The Small Hand and Dolly by Susan Hill: Review

small hand and dollyTwo previously published stories, The Small Hand and Dolly by Susan Hill, are collected here by Vintage Books into one volume. Both are similar in theme.

In The Small Hand, Adam gets lost while driving in the English countryside and finds himself in the forgotten garden of the abandoned White House. While standing in the front yard staring at the house, he feels a tiny invisible hand grasp his. (Screeeeeaaaam!) He's weirded out but not too disturbed by the sensation. However, after he goes on with his life, he feels the small hand again only with sinister connotations. He tries to find out more about the house and the garden. As he looks for answers, he uncovers a secret with devastating consequences.

Dolly involves two cousins, the spoiled Leonora and docile Edward, who spend one summer with their Aunt Kestrel in Iyot House. Edward hears a strange whispering and crying at night. When his bratty cousin arrives with her demands, their aunt tries to appease her by buying her a doll. How she treats the doll will have consequences for the two cousins.
As I said, the stories have some similarities. Both involve a creepy old house in the country, the protagonists are men who travel for work, and both are affected by something that's happened in their childhoods. The Small Hand is a story with a solid conclusion. There's foreshadowing pushing the reader towards the end. Everything gets tidied up real nice.

Dolly is a different situation. The ending isn't so clean. Is Leonora the cause of the terrible events as Edward believes? I don't think so. Leonora is awful, it's true. She makes even the worst kid look like an angel in comparison, but as bad as she is, I think she's as much of a victim as Edward. Right from the start, Edward hears the strange sounds in the attic. The evil in the house is already there. The doll is just a vehicle for it. Why it attaches itself to the two children is a mystery. Sometimes evil has no explanation and this is one of those times.

If you enjoy typical ghost stories with tidy endings, The Small Hand will please you. If, like me, you like ambiguous endings that leave you saying hmmm, Dolly will be more to your tastes.

Wuthering Heights (DVD) 2011

wuthering heights dvd
"An Epic Tale of Love and Revenge" Uh-huh.

I had this film version of Wuthering Heights on my wish list since I heard about it last year. I finally saw the DVD at Walmart and didn't hesitate buying it. I have a love/hate relationship with Wuthering Heights but there was no way I was going to miss out on watching this latest version.

Before we get to it, in order to compare the film to the movie there must be spoilers. If you care about the spoilers of a nearly 200 year old book that you haven't read by now, then read no further.

Wuthering Heights starts at the end (of the film) but quickly flashes back to the beginning. Young Heathcliff (Solomon Glave) is brought by Mr Earnshaw (Paul Hilton) to the farm known as Wuthering Heights. Earnshaw found him on the streets of London and out of "Christian kindness" brings him to Yorkshire to live with his family. Let me set the scene: Wuthering Heights is a glorified barn, the eldest son Hindley (Lee Shaw) looks like an escapee from a penal colony in a dystopian future world, not one person looks happy to see the new arrival. The film implies that Heathcliff is a runaway slave. He barely speaks English other than a few swears. He's obviously scared but hides it behind a defiance that's endearing. You can't help but root for the kid.

I always have conflicting feelings regarding Heathcliff. I start out loving him and end up hating him. Director Andrea Arnold does a few things to keep the viewer in the Team Heathcliff camp. First, the whole movie is told from his point of view, and the film ends just before Heathcliff becomes The Worst. She also does something interesting by making Heathcliff black. It adds another layer of differences between him and the Earnshaws.

Soon Mr Earnshaw's daughter Cathy (Shannon Beer) befriends Heathcliff. Cathy is a little ruffian who runs around the moors in pants, wrestles in the dirt with Heathcliff, and curses at Hindley. I really liked her. Heathcliff falls for her right away. She might not be aware of it just then but the viewer knows by the way he looks at her hair or her calves. Does he love her because she's the only one who's nice to him or because hormones? I don't know. There is barely any dialogue in the film. This has the effect of making the dialogue extremely emotional when someone does say something. Emotion is expressed through looks and camera angles. You know Heathcliff thinks of Cathy when he sees a feather, when people are sad they lie in the heather in the rain.

Heathcliff in the Heather
Just lying in the heather, with my feelings.

Things get bad for Heathcliff after the death of Mr Earnshaw. Hindley becomes an even bigger asshole and Cathy discovers the Linton family, a wealthy family with a boy her age, Edgar. Cathy likes the life the Lintons: cultured, mannered, rich. Heathcliff sees her change and doesn't like it. Edgar asks her to marry him and she accepts. With nothing to keep him there, Heathcliff leaves Wuthering Heights.

Years later, he returns a handsome gentleman with money (James Howson). Cathy (Kaya Scodelario) realizes she's made a huge mistake, but you can't unring a bell. She's stuck with Edgar. That doesn't mean she doesn't try to have them both. Cathy and Heathcliff make sexy eyes at each other whenever they are together. He makes it no secret that he'd take her in a minute if they were ever alone. Edgar is no fool and sends his sister Isabella to babysit, something he'll regret later. Even in Isabella's presence there is passionate hand clutching and hair tugging. The sexual tension is 100%.

The film ends just after Cathy dies of Not Getting Her Own Way and Heathcliff goes bonkers and dry humps her corpse. Readers of Wuthering Heights know this is not the worst thing he is capable of doing. In this version, he is pretty awful to Isabella and while he gets revenge on Hindley, he leaves Hindley's son, Hareton, alone. There is no mention of Edgar or the children. The viewer is left to decide what happens next. Maybe Heathcliff turns Wuthering Heights into a home for orphaned children? Good, kind Heathcliff, taking care of children.

I enjoyed this version of Wuthering Heights even though it left me feeling depressed, but it's Wuthering Heights so….yeah. It's beautifully shot. Everything is windswept and rainy. Every frame tells a story. There is no musical score. The wind is the score and it is perfect. No manipulating with violins. Emily Bronte's words don't need it anyway. 

Don't expect kittens and rainbows. It's dark and violent but I'm glad I watched it. It's an excellent addition to the Bronte canon.

For my thoughts on the PBS 2009 version of Wuthering Heights, click here.

Night Film Revisited

night filmRemember back in August when I reviewed the audio version of Night Film? I thought giving the text version a look would be a smart idea, since the book is so unique. I finally had the chance to have a look at it and thought I'd share my thoughts on the hardcover.

I'm not going to give you a review and synopsis of the story because I already did that here. I'm going to discuss the differences between the experiences of the two versions.

Usually, I'm pretty happy choosing to listen to an audiobook. There are exceptions, like this one. In this case, reading the hardcover has a couple of advantages over listening.

The visuals: website pages, magazine articles, photographs, etc. These items are described and the text portions read in the audiobook but actually seeing them is a better experience. For example, see the photo below.

Night Film extra

The app. There is a free smartphone app that can be downloaded from the iTunes or Google Play stores. Using this app and a connection to the internet, the reader can access additional information hidden as Easter eggs within the book. Some bits are more interesting than others. The information can be audio files or additional text. This is a bit gimmicky and doesn't add a lot to the reading of the book. For more information, visit the Night Film Decoder page.

Night Film app
How the app looks when played on my iPod

If I was going to recommend one over the other, I'd pick the text version, just for all the extras.

*Tap tap* Is This Thing On?

Just sitting here. Thinking.
Hello, Sunday readers! Is anybody out there? Just nod if you can hear me. I feel like nobody is reading. I wrote two reviews this week, a rarity for me, and there wasn't much commentary on either. This isn't a pity party. Blogging just seems different now and I'm thinking about why.

Part of it is probably my own fault. I fell off the grid there for awhile and when that happens on the internet, readers tend to fall off. Then there was the death of Google Reader. Where did those subscribers go? Did they find another feed reader or did they just give up blogs altogether? Recently, someone in my Twitter feed mentioned not missing Google Reader one bit. I wondered why. Did all those unread blog posts make them feel guilty? Anxious? Obligated? Maybe once Google Reader disappeared they felt a sense of freedom. I'm not sure.

Not that I'm any better. I find it hard to comment on blogs. I've been using Bloglovin' and one thing I don't like about it is how it truncates posts. In theory, I suppose, people will click through to the blog to read a post. Most of the time I just skim the title and move on. If I read the whole post on my reader, I might feel like I have something to say about it and click through to comment. Am I just weird like that?

I'm also more likely to comment on a blog post to the author on Twitter. A "Oh hey, I read what you thought about blah blah" when I see them hanging out there. It becomes more of a conversation that way. Sometimes I'll forget to go back to a post to read the comments or the author doesn't reply, so catching someone on Twitter is a better option. I think we're all suffering from Commentitis. Is commenting so-last-year?

Book bloggers, has commenting on your blog changed? Are you finding there are fewer comments on your reviews? Have you found a way to encourage more commenting? Are you commenting less? What about you, Blog Readers? Anyone care to comment?

They Do It With Mirrors by Agatha Christie: Review

they do it with mirrorsMiss Marple is convinced by her old friend Ruth to take a little trip to check on her sister, Carrie Louise. Ruth has a feeling that her sister is in some kind of trouble. When they were girls, they were all pals, but Miss Marple hasn't seen her friend in decades. She is unsure that her visit will uncover anything to reassure Ruth.

Ruth explains Carrie Louise's present circumstances. She's married to a doctor who convinced her to turn her estate into a home for wayward boys. When Miss Marple arrives at Stonygates, she finds chaos. Carrie Louise has a houseful of characters: her daughter, a variety of stepsons, a granddaughter and her soldier husband, Carrie's devoted companion, doctors and their unstable assistant. All these personalities clash but Miss Marple doesn't see anything alarming. Of course, a murder happens anyway after the arrival of another guest.

What I enjoy about Agatha Christie novels is how I never figure out who did the killing until the very end and it always seems so obvious then. Miss Marple also has this experience with magic tricks, once the trick is explained it's so simple. The Art of Magic is in the misdirection. Christie herself was an excellent magician in that sense. Little hints are dropped and you have the feeling that you almost got it when she diverts your attention elsewhere. Tricky, tricky.

Miss Marple is almost fooled. Almost. She's too smart to be tricked for long though. There are a bunch of suspects. The most obvious are ruled out, of course, it's never them, but how could one of the others have done it? None of the suspects realize sweet Miss Marple is as sharp as she is. Inspector Curry sees her for what she is right away and uses her insight to solve the crime, even when some of the things she says makes no sense.

They Do It With Mirrors is one of the most entertaining Christie novels I've read. I enjoyed the trick.

MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood: Review (Audiobook)

maddadam coverIn Atwood's post-apocalyptic world, a small group of humans have survived the viral Flood that has ended humanity, such as it was. In this group are members of the God's Gardeners, and the MaddAddamites, plus a loner named Jimmy (aka Snowman). All in some way or another are connected the orchestrator of the Flood: Crake. With them are Crake's creation, a better (in his opinion) kind of human, they call Crakers. The Crakers follow the humans around demanding, in their childlike way, to hear stories of Crake, as well as stories of the leader of the humans, Zeb. They've chosen Toby as their storyteller and as she tells them of Zeb's adventures, she learns more about the events that lead Crake to unleash the virus that ended the human race.

When not spinning stories for the Crakers, Toby and the others try to cope with this new world full of dangers. Besides the crumbling buildings, fires, and animals like the pigoons, there are a group of murderous Pain Ballers. These men are the Gladiators of pre-Flood times, criminals who are without humanity or compassion. Zeb is anxious to find his brother, the founder of the God Gardeners, Adam One, before the Pain Ballers do.

If you've gotten this far, you probably already read Oryx and Crake* and Year of the Flood, or you are completely lost. Atwood has created a strange and sinister world for her three novels. It's familiar but foreign. It's a world that could possibly be. A world that is dystopian where big corporations run things and people literally worship oil. The reader learns more about that place through the eyes of Zeb.

Zeb's story weaves in and out the the lives of the main characters of the two other novels. His brother created the God's Garderners, to most people a uber-hippie commune but actually a hideout for people opposed to the work of corporations like HealthWyzer. Zeb came into contact with Glen (aka Crake) and may have inadvertently helped him get his hands on the deadly virus he used to murder the population of the earth. MaddAddam attempts to tie up any loose ends in the series. There are a number of coincidences. However, since the survivors have had some contact with Crake, are these coincidences or destiny? Hmm?

The survivors attitude toward the Crakers is important. They could chase them away, or ignore them, but because they know what they are and where they came from there is an attachment. These beautiful, gentle beings are both endearing and annoying. They've made up a mythology around Crake ("kind, gentle Crake") where he is the god of their universe. The others are unwilling to explain to them that he was really a sociopathic genius with a God Complex. What would happen if they knew this (if they were able to understand it)? So instead the survivors treat the Crakers like special children.

I'm not sure if this third instalment is necessary. There is a lot of Zeb in MaddAddam and I wasn't as enamoured with him as Toby was. I've read a few of Margaret Atwood books and there is often this Alpha Male that the female protagonist follows around like a puppy. He has some things to say but not much that we haven't heard before. By the end, we know that the human race will carry on somehow. It's a hopeful ending, though a hopeful ending where just about everyone and everything in the world has to be destroyed for order to be returned to our planet. Is this a warning? A wish? Is it a happy ending? As Marge Simpson once said, "It's an ending, that's enough." It was entertaining to listen to but not my favorite.

About the Audio: MaddAddam has three narrators: Bernadette Dunne, Bob Walter, and Robbie Daymond. The majority of the narration done by two characters: Toby and Zeb. I found the jumping between the two of them confusing at times. It's as if they are having a conversation and interrupting each other. Just Toby would have been fine. The third character I'll keep secret.

*Note: I read Oryx and Crake in 2007 (apparently) and I remember liking it more than I seemed to at the time. Maybe I should read it again. Also, that was not my best review.