Halloween Read: Two by Susan Hill

The Man in the Picture and The Small Hand today on a ghost story double feature!

Both of these tales are little gems of revenge from beyond the grave.  In The Man in the Picture, a mysterious painting of a Venetian scene becomes a tool for malice.  And in The Small Hand, a ghost reaches out of the past and quite literally touches someone.

Hill has a very elegant but spare style that suits these stories well.  Both employ lots of wonderful tension-building and atmosphere, and a fantastic sense of the strange and foreboding.  They’re slim stories, and Hill manages to pack a lot into a small frame in each one.

There’s a sort of dusty old feel to these, as if you’ve uncovered a box in an attic with a lot of forgotten, oddball items inside.  And then those items somehow unleash the supernatural on you.

Pick these stories up this October if you like barely-there scares and old-fashioned strange tales.  They’re straightforward ghost stories with some elegant layering, perfect for an afternoon during the witching season.

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Marie’s Reading: “The Library of Unrequited Love” by Sophie Divry

untitled“To all those men and women who will always find a place for themselves in a library more easily than in society, I dedicate this entertainment.”

Sophie Divry’s dedication in her novella The Library of Unrequited Love says all you need to know about it.

One morning a librarian comes in to work to find that a patron has spent the night there.  In the minutes before the library opens, she talks to the person.  Well, monologues or rants might be more correct.  Either way, it’s a long narration with no section breaks or paragraphs, just the Geography Librarian talking at you.

In describing her life and her woes, the librarian comes across as tragic, hilarious, and maybe just a little unhinged, each by turn.  You get the sense that this is happening in real time.  You, the reader, are the patron who got stuck overnight in the library.  Sometimes you’re amused, sometimes you’re scared, sometimes you’re just quietly upset, sometimes you nod along with the librarian as she opens herself up, talking about everything from Napoleon to the Mayor to an inability to leave a pile of books on the floor to the young researcher she’s got a crush on.

At 93 pages The Library of Unrequited Love is the work of an evening, but you’ll want to go back and read it again.  It’s a fantastically quotable piece.  I share her love/hate relationship with Dewey’s system of classification.  Her depiction of Dewey categories as social classes is a thing of beauty. Her complicated relationship with library patrons is very well-drawn, as is her raging against the machine of local politics.  The librarian has a wonderful voice–Divry gets this woman across beautifully.  Even in translation from French the language flows nicely and the character comes through in all her glory.

A wonderful, quick little read for librarians and those who are fascinated by them.  Perhaps also a cautionary tale for library regulars.  After all, how often do you get to hear a librarian rant at you when she’s off the clock and there’s no one else to listen?

–Marie