Picnic at Hanging Rock -Joan Lindsay

classics, mystery

 

To the next person who reads this book:

Picnic at Hanging Rock, set in Bendigo, Victoria, is a mysterious, haunting story that has many moments that are chilling.

Four girls from a prestigious English boarding school in the Australian bush in the 1900’s go missing from a school picnic at Hanging Rock.

Hanging Rock is vividly described – yet perhaps better is the detail Lindsay doesn’t provide. The uncertainty and mystery around the rock makes it seem the same in nature as some of the deepest, most unfathomable places in the ocean – unexplored.

We never gain any explanation as to what becomes of Miranda, with ‘corn starch’ hair, who is lovely as a white swan (the white swan becomes a symbol for her ghost, or memory) or Miranda Quade, bookish and factual. Irma Leopold, an heiress, is found, but everyone who has contact with the rock seem strangely to be unable to recall certain details or whole events that unfold on or around it.

This story depicts how the disappearance of the girls at Hanging Rock devastates the many lives that were touched by this single event. Lindsay trails the characters linked to that day, and we see, that the disaster of the rock reaches much further than the geographical space the rock inhabits itself. The disappearance ripples forth with invisible ways of horror into the community.

The charming depictions of the Australian bush, the rock, the boarding house and the story’s characters  make for a compelling read, and creates images that return to the readers mind long after the story is finished.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

 

 

 

The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson

classics, Pschological horror

 

To the next person who reads this book:

We are introduced, first, to the house. ‘No live organism can continue for long to exist soley under conditions of absolute reality,’ it begins.

Hill house, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stnoe of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.

Welcome to Hill House: the first novel I have read that left me feeling genuinely scared; it was a creeping sense of fear – the kind that slowly  settles over you like a shadow casting nearer without your noticing. When you do, the fear is gripping and hard to shake.

This fear lingered. Even when I wasn’t reading The Haunting of Hill House, I was thinking about it.

The juxtaposition between the first sunny morning of protagonist Eleanour’s arrival to the house and the dark, mysterious inner rooms of the house is incredibly effective.

Three people, Eleanour, Theodora and Luke come to the house upon invitation from Dr. John Montague, Doctor of Philosophy. But what he wants  to study in the house is far from what his doctorate might suggest.

None of the three guests are aware of the reasons why they have been invited to the house, but each have their own reasons for accepting the invitation.

What I like most about this novel was whether or not Hill House was haunted by the dead, or the living – of which does the title refer?

Eleanour is an unreliable narrator, it is hard to trust what of her narration has been warped by her own strange version of reality.

She has spent the majority of her young life friendless and estranged – being introduced into the social setting of Hill House, Eleanour comes accross as slightly neorotic and strange.

The story tracks the slow unravelling of Eleanour in the hosue – but whether it is of a supernatural nature or not is uncertain.

 

 

 

The Bird’s Nest – Shirley Jackson

classics, Pschological horror

To the next person who reads this book:

The Bird’s Nest is one of Jackson’s earlier works. It came before The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle.

The Bird’s Nest introduces us first to Elizabeth Richmond, who lives with her outspoken Aunt, works at a desk in a museum and, otherwise leads an uneventful life.

But the more I think of her, the more interesting she becomes: she at once comes across as lacking in some way – of self, or personality. She leads a quiet life of routine and habit, diligently going to work every day, then coming home to Aunt Morgen, where she eats dinner with Aunt Morgen and never interrupts Aunt Morgen to speak.

Elizabeth also appears to have no friends. It’s rather like she is living a life that is ‘good’ and ‘well-behaved’ – seeming not to have any wants or desires (or if she ever did, they have long been forgotten or supressed). Her life, much like her work at the museum, seems very methodical and vacant.

Elizabeth’s quiet existence is disrupted by the affliction of terrible headaches and backaches, along with mysterious notes being left on her desk at work, and the following of some unexplained events. The headaches, after reaching a point of severity  prompt a visit to a doctor, which then eventuates in Elizabeth’s seeing a psychologist, where we find that Elizabeth’s body hosts three other personalities…

The awakening of these personalities seem at first terrifying, particularly in the way that Betsy keeps asking if she can open her eyes.

The revealing of each new personality tells us something more of Elizabeth’s life – and how she came to exist in the way that she does.

Jackson is especially clever in the way that she shows how these different personalities interact, not just with one another, but also with Aunt Morgen and Doctor Wright (Elizabeth’s doctor), which I especially enjoyed.

Also interesting was the question of identity, and who we are. In the war between the personalities inside Elizabeth’s body, we are made to think about what actually makes us who we are inside, and who we would be, if say, another personality suddenly gained consciousness over our lives while we remained unconscious to this fact.

Would who we are, or who we were, be dead? Do we cease to be? For me, this was an interesting question. It is a strange thought to imagine my body walking around with someone else living, acting, thinking, and being on my behalf.

Lord of the Flies – William Golding

classics, survivalist

 

To the next person who reads this book:

This book was good from the outset. We are introduced to the story: Schoolboys from a plane wreck, alone on an island. There are no adults.

How they organise themselves in their new environment is the next test they are faced with. They have food, water, but they don’t have meat.

A chief is voted on. Ralph – whose character-struggles are at once admirable – is the main character of this story. I was stricken by his courage, wisdom and sense of fairness.

The conch, found at the bottom of the lagoon, is a constant symbol of law and order – the rules they create themselves are the only things keeping them from savagery.

How they descend slowly into savage beasts is haunting, the beast of the land is in them all.

By far the scariest thing about this story is how like a game survival becomes. Even death has a place in this tribal game of chiefs and thrones.

keeping the fire going is their only hope. If they forget about why they need the fire going, they forget their hope of being rescued.

Golding builds a fabulous tension, and as readers, we are really made to reflect on the sinister cruelty of human nature when given the chance, though at the same time, the characters, they are just boys – they are just children. A thought-provoking juxtaposition.

The Glass Bead Game – Herman Hesse

classics

AmazonImage source: Amazon

 

To the next person who reads this book:

Set in remote Castalia in the twenty-third century, Joseph knecht becomes the Magister Ludi. We follow Knecht from childhood throughout the course of his life.

I liked this book because of its eastern influence – we imagine a monastery, a minimal existence in which meditation is practiced three times a day.

The idea of belonging to a scholarly, monk-like society is very appealing – the culture of Castalia is described so well I think it is what drew me to the book.

This novel deals constantly with themes of a ‘spiritual awakening,’ as well as that of a student growing into master, the two being one, with a shared fate.

Interesting is the decline of this world and its need to be balanced with the mainstream society which funds it existence.

A complete world set in the future, at a time where war is a thing of the past an politics and mainstream society are seen as conquest and the struggle for power.

But the Castalian world is not without its own sinister implications: It is a world primarily of assimilation, integration and conformity.

This force of conformity comes from the ‘Order’, as the novel explores what it means to become apart of it. The existence of the order is dependent on the willingness of the people to assimilate, which for me, felt almost similar to totalitarian rule.

Favourite tales from this story were those centred around the music master, and the hermit who taught Joseph to understand the rules of I Ching.

Hesse has a wonderfully accurate way of describing; he details this world in such a way that as a reader, I was gifted with several personal revelations.

At the End of Joseph’s tale is a collection of his works. Poetry from his childhood, which as a Castalian, was his first rebellion, and three lives – stories where one writes of a certain epoch by imagining they are characters immersed in the time period. Even these speak of the main themes that run through out the entire novel; the cycle from student to master and spiritual awakenings.

This novel had an end that was unpredictable, but satisfying, in that it was so wonderfully orchestrated it couldn’t have ended in any other way.

Notes from the Underground – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

classics
15827137

Source: Amazon

 

To the next person who reads this book:

Notes from the Underground: I wanted to know what the underground was.

At once I was drawn in by the tone of the narrator. This was an interesting character. The story is about how the narrator : –

missed life through decaying morally in a corner, not having sufficient means, losing the habit of living, and carefully cultivating [his] anger underground.

It soon became clear that the ‘underground’ was a place the narrator lived, not literally speaking, after falling out of the grooves of society and forgetting what it meant to live and to be human.

This novel is about the anti-hero. It makes the point  that we can hardly live as people without our books, without our books telling us who we are and how we should be.

Important to this character is the anger and spitefulness he has grown, or ‘cultivated’ – which is more harmful to him than it is the other he directs it at. More importantly, he lets it, out of spite.

The question that leads this novel to the end is the question of why and how this narrator who has forgotten what it is to live, love and feel happiness; whose existence is the underground; got to be the way he was.  The Underground is the place a person exists in when they cease being  a social being, conforming to social standards, or caring for themselves as human beings.

In many ways – this is what depression does to us. And there is no doubt that the narrator is not suffering from a great ‘mental pain.’