I’ve wanted to read more McCarthy since reading The Road for my dissertation, and after a little exploration of his novels, I decided Blood Meridian was the one I wanted to dip into.
And my thoughts are rather mixed, to be honest. Blood Meridian is, at times, written beautifully, with descriptive passages that made me shiver: McCarthy has a knack for representing such carnal and brutal violence with such eloquence that its expression is almost awe-inspiring. And that, I think, is McCarthy’s forte. I think by far his ability to describe events and images so vividly with a rare metaphor or set of words is what he does best. The problem is that everything else is… a little clunky. Very clunky at times, in fact.
Let’s start with McCarthy’s writing style, because it’s rather unorthodox. He uses punctuation very sparingly, choosing to narrate dialogue in the normal body of text, rather than using speech marks. And props to him, I don’t think there was a single instance wherein I was unsure who was talking. Having said that, there was multiple occasions where I lost the flow of the sentence due to the lack of commas. It works for the most part for him, but in particularly longwinded sentences, dealing with complex or multiple issues, a few more commas would have made all the difference.
On top of that, McCarthy uses a lot of uncommon words, and a decent amount of the dialogue is in Spanish with no translation. That was fine for me, as I studied Spanish for several years, so I could at least catch the gist of what was being said, and the dialogue herein is hardly crucial, but for people who know no Spanish, it seems a little redundant. Add to that, the sheer hoard of characters, several of which have two names, and the constantly changing cast, and occasional splitting of the characters, and you have a narrative that is kind of hard to follow.
There isn’t really a plot here. There’s definitely a journey at play, albeit a pointless and never-ending journey, and I get that that’s what McCarthy uses to explore the reality of life in the American West. And as for Blood Meridian’s status as an ‘Anti-Western’, I love it. I love that the novel subverts traditional representations of the western genre as glorious, and exciting, and instead presents a bleaker reality of endless violence, often with no purpose or outcome. That was great, and I think that also works for The Road, but while we’re comparing the two, The Road, I think works in its simplicity; it’s about a man and his boy traversing the decrepit, apocalyptic American wasteland. But there’s a story there between the man and his son, a really emotionally engaging one at that. Blood Meridian, on the other hand, follows a character referred to only as The Kid (although his name changes to The Man for a dozen pages at the end without warning, when he grows up) and a hoard of minor characters which come and go with little effect. I was sad to see a few character’s deaths, but they had little emotional impact compared to any more conventional books, where the characters are fleshed out properly.
I think, ultimately, the apparent simplicity of language, or, let’s say the limitations of it, work well for a simple, coherent narrative, which Blood Meridian isn’t. Blood Meridian is really complex, dealing with dozens of minor characters and events of violence, all of which have no real effect on anything, which I understand in terms of the genre, but narratively, doesn’t work so well for me.
I did really like the character of The Judge. I kind of wish he were more fleshed out, and less elusive, but then I kind of like the ambiguity of his character as a result. He seems to have an almost supernatural, God-like presence. Although if he were one character, it would clearly be the devil, although I find that a little narrow-sighted, and I’d like to think his character is more complex than a re-appropriation of the devil. In fact, I think the whole point of Blood Meridian is that there is no one embodiment of evil; evil exists in all of us and often needs no motive or explanation to rear its ugly head.
So, all in all, I don’t regret reading this novel. It’s written absolutely beautifully, if enigmatic at times, and although it lacks a real plot or story, I don’t think that detracts from its literary value. In fact, I think it would be rather ignorant to suggest that. However, in place of a fixed narrative, I think readers need something more. And I think Blood Meridian gives us something in place, but not quite enough emotional, or intellectual substance to warrant its length. I think if Blood Meridian had been maybe 200 pages, with some of its minor characters and a few events cut, it would have been a better read, with a little more coherence. If anything, it definitely compels me to read The Road again, or perhaps some other works of his. I would quite like to sink my teeth into No Country For Old Men. I’ll be sure to write my thoughts upon it when I do.
If you’re hoping for a cheery, optimistic review, you’ve come to the wrong place. This review is full of bleakness and despair, so you’d be probably be better off reading a more pleasant review of Lemony Snicket’s A series of Unfortunate Events. I’m just kidding, this show was fucking brilliant, and now with the obligatory homage out of the way, I’ll get to why.
I grew up on Lemony Snicket’s dreary, pessimistic book series, which arguably informed my writing style early on, and they were probably my favourite books throughout my childhood and early teens, with Harry Potter offering the only real competition, so you can imagine how excited I was when I heard that the books were being adapted by Netflix, a company with a great track record for original content, especially after the relatively mediocre movie, which, in any case, only dealt with the first 3 books, and there are so many good stories in the series that deserve to be brought to life on screen. So after powering through the first season, which consists of the first four books, I’m eager to share my impressions.
There’s so much to talk about, so I’ll start off with the format of the show. One of the big questions for me, after the casting was announced, was how much screen time would be given to each book, and I think they got it just right. Each episode averages about 50 minutes, and there are two episodes to each book, equating to around an hour, 40 minutes: more or less feature-length. It gives adequate time to explore some of the smaller events of the books, or, for a decent amount of the show, exercise some new ideas, which I think for the most part paid off well (more on that later.)
I think the casting was virtually spot on, too. Neil Patrick Harris was perfect for Count Olaf, as he really shows in the second and third books, I think. His character, and some of the main beats of the story borrowed a little from the movie, which I wasn’t too keen about, but that’s largely for the first episode. The children were really good, also. Especially, Violet. I think Klaus was a little inferior, although whether that was the writing, acting, or a combination of both, it’s difficult to say. Sunny wasn’t given too much attention, but her dialogue subtitles were consistently entertaining. I also liked her teeth-using scenes, which were so ridiculously and obviously fake, but that fit with the humour and style of the show.
And speaking of the children, I’ll say that I loved their costume design, as well. See, the children’s outfits are vibrant, pastille colours that I think purposefully and ironically offset the bleak events and feelings surrounding each of them. (I’m not much of a fashion fanatic, but I think that’s right.) And this same, vibrant style permeates the show’s aesthetics, which I love. There’s a colourful, victorian - almost steampunk, at times - effect created. Although, of course, there are as many dark, bleak backgrounds, but it adds a nice contrast, and is ultimately rather pleasing to look at.
This brings me nicely onto the tone of the show, which I think is as close to the books as it could get, once you factor in all the elements of adaptation.The narration works well, especially with Patrick Warbuton’s deadpan tone. The dark humour was exactly what I’d expect, and had me laughing aloud on a number of occasions.
I’m going to enter spoiler territory here, if you haven’t already watched, so be warned. I wasn’t sure what the show was doing with the Baudelaire’s parents, when it was (apparently) announced that they were not, in fact, dead. I was understandably dubious about this drastic change from the books, but when the plot twisted, and it showed that actually, these scenes were not linear, I was actually rather impressed. It’s the kind of false hope that Lemony Snicket would love dangling before you, before tearing it away like the carpet beneath you. So that was one of the many changes I liked from the books, and I’m not one of those people who wants an adaptation to stick exactly to the source material; Ive seen screenwriters try to do that too many times, and fail miserably.
I can see the influence of Chaplin-esque comedy in some scenes, especially the second episode of The Reptile Room, where the comedy is bordering on slapstick, and more generally, the comedy lies largely on the ignorance of its characters, for instance guardians not realising the disguise in each book is Count Olaf, and the situations this creates. It worked well for the first four books, and although I already cannot wait until the next season, I wonder if the show will be able to mix up the formula that could become repetitive.
I really liked the ending, although I wasn’t too sold on the musical ending - that seemed a little out of place, although punctuated with enough jokes that it wasn't too far removed from the show’s style. It was nice to see The Miserable Mill effectively brought to life on screen, as this was the first book that was not included in the movie, and I’m pleased to say it was equally good. There are some great stories in next season, including what’ll be the first two episode of season 2, The Austere Academy, so that can’t come quick enough.
Overall, I loved the show. It was the adaptation I’d been waiting all this time for, and although it wasn’t perfect, it was as good as I could imagine from a screen adaptation, with the added bonus of being able to watch it all in one go. (Yes, my weekend was very lazy, but I’m not even sorry.) If you’re not watching A Series of Unfortunate Events right now, I don’t know what the hell you’re doing with your life.
(Note on the top poster: apparently, this was fanmade, but in my opinion superior to the one Netflix went with in the end.)
I read the novel ‘A Monster Calls’ as contextual reading for my dissertation, the focus of which was how people deal with grief differently (Or Don’t). So I knew what was coming when I sat down to watch this movie, and I have to say right off the bat that this movie blew me away.
From the first scene of the movie, - Conor getting ready for school, washing his own clothes, etc. - I knew the story was in good hands. The movie introduces its main themes subtly and often profoundly. It doesn’t treat you like a child, which is interesting because the fantastical nature of the movie, and the age of its protagonist, somewhat position it as a family movie, when in reality it deals with subjects that even some adults can’t handle. Having said that, there’s no reason children shouldn’t watch this movie, and, in fact, if they can handle the mild horror of the monster, which passes quickly, then I would actively encourage it, because this might well be the most important movie on dealing with grief.
I love how the story, which is relatively simple on the surface, although loaded with tiny details and subtleties, allows its audience to delve into the psychological fallout of Conor’s situation, to the extent that I think if someone is really struggling with denial, this movie would go an awfully long way in helping them understand. For some people, this movie will be a feature-length therapy session, articulated better than any therapist could in that timeframe. I think it’s a huge testament to the power of telling stories, because for all their indirection, they can often say things so much better than one can using scientific and factual language.
But to speak about the movie as a movie, it was equally incredible. The pacing was as perfect as I’ve seen; there was no scene or even shot that I noticed, that I felt didn’t add something new to the story, or had some purpose, and there was no moment where I just wanted to get to the next development, because the movie carried you at the perfect speed that you didn’t have time to think about it.
The acting was also perfect. Conor was better than I could have ever hoped, and it’s genuinely mind-blowing that any human, let alone child, can have such empathy to fully understand the character as if it were themselves, and then express those things in such a human way that they felt as real as anyone in the room. The other characters were great, too, although I wasn’t so convinced by Sigourney Weaver’s accent. And since I’m talking about the only few things that I disliked about this movie, I’ll briefly mention the bullying scenes. I found them too false, which took away from the immense realism of the rest of the movie, albeit only for a moment. I, myself, find it nigh impossible to accurately write child bullies, because even if you transcribed an actual conversation between a bully and his prey with all the lucidity in the world, it would just feel fake to our adult minds. I picked up on this in the book, and was disappointed to see it was an issue in the movie, too, because it seemed Patrick Ness (who also wrote the screenplay, fucking hats off to the guy, as well) opted for the cliche bully, who calls Conor by his surname, and speaks noticeably posher than the other kids, which sounds faker than a whore’s tits. Having said that it was such a minor detail in an amazingly executed movie that it’s barely worth mentioning.
As a side note, I loved Liam Neeson's voice as the monster. After watching the movie, I couldn't imagine anyone else for the part.
I loved the stories that the monster tells, too, and the fact that they opted for a different art style for those scenes, which was beautiful, and linked nicely back to Conor and his mother’s love of art. They all tied perfectly into the climax, too, which was so powerful, I can’t even describe it. You just have to watch this movie, but don’t expect to be leaving the theatre with dry-eyes, and I don’t say that lightly.
This movie got great reviews, and it’s rare that I say this, but I still don’t think they’re good enough. I think the main criticism is that the movie doesn’t fit neatly into a target audience or genre, but ultimately those paradigms only work for movies that accept them, and this movie doesn’t try to fit into any boxes. It’s a movie for anyone and everyone, and I say this with the utmost sincerity; in a world full of denial and deceit, we need to look within and understand ourselves in order to understand the world around us, and if there’s one movie that helps us do that, it’s ‘A Monster Calls’. It seems insufficient to refer to it as a movie; ‘A Monster Calls’ is a deep, emotional experience, one whose catharsis may lead to peace and acceptance for so many people.
I read this book on recommendation, and, boy, I enjoyed it. I really did. Not in the same way I enjoy commercial thrillers or in the way that more profound literary novels satisfy me, but probably somewhere in between.
And I suppose all in all, The Catcher in the Rye had some great moments where I set the book down for a moment (well, okay my phone, if I’m being honest) to ponder certain ideas or allusions that Salinger presented. But it also had moments of mediocrity and parts that I didn’t feel added anything to Holden’s characterisation that hadn’t already been implied. Because, let’s be honest, the novel is essentially a character study, and I’m perfectly happy with that. In fact, for me, it was reminiscent of The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks, although of course, predating Banks, and most likely inspiring him. And overall, Holden is a very interesting character study, and despite being self-contradictory in almost everything he says, and a complete hypocrite, and a bit of an arsehole, generally, he is still relatable and likeable.
I won’t get into the historical context of the novel, because I don’t know enough about it, and wouldn’t to make even more a fool of myself, so I’ll leave my thoughts here as I read the novel, as a character study.
I initially liked Salinger’s breaking of the classic ‘show don’t tell rule’ by first showing the reader something, through dialogue or description, and then again telling us through Holden’s inner monologue. In fact, it’s more like ‘show and tell’, which is great for showing the reader how analytical he is, to a clinical level, perhaps, but it got rather tiresome for me at one point, and remained that way, but maybe that was the point. Who knows? Salinger, probably, although also probably not. Examples are littered through the novel, from the first few pages, where he gets annoyed with his teacher for repeating himself, and calling him ‘Boy’, yet Holden uses the word boy repeatedly, and also repeats himself all the time. Furthermore he crucifies traits of many characters that he himself exhibits. There are many examples of this, but one I highlighted was him getting angry at people for being late, and then later getting angry at people for criticising people being later: ‘If a girl looks swell when she meets you, who gives a damn if she’s late/ Nobody.’ This all leads me to infer that what Holden really hates, is himself. And there came a point in the novel, towards the end, where everything started to come together and I felt a tremendous amount of pity for him. It was around where he goes home to see Phoebe, and we found out more about his deceased brother, and from this point, I started to look back at his personality and behaviour and the way that his brother’s death influenced them, and in a way, the novel becomes a study of grief. Although, perhaps that is more my projection of things that interest me, as I’ve read and wrote a lot around grief recently. Ultimately stories can be interpreted in as many ways as there are readers, and I certainly took something away from this novel.
Ultimately, I’m glad I read The Catcher in the Rye, and I’m still pondering the metaphor that is the book’s namesake, although it’s implications remind me again of Frank from The Wasp Factory, and somewhat of Alex from A Clockwork Orange. I absolutely love reading unreliable narrators like these, especially as one such character is at the core of the outline I have for my next novel/novella.
I’m perhaps a little late to the party with this one, and I heard a lot of good things about Stranger Things, but after finishing up a few shows I was watching, I finally got around to the 80s horror/ sci-fi homage that had been filling my Facebook feed for weeks. And I can report that I have very few bad things to say about it.
Firstly, I might add that I didn’t live through the 80s so a lot of the references might have gone straight over my head, but within minutes of watching, I was already consumed in this world that simulated a lot of old Stephen King movies and sci-fi flicks.From its opening credits, to the soundtrack, it perfectly invoked a world to which it paid homage.
But for all its intentional tropes and cliches, Stranger Things presents a great cast of characters and a pretty investable story, the likes of which you might find in a feature-length movie, so I’m grateful that we got a little longer to explore the story in its TV format. The bravado of the boys definitely reminded me of Stephen King’s IT and ET also, my favourite of which was Dustin, who offered much of the comic relief.
And speaking of comedy, Stranger Things had, I think, a perfect mix of genuinely tense horror scenes, laugh out loud comedy, drama, and mystery. It effectively takes all of the best elements of all of the genres and their respective tropes from 80s movies, and combines them into one, which could have gone terribly wrong, but thankfully hit the nail on the head.
And as a side note on references, there was one scene where the boys hide from a helicopter ahead, which bore a lot of similarity to a scene from The Fellowship of the Ring where the party hide from Saruman's birds. I wonder if that was intentional, because it doesn't quite fit the theme, but at the same time, why not reference a great movie? Or quite possibly I was just imagining the correlation.
There were times when the characters reacted very humanly to events, and others where they seemed relatively unaffected by life-threatening events, the latter of which is quite conventional for its genres, and as a result you can kind of see where the show fades between its various genres. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, mind, it adds a little more character to the show. Similarly with the special effects: some of the visuals were really good for a television production, and others were almost laughable, the way children would laugh at the special effects of The Thing, let’s say, which again is very in line with its conventions but maybe next season they’ll step up the sfx with a higher budget.
I would certainly welcome future seasons, but I wonder whether the writers will keep the same cast, or mix it up like American Horror Story or something. I think either approach would work well, because there’s definitely potential for deeper characterisation, yet at the same time I feel as though the season rounded off quite nicely. I suppose that remains to be seen. I know the writers have said their ideas for a second season are ‘darker and weirder’ which, as a massive horror fan, I’d welcome.
Overall, I really enjoyed Stranger Things, an unexpected treat when it turned up on Netflix. Now if A Series of Unfortunate Events would be released, that’d be great.
It’s been a while since I posted last, and I’ve wanted to start uploading more frequently again, so I’m going to try and write a post each month giving my thoughts on what I've been reading.
Firstly, I suppose, is my own novel, which I’ve been re-reading closely whilst making extensive notes in preparation for a second draft, which I’m on schedule to start in a few days. There is much to be improved upon, from character consistencies to whole plot threads that need changing, but I’m feeling hopeful that I can fix everything I’ve found.
Without further ado, then, the first novel I read this month (or at least I think so. It could have been late last month, but who cares?) was The Loney by Andrew Michael Huxley. I’d wanted to read this for a long time, as it was consistently at the top of horror charts, although I wouldn’t describe it as such. It certainly has elements of horror, but it also has just as many feet in other genres, though I accept it’s one of those novels that’s hard to pin down to a single genre. The first thing I’ll say about The Loney is how beautifully it’s written. I found myself closing the novel on several occasions, just to revel in a particularly evocative metaphor. Huxley’s descriptive style is, in my opinion, perfect. He has a knack for painting a whole picture in a few cherry-picked words. I personally can’t stand lengthy description that goes straight out the back of my head, but Huxley gets it just right on many occasions. I loved the characters for the most part, especially of the boys and their relationship, and it was most likely this that kept me invested in the novel - and I was - because it probably wasn’t the plot. The story wasn’t bad, and I found the ending paid off, but it was rather drawn out and dilute. Overall a great read, especially for a debut novel, but it’s clear that Huxley’s strengths lie in the writing more than the story.
Most of my month’s reading was taken up by the mammoth of a book that is The Passage. I’d already read a lot of the novel before, but with the release of the final book in the trilogy, I couldn’t put off reading the first two any longer. It’s easy to see why The Passage is so successful. It’s epic, thrilling, and engaging on a personal level. I loved the world Cronin created in the second part of the novel, if it did take a while to get going what with the lengthy descriptions of everyone in town and what colour horse they have and what the horse is called, which frankly should have been cut, but whatever, I know a lot of people like that kind of expedition, though I’d rather get to the action first. At times you do have to be patient with Cronin’s prose but the overall impression is epic, and I can’t wait to get on to The Twelve and continue Amy’s story in his beautifully intricate post-apocalyptic world.
The last book I read was Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse. (See, I don’t just read Horror and Thrillers.) It’s been a few days since I finished it, and I’m still not quite sure what to make of it. It centres around one man’s exploration of his self and his place in society, ranging from deep philosophical thought to Stephen-King-esque surrealism at the end, in which I suppose he travels inside himself. It’s certainly an interesting read, the likes of which I would like to read much more, because at the end of the day the novel isn’t so much about Harry as it is the reader and their own thoughts and experiences. By which I mean it certainly makes one reflect inwardly. Hesse’s rather unbiased when it comes to the implications of the story’s events. In fact, the ending is decidedly ambiguous, but Hesse’s stance on society and existentialism is quite open to interpretation. As I said, I don’t suppose it matters. The real takeaway is in the readers’ thoughts of their own lives. As I write this now, it reminded me vaguely of Inarritu’s Birdman, which I really need to re-watch.
I also started reading Stephen King’s newest collection of short stories, The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, of which I’ve read a handful of short stories, mostly pretty good, but a couple meh. Anyway, more thoughts on that next month (probably).
After over a year of writing, two computers, God knows how many cups of tea, the first draft of my novel is finished, and as I prepare to edit the fucker, here is a little taster, the first four chapters:
Stephen King’s sequel to his thrilling hard-boiled detective novel Mr Mercedes hit stores in June, and I’ll be the first to admit it’s taken me far too long to read it. But I finally have, and I loved it. I strongly recommend you go and start the series, or read any of King’s greats rather than reading my meagre words, but here are my musings anyway.
I loved Mr Mercedes. It wasn’t perfect, and it wasn’t even amongst King’s best but with over 50 novels to his name, that’s not half bad. It was thrilling and kept me turning the pages with genuine intrigue. It’s the kind of book that reminds me how much I love reading after the relatively laborious efforts of lesser writers.
The biggest negative comment I’ve heard, and this seems to be an issue a lot of fans shared, was the pacing of the first half or so of the novel, and the fact that Bill Hodges, our protagonist of the first novel and probably this too, doesn’t appear until about forty percent of the way through. At the time this wasn’t a problem for me; I was thoroughly invested in the characters of Pete Saubers and Morris, and although there was little action, I found myself as eager to keep reading as I was in the build-up to the climax. In retrospect, it might have been an idea to feature Bill earlier in the novel, although I understand that his part in the larger story didn’t come into play until later.
The characters were great, the story was thrilling and engaging, and the writing kept me reading without any slow down in pace. The writing is largely commercial, I would say, in that it’s very easy to read and serves the story great, and is even seasoned with some great description but for the most part leaves something to be desired in more literary writing. What I mean is, there is little that makes you think, little substance to the novel, other than a fun read, but that’s what King writes. I’m cool with that.
My main issue with Finders Keepers was the latticework of characters building up to the finale. Of course all of the storylines have to converge and all the characters come together but a lot of the logic that leads characters to cross paths seems to be very coincidental and on the part of the writer, almost lazy. It’s like they speculate upon the very specific circumstances of the story and hold them as gospel as they happen to lead them right to where they need to be. I think some carefully considered causality would give a greater sense of realism than just pure coincidence and speculation - chance, basically, but hey artistic licence and all; it’s an exciting, fun story in the end so it’s not a huge issue.
I love how well King can portray an antagonist. He did it with Brady in Mr Mercedes, and he does it again with Finders Keepers, and it’s a pretty crucial skill in this genre of literature that he describes as hard-boiled detective fiction. I don’t read much crime, but it certainly has a different dynamic to your typical whodunits where the build up is to the revelation of who committed the crime and how. I find this genre heavily saturated and so riddled with cliches that it takes a really good writer to make any kind of impact. This genre, on the other hand, is a tense cat-and-mouse chase to prevent a crime. And for the cat part, we need a convincing and relatable antagonist, which King nails.
Let’s finish by talking about the ending. The last chapter. The final jump scare in a horror movie, after its peaceful resolution. Mild Spoilers ahead so tread carefully. Although I more or less saw it coming, the final chapter was still incredible creepy and satisfying. I have a slight issue with King undermining the foundations of the realist world he’d setup not through just this novel, but Mr Mercedes too, and introducing supernatural elements, although probably it’s the unexpectedness that gave it such impact. I’ve never truly been scared by horror I’ve read, not like I have in movies or games, but the creepy atmosphere and development created in this final chapter is among those closest to it. Of course, I’m now drumming my fingers, calculating how long it is until End of Watch, the third novel, comes out, and ahhhh it’s far too long. At least, it took me 6 months to read this one so it’s only another 6 to wait, but goddamnit King, why you do this?
Finders Keepers was fucking awesome. Master of Horror? Shit, King can nail thrillers too; hell, better than most thriller writers out there. I’d say even better than Mr Mercedes, although it’s been a while since I read it. Either way, you won’t be disappointed, whether you’re usually a Stephen King fan or not.
Free horror. More? What could you possibly want?