The British Library are on a roll. They’ve followed up an excellent exhibition on book illustration with an equally good one on the Gothic. I absolutely loved it. The range is wide, taking in its origins in Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto and Strawberrry Hill and going right up to the Whitby Goth Weekend, photographed by Martin Parr. It includes ghost stories, Victorian horror (Spring-heeled Jack, Sweeney Todd, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde). Vampires, werewolves, zombies, doppelgängers: they are all here. I was particularly taken by a case containing a vampire-slaying kit, complete with mallet, stakes, and moulds for silver bullets.
A particular strength is that they have included extracts from films. There is Bride of Frankenstein; you can hear Elsa Lanchester screaming half way round the exhibition and whoever thought up that fabulous lightning bolt hair-do was a genius. There is The Wicker Man, Night of the Living Dead and many, many more, including one of my favourites, Night of the Demon, and a wonderful Spankmeyer short that I didn’t know about. There are recorded interviews with the likes of Neil Gaiman and Sarah Waters.
In truth, I am not a great horror fan, though I can enjoy almost anything if it is well done and I love a good ghost story. But there was so much of interest here that even a couple of hours wasn’t quite enough. Here is a link to the BL page which features a video and lots more: http://bit.ly/ZR3MQ6.
A couple of weeks ago, my friend, Daniella, tagged me on Facebook. “List 10 books that have stayed with you in some way. Don’t take more than a few minutes, and don’t think too hard. It is not about the ‘right’ book or great work of literature, just ones that have affected you in some way. Does not have to be in order.’
I should then have nominated 10 friends to be tagged in turn. I am hopeless at this. By the time I have got round to it, all my friends have already been tagged by someone and there is no-one left to choose. But I did write my list – pretty much off the top of my head and here it is:
Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
Vasily Grossman, Life and Fate
L. M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables
Sarah Waters, Fingersmith
Lawrence Block, Out on the Cutting Edge
Taichi Yamada, Strangers
Susan Coolidge, What Katy Did at School
Margaret Wise Brown, Goodnight Moon
Susan Varley, Badger’s Parting Gifts
Joyce Dennys, Henrietta’s War
Note that I am not saying these are the best or even my favourite books, just a few that have stayed with me. This list is all fiction. Maybe I’ll do non-fiction another time.
Looking back, it may have been a mistake to choose this novel of the supernatural by Sarah Waters as my holiday reading. I never sleep well the first night or two in a hotel and this did turn out to be the kind of novel that you really don’t want to be thinking about as you lie there awake in the dark. No, you really don’t want to think about it, but somehow you find that you can’t think of anything else.
When I began to read THE LITTLE STRANGER, I found it a bit slow and didn’t warm to the characters either. I began to skip a bit, feeling too tired by the effort of packing and travelling to give it the full concentration that it needed. Then bit by bit it began to grip until I was absolutely agog. I don’t want to spoil anything for those who haven’t read it, but the force of the ending makes you want to read the novel all over again to see how she does it. I don’t admire it quite as much as I do FINGERSMITH, but it is pretty damn good. And though it is broad daylight as I write this, there are parts of this novel that I don’t care to think about when I am alone in the house. At least I think I’m alone in the house. Surely those weren’t footsteps on the stairs . . . it must be the cat . . . but surely I put the cat out . . .