Goodreads review: The Castle of Otranto

The Castle of OtrantoThe Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So it’s coming up to the holidays so I thought to myself what better time to check out the first English supernatural novel, progenitor of the Gothic genre and on-point guide to decorating your home with revenge-themed supernatural armour? And so I reached for Horace Walpole’s 1764 banger.

Basically, everything you know about the Gothic mode – weird religious symbolism, perverse family intertwinings, twisted tunnels, ghosts kicking arse from beyond death, the horror of landscape and the terror of the built environment – is in here. The tale of Manfred (a shitbag noble), it begins with his son’s crushing wedding-day death (take that, Alanis) and grows ever more convoluted and wrong. Seriously, Manfred makes Roderick Usher seem well-reasoned, something that’s compounded by vengeful spirits and uppity religious figures.

(We never hear whether Manfred’s a gun on the fiddle, so it’s hard to say which one’s ahead on points.)

I don’t want to spoil the story, but it’s as ridiculous and strangely acceptable as you’d expect the initial text for an entire style of writing might be. Of course, the book can be difficult to read if you’re not adjusted (or in the mood for) its fairly tortuous, multi-clausal sentences. Homeboy Horace doesn’t believe in paragraph marks very often, and so though the work is pretty short, there’s lots of stretches where there appears to be no pause to the proceedings. This is great in terms of ratcheting up the tension, but not so hot in terms of reader fatigue. I’ve studied a lot of literature of this period, so I don’t find the difference in tone and structure insurmountable, but it soon became obvious my 1700s-scopin’ muscles weren’t as developed as they once were: I found myself rereading sections for clarity.

(The density isn’t a deal-breaker, and it certainly is worth pushing through for the weirdness of the tale Walpole tells, but I can understand how some readers would find themselves lost, or might feel as if a lot of stuff is passing them by. )

I’d read Otranto before but couldn’t remember much of it. I’m glad I had a chance to revisit, because a lot of it is so weird, even when compared to Anne Radcliffe’s work. I prefer Radcliffe on the whole, but the imagery of horror – enormous battle-armour, the hidden made real – fits so tightly with the odd-scale weirdness I see in my nightmares that it affected me more than I thought it would. There’s a distinct oddity about this book – it doesn’t know what it wants to be, exactly – that drew me back. It’s so ridiculously improbable – I think the helm’s furious nodding feathers are my favourite part – but it touches some primal part that I let all unsupportable parts of the tale slide.

While it’s not as much of a cracker as The Mysteries of Udolpho, and lacks the masterful touch of a Frankenstein, the atmosphere Walpole creates here is memorable. It’s obvious that other writers built upon this base, but it’s worth remembering this seedbed of oddity on its own terms, flaws and all.

My Goodreads profile is here.


Goodreads review: The Aerodrome

The AerodromeThe Aerodrome by Rex Warner.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Rex Warner is these days more known for his translation of Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War than for his fiction. But it’s still worth reading his 1941 work The Aerodrome – one of ten he wrote – because though it’s flawed, it contains an odd power.

Goodreads review: Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier

Twin Peaks: The Final DossierTwin Peaks: The Final Dossier by Mark Frost.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

You know, I really wanted to like this book. I was looking forward to it ever since I heard it was coming after the show, and especially given the high quality of The Secret History of Twin Peaks. I knew that the show’s return had surpassed any expectations I’d had by a mile, and surely the book must deliver more of that magical mojo, right?

It didn’t work out that way. (more…)

Goodreads review: Another Kyoto

Another KyotoAnother Kyoto by Alex Kerr.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the third of Kerr’s books I’ve read. The first, I found vital, the second not so much. So this sits neatly in the middle, for me. Where it departs from the first two books, though, is in its level of personality: in Another Kyoto I think the reader receives much more of a sense of the author as a person. (more…)

Goodreads review: Nick Cave: Mercy On Me

Nick Cave: Mercy On MeNick Cave: Mercy On Me by Reinhard Kleist.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So let’s get this out of the way first: I am a Nick Cave fan. Not a rabid one, no – I don’t believe he excretes perfect songs into the world, and almost every album he’s associated with could do with having about a third chopped off it – but I like him well enough. I’ve seen him play a couple of times, and have most of the records. Hell, I’ve even read his books a couple of times. (Well, not the Bunny Munro one. )

But there’s something important to know: I like him while disliking him.

Goodreads review: Mirror Sydney

Mirror SydneyMirror Sydney by Vanessa Berry
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I recently read Vanessa Berry’s Strawberry Hills Forever (reviewed here) while I waited for this work, Mirror Sydney, to be published. This most recent work surpasses the former, and scratches a psychogeographic itch – think Ackroyd or Sinclair – that I hadn’t realised I had.

Goodreads Review: David Bowie: A Life

David Bowie: A LifeDavid Bowie: A Life by Dylan Jones
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the wake of Bowie’s death, I bought a bunch of biographies of the man, wanting to know more. Hell, I guess we all did, ’round then – after all, how do you account for a single version of the life of one guy who lived so many variants, and was held close by so many for such a multiplicity of reasons? I figured I’d get around to ’em all in time, and then the idea of there being no more David Bowie caused me to chuck the brakes on the whole read-the-biog thing.


Until now. David Bowie: A Life, the most recent Bowie biog to surface, takes a conversational approach over the standard facts-times-sawdust take on the format, and works winningly well, though not without caveats. (more…)

Goodreads review: The Town

The TownThe Town by Shaun Prescott
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Shaun Prescott’s first novel is a strangely compelling Oz-lit amalgam of kitchen-sink drama filtered through an odd, pastoral folk weirdness lens. It’s an examination of failure: of motivation, of society, of relationships and of the laws of physics. It’s a meditation on the pull exerted by cities and their rural sisters, a contemplation of one’s ability to record loss (and the writing process), and something of a rueful love-letter to a particular part of Australia. (more…)

Goodreads review: Detours

DetoursDetours by Tim Rogers
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Five stars. I suppose it’s unlikely I would have rated any other way, really, given how much of my early adulthood was soundtracked by the guy. See, for nerdy dorks of my age and type, Tim Rogers’ work is pretty important. I’ve written about that here if you’d fancy further solipsism – but suffice it to say You Am I were (and are) a band that made you feel like you could give it a go, and that there was stuff and a place out there for you, too.

Yeah, there are big rock moves, and big rock appetites. But then behind it all was someone who wrote songs about OCD, who felt an impostor, and who used Townshend windmills to blur reality, just a bit.