Marie’s Reading: “The Cellar” by Minette Walters

CellarThough the blog doesn’t reflect it, I’ve been on a Minette Walters kick lately.  I like her unlikeable characters, and I like her feel for misdirection.  The Cellar is different than her other books, and it’s a dark, sad, creepy story.

A family of African immigrants brought along their slave, Muna, to England.  She has been with them since she was eight years old, when they stole her from an orphanage.  Muna is forced to live in the cellar, to cook and to clean, and to endure all manner of abuse from the Songali family.  And all this time, she’s been plotting her revenge.

There’s a slow, creepy build to this story.  At the start, one of the sons of the family has gone missing, which brings police to the door.  To cover Muna’s true place in the household, she’s finally given real clothes and a bedroom.  As the tale continues, you discover how much Muna knows and understands–from the fact she can speak English to the lengths she’ll go to to exact some vengeance on this family.

There’s no one to like in this novel, but you can certainly understand how tragic and twisted poor Muna is.  Even in the more grotesque moments, it’s hard to feel much but a sick pity for her.  This is one of those horror stories that unwinds the disturbing truths slowly, and stays with you for a while after reading it.

If you enjoy claustrophobic horror stories and tales of revenge, give this a look.  But if the winter darkness already has you in a funk, maybe put this one off until summertime!



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.

“Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales” by Yoko Ogawa

I don’t want to alarm you, but they’ve traced the post.  And it’s coming from inside the house.

when a stranger calls

My house, to be more precise.  Since my days off coincide with both Halloween Eve and Halloween this year, I decided to take a break from my usual day-off tasks like eating cinnamon peanut butter directly out of the jar while I watch internet videos and tell you about a chilling collection of eleven interconnected short stories: Revenge by Yoko Ogawa.


Last year I read Ogawa’s sweet novel of friendship and math, The Housekeeper and the Professor.  All of the spare and elegant language, poetic images, and attention to detail that made that book so charming and lovely is used in Revenge to create chilling imagery, melancholy and angry and desperate characters, and an atmosphere of sheer creepiness.

These stories flow into one another elegantly, so easily that it takes you a moment to realize what the connections are, until the ending flows back into the beginning with a shared image between stories.  Each story stands on its own, as well, but you definitely need them together to get the entire picture.

If you enjoy moody, kind of sad, old-fashioned horror movies, like the wonderful The Orphanage (El Orfanto)you might like this collection.  They’ve got the same tone, and even share a few themes, like loss and revenge.

Happy Halloween Eve, everybody!


Marie’s Reading: “Her” by Harriet Lane

HerHi.  How are you?  Great.  I’m okay, thanks.

So I finished one of the novels I was excited to read when last we met.  It’s the one called Her, about a woman named Nina who has a mysterious connection to a woman named Emma–a connection that could probably be called a grudge.    From the start we know that Nina remembers Emma, but Emma does not remember Nina.  We also realize quickly that Nina is not altogether quite right upstairs (she indulges in quite a bit of distanced psychological torture and gaslighting).  Emma is simply overwhelmed by her current life circumstances, and in just the right place emotionally to fall into Nina’s traps.

Sounds good, right?  Remember?  I was all:


Her by Harriet Lane is a novel that eases along, sidling up to you, until it grabs you by the neck in the final few moments.  You never reach a crescendo, nor are you desperate to keep turning pages.  The reveal, when it comes, seems so small–but to Nina, it is huge. The ending is a flurry of panic and a moment of realization which puts the novel’s events into perspective.

Lane uses a dual narrative, going back and forth between Emma and Nina.  But instead of a strictly linear narrative, you see events through the eyes of both characters.  After finishing the book you get a sense of how this device really does help reinforce the novel’s ending as well as Nina’s actions.  Nina and Emma have distinct voices and well-drawn concerns.  When you’re in Emma’s world you feel her annoyances and her disappointments and she’s a lot more sympathetic than when you see her through Nina’s eyes.  It’s a good device for getting characters across, along with their first-person voices.

In all, if you’re expecting a thriller in terms of pacing, your reaction to this novel might be more like this, as mine was initially:


But then, the more I thought about it, the more I recognized how insidious the plotting and character development is.  You’re not watching a trainwreck or a roller-coaster, but rather a spider building a web.  Her is a slow burn attached to an uncertain explosive.

I was reminded a lot of Patricia Highsmith’s early stories when I got to the end.  Give those a try for a readalike.  Liane Moriarty or Kate Morton might appeal as well, if you enjoy stories where there are secrets to be revealed and dark motivations to uncover.  The recent The Girl on the Train, which I talked about here, might also appeal to those who enjoy the narrative voices and construction of Her.


Marie’s Reading: “Rotters” by Daniel Kraus

rottersI’ll tell you straight, readers: this book is not for everyone.  But if you’re one of the people it’s for, you will love it.  I don’t think there’s much in-between with a story like this, but others may disagree.

As Rotters opens, Joey’s mother has recently died in a tragic accident.  Alone in the world, he’s sent to live with his father in a remote town in Iowa.  A father that he’s never met, and that his mother never talked about.  Joey arrives at his new home to find that his father has a very bad reputation.  With good reason, as it turns out–Joey’s dad robs graves for a living.

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