described. I’m complaining because it seems as if the scares are meant solely for people who are scared of clowns. I am not afraid of clowns (in spite of King’s best efforts to scar my childhood) so it doesn’t do much for me.

But I think I may actually give this film a watch because it appears like they’re going for a Stranger Things-isque approach to the story. Rather than having them switch back and forth from adulthood to childhood, they’re telling the story solely from the perspective of the characters as children. Personally, I thought the adults were the weakest part of that movie, so I’m happy they are going with this instead.

I’m also glad they are keeping the 80s vibe in leu of pushing it to modern times. They are most likely, again, trying to cash in on the Stranger Things craze, but I’m personally fine with that. It just feels right to have it set in this time period. If something like this happened in 2017, it would probably be a bunch of kids trying to film the clown on their iPhones to become internet famous. Not to mention today’s helicopter-parents would never allow children to play outside by themselves when there’s clearly a murderer on the loose.

Overall this movie looks miles better than the original.

I don’t think it’ll be a cinematic masterpiece by any means, nevertheless, I think it should be given a chance.

Who knows? Maybe this will be the one that makes balloons scary.

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Editing My Novella, or the Red Pen of Death

I’ve put it off long enough.

I must edit the third draft of my story.

It’s been a while since I looked at this novella and, to be honest, I’m kind of terrified. Is it going to be better than I remember? Worse than I remember? I have no way of knowing until I reread it.

Will it stay a novella? Will I have to hack away at it until it’s a short story, or pile on it until it’s a full-length novel?

There are so many questions.

Unfortunately, there are no answers. 

Only the Red Pen.

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The Red Pen snorts at your characters’ backstories and your obvious social commentary. 

The Red Pen cares nothing for your need to impress your friends. It scoffs at your attempts at fictionalizing yourself and rewriting your high school years so everyone thinks you’re great and you date that hot guy from your chemistry class. 

There is no hope.

Only copyediting.

Remember that character you were going to develop, but then abandoned? The Red Pen does. That awkward sexual metaphor you made in the third chapter? The Red Pen noticed.

The Red Pen sees.

The Red Pen knows.

Wish me luck…

My Thoughts on “The Haunting of Sunshine Girl”

WARNING: SLIGHT SPOILERS FOR THE BOOK.

Keep in mind I have not seen the Youtube web series that this book is based off of. My judgement is based purely on the novel itself.

Read synopsis here.

Buckle up, guys, this is going to be a long one.

My reading of The Haunting of Sunshine Girl was a bit of a rollercoaster ride. One minute I’m completely enthralled by the characters and storyline. The next, I’m bored by YA tropes and tired clichés.

Pros: 

The pacing. I, personally, think the pacing is the book’s greatest strength. The only part where it lags is when Nolan tries to convince Sunshine she is a luiseach. I, and I’m assuming most readers at this point, have seen this done a million times so it bogs down the momentum the story is building up. More on this later.

Sunshine and her mother. I like the uniquely intimate relationship Sunshine has with her mother. In most YA ,the parents are either brushed aside, or made out to be complete jerks so it’s nice to see a change of pace with this story. It also makes her mother’s possession all the more devastating.

The romance. THERE IS NO CONVOLUTED LOVE TRIANGLE!!

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I also appreciate that the writer (or writers) is taking their time with developing the relationship between Nolan and Sunshine rather than just shoving them together or forcing an unnecessary third-party into the mix. The main focus stays on the demon possessing her mother as it should.

Atmosphere. Atmosphere is one of the central components in a horror book and helps set the tone for what is to come. I was deeply engaged throughout the author’s descriptions of the house and found myself easily able to map out each room. More impressively, the writer was able to do this without slowing down the pacing.

Victoria Wilde. I can’t think of why, but Victoria was one of the most believable characters in the novel for me. You can sense with every scene she was in just how tired and aggrieved she was by what had happened to her and her family. I honestly wish there had been more about her.

Cons: 

Sunshine. At the beginning of the novel, I adored her. I loved the strange name she gave her taxidermied owl (Dr. Hoo), I loved her strange glass unicorn collection, I loved her relationship with her adopted mother, and thought her narrative voice was compelling.

Then, without warning, her character falls down the rabbit hole into Tropeland and she becomes less and less like a real teenage girl and more like a fanfic version. I know she’s supposed to be more into old things than the normal person, but it was really off-putting to hear a 21st century girl say “gollly” or “gosh” unironically.

Also, I’m sorry, but Sunshine is a stupid name.

There, I said it. They explain in the book why she was named this, but I’m sure there are plenty of female names that mean “sunshine” or “light-bringer” so actually naming her “Sunshine” makes it sound like her mother was a hippie. Which, if you’ve read the book, is very much not the case.

Nolan. I like Nolan, but I can’t help feeling he is criminally underdeveloped. I appreciate that he isn’t your traditional hot jock, or jaded loner, but I wish there was more to him. Most of what we learn about him revolves around his grandfather in some fashion. We don’t know what his home life is like, what his hobbies are, what his social status in relation to his peers is, nothing.

Also, I groaned a bit when Victoria reveals Nolan is destined to be Sunshine’s “protector” now so they’re forever bonded. Can’t people just be people who do things because of their own motivations and character rather than because of “destiny”?

Yer a wizard, Sunshine. Unquestionably, the most annoying part of the book is when Sunshine fervently denies being a luiseach, prompting a completely unnecessary argument between her and Nolan.

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The chapter “Why Are We Fighting?” was very aptly named as I couldn’t find a single justification for it. It’s not even an actual fight, Sunshine just hurls unwarranted abuse at Nolan and he deflects. Evidently, the answer to the chapter’s question is: Because the writer says we’re supposed to.

I can’t think of an explanation as to why she would dismiss Nolan’s claims either. Hell, they have proof that ghosts exist and are capable of manipulating the living’s environment and even possessing people. Taking all of that into consideration, why is the fact that she’s a psychic so hard for her to believe?

Honestly, the logical gaff isn’t what gets me with this scene. What bothers me is that I’ve seen this a million times before, and it’s not even done well in this case. The writer makes no attempt to disguise the fact that the only reason they are having this argument is so she can get Nolan out of the way for a chapter or so.

When they finally reconcile, Nolan all but blows the event off like it was never that big of a deal. I thought this was a wasted opportunity to give him some character development. I guess their fallout really did happen for no reason. Well, damn.

Final thoughts: 

Based on this lengthy diatribe, you probably think I hated this book. I didn’t. Actually I enjoyed it quite a bit. I just wish I would have liked it more. If I were to give this book a grade, I would say somewhere between B and B-.

I recommend this to anyone looking for something to read on a cold, rainy day.

Thoughts on “Bird Box” by Josh Malerman

WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE ENTIRE NOVEL. DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVE NOT READ THE BOOK OR WISH TO DO SO IN THE FUTURE. 

You can find a synopsis here.

This was recommended by “ChapterStackss” of BookTube as one of her favorite horror novels so I thought I’d give it a shot.

I am so glad I did.

It’s difficult to pick a topic in this book for discussion. It was so mouth-wateringly good I’m left babbling incoherently.

I’ve decided to break up my thoughts into pieces so it’s less of a jumble.

The Plot

One aspect of this novel that I love is it turns traditional horror on its head. The darkness is the protagonist’s greatest defense against the enemy rather than a means for the main baddy to attack.

They aren’t afraid of what will happen to them when they close their eyes, but rather when they open them.

If this is meant to be a metaphor for truth, infinity, or whatever it’s done a lot more effectively than in any other novel that I’ve read.

I still can’t get over how exceptionally well paced this piece is. No chapter seems too long or too short. They all seem to be exactly as they need to be.

The Creatures 

Frigging finally.

A horror writer has created a new monster.

It’s not that traditional monsters like ghosts and zombies aren’t scary, it’s just that they’ve been done  to death at this point.

Especially zombies.

Don’t get me started on zombies.

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My favorite theory as to what these things are is George’s: these beings are from another dimension that is bleeding into ours. Because our bubbles were never supposed to merge, it’s too much for our brains to handle.

Maybe these things are us from another dimension!

We never find out.

I realize there is more fear in the unknown, so revealing what these things are would ruin a lot of the intrigue, but I really want to know. I want to shake down the writer and demand he tell me.

Regardless, the mystery of these beings forces the reader to devise their own explanation. This makes the threat as psychological as it is physical.

There are no silver bullets or wooden stakes to defeat them. Humans can only take preventative measures to make sure they aren’t driven to madness.

Blindfolded 

In my opinion, one of the things that makes this book so great is how atmospheric it is. Since the characters are often blindfolded, the narrative is mostly told through sounds and senses.

The monsters are represented in the crunching of leaves, the sudden footstep, the screaming of the birds.

Even in silence.

The characters hear the monster.

They sense it’s presence.

But they can never know what one looks like because no one that has spotted one  has lived to tell about it. Except Gary. Screw Gary.

I just love the image of Malorie and her two children rowing down a river where they can see nothing. They’re surrounded on all sides by possible dangers: deranged animals, madmen, and the elements.

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Malorie is completely reliant on the superpowered hearing of the children who can detect any noise from a great distance away. She’s trained them since birth to do this and some of the things they hear are chilling.

The Characters 

If I have one nitpick about this book it’s that some of them are not as fleshed out as others. Nevertheless, I still think I have a rough idea of who they are as people.

My favorite characters have to be Malorie and Tom.

Malorie was a great character because she had to worry about the life of her baby as well as herself. Once her child and Olympia’s child are born, she demonstrates an astounding amount of resilience as well as humanity. She breaks down, she makes mistakes, she second-guesses almost everything she does. She’s a great protagonist all around.

It’s hard not to like Tom since he has the most backstory aside from Malorie. He’s a great leader and loves everyone under his charge. I was unsurprised, but sad when he died.

The only characters I actively dislike are Don and Gary.

Especially Gary.

I wish he’d gotten his come uppins in the end, but I guess you can’t have it all.

Character Relationships

These characters don’t operate as typical base-under-siege stereotypes.

While there is some tension between them at some points, their relationship with each other is mostly harmonious. They act as a family throughout and genuinely care about one another.

Even though Malorie is giving birth in unendurable agony and knows that Don is betraying them as she speaks, she still loves him like a brother and wants someone to help him because he’s losing his mind.

That is some serious character development.

And there are no unnecessary romances.

I think Malorie has romantic feelings for Tom, but this is implied rather than shoved in the reader’s face.

The Ending

I’m actually surprised this book ended with Malorie and her children being found by a group of refugees.

I thought it was going to conclude with her seeing one of the creatures and killing the children before committing suicide.

Am I a sadist for being just a pinch disappointed this didn’t happen? My logic is we would have finally found out what these things are. We’d get an intimate look into what people that see them go through on a personal level.

On the other hand, the girl probably deserves a hopeful ending after all the crap she’s had to survive through.

I don’t reread books very often, but I may make an exception for Bird Box. 

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