Let’s cut to the chase, shall we? The purpose of a review is to give you an inclination on whether or not you’re going to like a book. It’s not just a thumb’s up or thumb’s down, four or five or two stars or whatever. A good review tells you if the book matches your own personal tastes, and whether or not someone like you will love it or hate it or whatever. And by good review I don’t mean positive or negative or praising the book or damning the book. I mean a good review in the sense that you get a feel of the book’s experience, and if that experience matches your own personal tastes.
And I think I can tell you right away if this book is made for you or not. Here, let’s have some fun, shall we? I’m going to ask you some questions, and by the very nature of these questions you will know right away if this book is for you or not.
Do you love fairy tales and folklore? And I do mean love, not just “oh I watched some Disney thing awhile back”, but I mean love, love, love. You live for #FolkloreThursdays on twitter.
Did you buy a copy of Jack Zipes’ Brother Grimm collection simply because you loved the art?
Do you have a gothic heart, love a good mystery, and think that We Have Always Lived in the Castle is a timeless classic?
Do you own a copy of Jim Henson’s The Storyteller on DVD, and can recite Sapsorrow by heart?
Do you own a copy of the Tin House’s Fantastic Women anthology, and you’ve read it cover to cover more than once?
See, just by looking at the questions themselves, without even answering them, you can tell if this book is the right kind of book for you. I will say right now, that this was absolutely the right kind of book for me. The prose sings to me, it creates a rhythm and poetry that is just beautiful and precious, like tiny cut gems. Sharp on their edges, you will bleed if you handle these words the wrong way.
I know, I know, I’m a word nerd, and I love my prose to be poetic, yes. But Paul, you may be saying, what about the actual story, can you tell me about that? And I can. I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s a really good gothic mystery, with folklore flourishes, stories within stories, and a vibrant menace hanging over everything. The gothic mystery had a very We Have Always Lived in the Castle feel to it, with the way the villagers treat the main character and her mother, and the way the mystery of what happened before is slowly revealed in its own casual horror.
In fact, now that I think about it, there is more than a passing reference to the Shirley Jackson novel. There is a magical realist feeling to everything, there is a creeping dread, and there is that same folkmagic thrumming to everything and anything in this slim, but potent novel.
The wonderful thing is that it pulls from folklore and folkmagic, but isn’t the usual faerie tale retelling. Those kind of things can be kitschy, and tend to lean too heavily on pop culture ideas of faerie tales (like those of Disney), and less the beating strange bloodied heart of the original stories.
This book contains that same kind of dark magic of folklore. You’ve got witchbottles and ghost schools and stories within stories of black dogs and the like. Add into it the wonderful woodcut style illustrations that reminded me (very much) of the recent Zipes’ Grimm collection, and you have a book that is a folklore nerd’s dream.
And now, you probably know if you’ll like this kind of book or not. If you love Angela Carter’s Bloody Chamber, Zipes, and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, you will love this book. If, on the other hand, you didn’t like any of the stuff I’ve listed here, you probably won’t enjoy it as much. You might, I don’t know. But the chances are it will probably be a pass for you.
But the people who love this book will love it whole heart and soul, that’s for certain.
Paul Jessup – Paul Jessup is a critically acclaimed/award winning author of strange and slippery fiction. With a career spanning over ten years in the field, he’s had works published in so many magazines he’s lost count and three or four books published in the small press. You can attempt to find him at https://pauljessupmain.wordpress.com/