Tag Archives: madness

The Little Hammer by John Kelly

DATE FINISHED: July 29th, 2012 

RATED: **** (4.5)

SYNOPSIS:  When he is 9 years old, the artist despatches a paleontologist he meets on the beach by means of his hammer.  When he returns home, his saint-worshipping Grandmother colludes in covering up the crime, which has remained undiscovered as the artist enters his thirties – but it keeps re-surfacing, with the compulsion to confess jarring against the fact of getting away with murder.  Following a trip with the mysterious Billie Maguire during which the artist is filmed telling a farcical and falsified version of his life story, the statue of the Holy Infant of Prague finds its way to the Grandmother’s home in Ireland.  In her little village, miracles occur just as the artist’s life and mind begin to unravel.

THOUGHTS:  Told in the swirling Irish vernacular of the archetypal storyteller at the bar – “Would you believe me if I told you…?” – one would be forgiven for mistrusting the narrator from the beginning.   Read more of this post

The Book of Colour by Julia Blackburn

DATE FINISHED: July 24th, 2012 

RATED: **** 

SYNOPSIS:  When the family is cursed by a ‘devil’ islander, the narrator’s grandfather as a boy is uprooted from the home he has known and transplanted into an alternative island life, now under the care of his uncle and ‘his mulatto’, while his father stays behind, and his mother is placed in an asylum.  A history of curses, mixed race unions and cultural bigotry haunts the family through generations.

THOUGHTS:  In the first part of the book some intriguing images are introduced but the characters appear as though within a dream or trance-like state.  In the second part of the book, however, the narrative becomes more linear Read more of this post

A True Story Based on Lies by Jennifer Clement

DATE FINISHED: July 19th, 2012 

RATED: **** (4.5)

SYNOPSIS:  Leonora is raised on Mexican folklore, its rhythm in her blood. After studying at a convent she is taken on as maid and nanny to a well-off couple, but when she falls pregnant by her employer, Mr. O’ Connor, she must give up her child to the couple for the sake of society and appearance. Aura Olivia calls Mrs O’ Connor mother, but Leonora’s blood courses through the household’s veins. In a house full of women, sometimes it is hard to know exactly where the power lies…

THOUGHTS:  Although set only decades ago, Clement’s prose has a timeless, storybook feel. Read more of this post

In a Dark Wood by Amanda Craig

DATE FINISHED: July 18th, 2012 

RATED: **** 

SYNOPSIS:  Benedick is miserable: recently divorced, acting career in the doldrums, at war with his father, and barely able to look after himself, let alone his two young children (who ex-wife Georgie keeps insisting spend time with him). Taking refuge in the home of Ruth, the woman who raised him as one of her own, Benedick suddenly realises he can remember almost nothing about his real mother, who committed suicide when he was six years old. Inspired by a book of fairy tales written and illustrated by Laura, he embarks upon a quest to discover more about her, whether she was mad as many of her ‘friends’ seem to claim, and what drove her beyond the brink.

THOUGHTS:  In the sheer unlikeability of lead character Benedick, Craig sets herself for a potentially huge downfall – he is irritating, whiny, hypocritical, rude, quite simply unpleasant. Those readers who force themselves beyond this, however, will be rewarded Read more of this post

The Limits of Enchantment by Graham Joyce

DATE FINISHED: October 14th, 2011             

RATED: ****

SYNOPSIS:  Fern has been raised by the village midwife, Mammy, assisting at births since her early teens and catching glimpses of Mammy’s magic as she prepares folk remedies for those who don’t quite trust the NHS. But when a young girl who has visited Mammy for help dies soon afterwards, scandal and gossip runs rife in the village, and Mammy’s own health goes into rapid decline. Fern is left to cope with her grief over Mammy, the prospect of eviction, and the discovery of her own gifts and calling; but who can she trust to help her through?

THOUGHTS:  Although it sounds trite in synopsis, The Limits of Enchantment is surprisingly engaging and thought-provoking in the telling. Read more of this post

The Judgement of Strangers by Andrew Taylor

DATE FINISHED: October 9th, 2011             

RATED: *** 

SYNOPSIS:  When widowed vicar David Bycroft re-marries, his daughter returns home after finishing her exams, and they take in the son of a family friend for a couple of months. The anticipated familial harmony, however, is interrupted by a busybody parishioner, a missing cat, two young and mysterious new locals, and David’s wife’s research into local historical mad priest, Francis Youlgreave.

THOUGHTS:  The second part of the Roth trilogy, this volume is told from the perspective of the minor character from Part 1 who most piqued my interest: David Bycroft. Read more of this post

White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi

DATE FINISHED: September 2nd, 2011

RATED: *** (3.5)

SYNOPSIS:  Twins Miranda and Eliot live in a house that is haunted by generations, a house with its own way of getting its own way.  Eliot seems immune to the ghosts they live with, but following the death of their mother, Miranda sees and hears more and more of them and her own existence becomes proportionally less and less.  Which family will claim her – the living or the dead?

THOUGHTS:  Oyeyemi’s prose style will not be to everyone’s taste, Read more of this post

Florence & Giles by John Harding

DATE FINISHED: April 30th, 2011

RATED: *** (3.5)

SYNOPSIS:  In a gothic mansion, Florence and her younger brother Giles are in the ‘care’ of their absentee uncle. The uncle has forbidden his niece from learning to read (and education of any kind), but she has secretly defied him and spends every available moment devouring the contents of the library. When Giles is returned home from boarding school, a governess enters Blithe House – soon to be followed by a second governess, after the first suffers a tragic accident. Florence is convinced that Blithe is now haunted, and that Miss Taylor harbours the spirit of her predecessor.  Florence is also determined to foil Miss Taylor’s plans to steal her brother away…

THOUGHTS:   Read more of this post

Doctor Salt by Gerard Donovan

DATE FINISHED: April 28th, 2011

RATED: *** (3.5)

SYNOPSIS:  This two-part novel begins with Sunless, travelling to and from the Pharmalak hospital, participating in trials for new pills, for every kind of anxiety disorder. In the second half of the book we meet Salt, whose life-course is altered irrevocably by the aftermath of a family tragedy in his early childhood, shedding new light on the world of Sunless.

THOUGHTS: Read more of this post

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

DATE FINISHED: March 23rd, 2011

RATED: ** 

SYNOPSIS: Hundreds is a country manor going steadily into decline in the post-war years.  Its inhabitants, the Ayres family, believe that there is a sinister presence in the house, and the family doctor watches aghast as the family’s mental health declines as the house almost literally crumbles around them.  Is it a ghost at work, or something more human, or more sinister?

THOUGHTS: Read more of this post