Monthly Archives: July 2012

Victorian Gothic: double vision

As a finale for winter reading, the most terrifying stories of  all. The writers of nineteenth-century gothic fiction believed that they were confronting spectres more frightening than vampires or the ghosts of  headless horsemen: they were looking into their own psyches, at doubles of themselves, at ‘the monster within.’

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The Little Stranger / Sarah Waters

5 reasons to read this brilliant novel :

The Story

Sarah Waters is a consummate story-teller; the mistress of the twist in the tale,  the readers’ adrenalin rush (“I can’t believe this is happening… I can’t put this book down!”) She did this in Fingersmith and she does it again in this 2009 gem of a novel.

The Atmosphere

A family mansion deep in the English countryside, one that’s seen much better days. Beautiful, dusty rooms with peeling plaster and broken chandeliers; inhabited by people trying to come to terms with their past.

The Genre

A riff on nineteenth-century ghost stories, done with a 21st century sensibility.  Waters starts gently enough – creaking floorboards, flickering lights, the sudden slamming of a door trapping someone in a room –  then she ratchets up the tension  to disturbing levels.

The Narrator

He seems to be such a nice, genuine, caring man. He’s the family doctor, of course he can be trusted … can’t he?…

The Ending

Sinister, ambiguous and very, very unsettling.


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The Shakespeare Olympics

Friday July 27th marks the start of the London 2012 Olympic Games.  All the hype of the last few months finally comes down to the familiar routine: the torch relay, the drug tests, the photo opps. And then the competitions themselves, everything from Archery to Wrestling, with rowing, cycling,  beach volleyball, table tennis and synchronized swimming in between.

More relevant to this blog is the culture-fest known as the Cultural Olympiad. Like the athletic Olympics,  this has something for everyone : concerts, dance, theatre; music, exhibitions, events. Most significant of all is the World Shakespeare Festival, a celebration of the work, life and times of England’s greatest playwright, the ‘crowning glory of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad.’ (also known as the Shakespeare Olympics!)

There are tickets available for The Globe ‘triathalon’, ‘pentathlon’ and ‘marathon’ (he did write 37 plays) and those of us who can’t make it to London can get a feeling for the whole experience here.….

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The Speckled Band (eBook of the Month)

And now for something completely different! From the ridiculous to the sublime, from E. L. James to someone who can really write.  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote the best-sellers of his day, inventing one of literature’s most enduring characters, and writing with elegance and style. I have always loved his inventive Sherlock Holmes detective stories and strange gothic tales.

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Fifty shades of what?

The things I do for this blog. As a feminist with a degree in literary studies, the last thing that I should be doing on the weekend is reading one of the Fifty Shades of Grey while my husband watches the football on TV.  But that’s what’s happening now.

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The Chatham School Affair (Book Review)

I can’t resist mysteries. Thomas H. Cook’s novel caught my eye in Imprints last year when I was scanning the crime fiction shelves. A shadowy red cover, an intriguing title, the promise on the back of the book – ‘the arrival of Elizabeth Channing in 1926, to teach art at the Chatham School … was the catalyst for a tragic chain of events that would culminate in a murder trial’ – meant that I was hooked straightaway. I had never heard of Thomas H. Cook, but the cover’s byline ‘Edgar Award Winning Novel’ and the ‘read the first page’ test convinced me.  The Chatham School Affair found a place in my shopping bag, along with some Haigh’s  chocolate truffles and a bottle of red wine.

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Champagne Reading

Happy Bastille Day! Like all Francophiles, Adelaideans are using Saturday 14th July as an excuse to celebrate everything French. Whether  you’re going to Le Bistrot or Le Matin Calme, eating macarons or crème caramel, drinking champagne or cognac: enjoy 14 juillet! Most of my friends are watching the Tour de France and a group of us are making sure that we read our favourite French novels this weekend.

Another way of celebrating is to do some Champagne Reading. A gorgeous new book called Great, Grand & Famous Champagnes: behind the bubbles was published late last year. It’s beautifully-illustrated with pictures of Champagne-Ardenne, and photographs of happy champagne drinkers, everyone from Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart (in Casablanca) to Salvador Dali. There are lavish reproductions of European paintings, lovely Belle Époque advertisements and ‘champagne on the screen’, from Sean Connery’s 007 (sparkling wine was de rigueur for seduction 1960s’ style) to Eddy and Patsy knocking back the Bolly.

To quote Bette Davis:

There are times in a woman’s life when the only thing that helps is a glass of champagne.

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