What is it that fascinates us about creepy children? It’s a cultural obsession that dates back to Henry James’ 1898 The Turn of the Screw, if not earlier. Perhaps it’s the unexpectedness of the source—the discordance of seeing an apparently innocent child speaking and acting in a way that would be unnerving even in an adult. If I had to guess, though, I’d say the most likely explanation for our interest in disconcerting kids is that it taps into something like the uncanny valley; children think and act in ways that recall adult behavior but also differ from it in very subtle ways, and in the hands of a skillful writer, those differences can become deeply unsettling. Continue reading
Monthly Archives: October 2014
I have a confession: I’m a feminist, and I love Dickens.
Truthfully, I’m not entirely sure which part of that sentence is supposed to constitute the real admission, since God knows people hate the word “feminist.” That said, I’ve met several women who are quick to write off Dickens’ entire oeuvre as patriarchal nonsense, and it pains me a little. Because while I don’t especially want to linger on Dickens’ private life—frankly, it’s not pretty—I think he often gets a bad rap where his novels themselves are concerned.
The much-discussed relationship between sex and music isn’t as recent a phenomenon as you might think. However refined and proper the music of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries seems to today’s listeners, there is much anecdotal evidence suggesting responses at the time were anything but sedate; women who attended Franz Liszt’s concerts reportedly threw items of clothing onto the stage and tucked his cigar butts into their cleavage.
In Sedition, Katharine Grant takes the music-sex link and runs with it, with results that are alternately hilarious and unsettling. Set in Georgian London, Sedition is the story of five girls of marriageable age and the plot that their fathers—a sordid cabal of wealthy but lowborn merchants—concoct in order to see them wed to titled men. Continue reading
Note: The following review contains massive spoilers for both the novel and movie, because a) I’m going to assume a lot of people have already read Gone Girl anyway, and b) it’s simply impossible to dig into the movie in any meaningful way without giving away important plot points.
Let me begin by saying what I love about Gone Girl as a novel (apart from a truly gripping plot). Mostly what I love is its uncanny ability to identify and then amplify the tensions that underwrite many a romantic relationship. Its melodrama is always rooted in reality and, as such, it systematically exposes how very dysfunctional the underpinnings of these apparently functional relationships truly are. Continue reading
Note: I received a free copy of this novel from Crown Publishing (via Netgalley) for review purposes, which did not affect the content of my review in any way.
When we think of books that are daring, we typically think of those that are brash, exuberant, and unapologetic, full of controversial ideas and voluptuous language. And yet The Book of Strange New Things is, in its own quiet and unassuming way, just as daring as author Michel Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White—a frankly sexual spin on the classic Victorian novel. By contrast, in The Book of Strange New Things—a hybrid love story/apocalyptic saga/anti-imperialist parable—it is not sex or crime or gory detail that proves shocking, but rather the author’s surprising earnestness. In a genre increasingly populated by grimy dystopias and naked cynicism, the subtler, slow-building, gently mournful tone of Faber’s latest novel truly does feel both strange and new. Continue reading