what’s in a name challenge 2012

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson is often considered to be one of the finest horror stories ever written. Published in 1959, it has left an indelible mark on the genre of horror.

The Hill House is famous for driving its inhabitants away. A house with a sordid past, no one who comes in touch with it is left untainted. Is Hill House haunted? Dr. John Montague intends to find out. But at what price?

The horror in the book is implicit which I enjoyed.

The eponymous Hill House itself is a major character of the book. I liked its atmosphere. It was eerie to say the least and so darkly Gothic,

“When they were silent for a moment the quiet weight of the house pressed down from all around them.”

I must confess that I had quite a hard time reviewing this book. I liked The Haunting of Hill House more than I thought I would. But I found it hard to put my feelings into words.

The central character of Eleanor Vance is the foremost reason behind my uncertainty. The fact that we are essentially seeing the world through her eyes left me feeling unsure about the events of the book. In other words, she is, in my opinion, an unreliable narrator. Are the events at the Hill House truly happening? How much of what happens is in Eleanor’s mind and how much of it is genuinely occurring?

I wasn’t even sure about the other people’s characters and reactions. How far can we trust her opinions? What if the things she sees and hears are all illusions?

The further the book progresses the more unhinged Eleanor becomes. She becomes even more unreliable as a narrator. In the end, I just had to give up trying to figure out what is real and what is unreal.

What I gathered was Eleanor was undeniably a troubled person,

“She could not remember ever being truly happy in her adult life; her years with her mother had been built up devotedly around small guilts and small reproaches, constant weariness, and unending despair. Without ever wanting to become reserved and shy, she had spent so long alone, with no one to love, that it was difficult for her to talk, even casually, to another person without self-consciousness and an awkward inability to find words.”

But there was also something inherently unstable, wrong and outright evil about Hill House.

“The house was vile. She shivered and thought, the words coming freely into her mind, Hill House is vile, it is diseased; get away from here at once.”

Eleanor was already on the edge. Hill House just cut off whatever little hold on reality she had left.

Overall, I enjoyed The Haunting of Hill House. I am just unsure about what I just read. Was it horror? It certainly was scary at times. Or did I just witness the gradual collapse of a disturbed mind? I am yet to be sure about that.

The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth

A desperate group of men want to eliminate one of the most influential leaders of the world. An elusive killer waits for one last big hit before retiring from his dark calling. When their paths cross disaster is undoubtedly around the corner.

Published in 1971, The Day of the Jackal’s heady mix of fact and fiction makes it a pioneer of the thriller genre.

It took me quite a while to get into the story. Some parts of the book are really boring which is not a good sign for a thriller. In addition, the book at times feels kind of dated. This feeling comes not so much from the story (which is innovative for its time) but rather from the way Forsyth ‘tells’ it.

The most interesting parts of the book were those focusing on the inexorable Jackal’s swift movements through France.

Deputy Commissioner Claude Lebel’s patient, unexciting routine investigation provides a good balance against the equally patient but cold-blooded preparations of Jackal.

I liked how the changes in the Jackal’s appearances are detailed. It was like I was watching it all unfold right in front of me. Forsyth focuses quite a bit of attention on how the colour of the Jackal’s eyes change with changes in his moods. It is kind of the only ‘sign of life’ his character ever shows. I found that to be rather intriguing.

In my mind there weren’t much difference between the good and the bad in The Day of the Jackal. The good guys are almost as ruthless as the bad guys. They kidnap, torture and murder without batting an eyelid. A torture scene in the first part, Anatomy of a Plot, I found to be particularly nauseating!

The twist at the end is in keeping with the mood of the rest of the story. I liked it. I guess the twist is nothing novel nowadays but it must have been so when the book was originally published.

Overall, The Day of the Jackal is a good thriller. Recommended as a classic of the thriller genre.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

I am not much into contemporary books. I am just not comfortable with modern fiction though I do try to read at least one or two each year. Also, this novel belongs to a genre that I am not much of a fan of, Young Adult or YA lit.

No, I didn’t need a boxful of tissues as many of my fellow readers said that I would. Books rarely make me cry (Goodbye, Mr. Chips being one of the very few exceptions). So, it’s not really the book’s fault. But yes I liked The Fault in Our Stars much better than I thought I would.

The Fault in Our Stars, published in 2012 (thus making it the most current book I have ever read!), is John Green’s fourth novel.

16 year old Hazel has terminal cancer. No longer going to school and disconnected from her friends, home has become her entire world. At her parent’s insistence, she joins a cancer support group and Augustus Waters, a cancer survivor, steps into her life. Life becomes, suddenly, much more interesting and kind of livable. But faced with her own mortality at every turn, how long can she hope for it all to last?

Hazel reminds me of someone I know, especially the way she speaks.

“Out of nowhere, Augustus asked, ‘Do you believe in an afterlife?’

‘I think forever is an incorrect concept,’ I answered.

He smirked. ‘You’re an incorrect concept.’

‘I know. That’s why I’m being taken out of the rotation.’”

I liked how her character didn’t change completely during the course of the narrative. The bleak moodiness her character shows early on doesn’t absolutely vanish. Yes it decreases but her character retains its true essence.

I found the way Augustus keeps calling Hazel, ‘Hazel Grace’, irritating. In fact, there is something about Augustus that kept me from feeling totally sympathetic towards him. I know he is just a frightened teen posturing to hide his insecurities but I just didn’t feel connected with him somehow.

Hazel loves the book An Imperial Affliction because she identifies with the main character Anna. Her love for the book, her trip to Amsterdam to find the rest of Anna’s story, all of it is supposed to make the reader feel more connected to Hazel’s pain. But I found those parts to be kind of hollow.

What I liked was how Augustus and Hazel connect with each other. Parts of their time together, like the night they have dinner at Oranjee, came vividly alive. Augustus’ friendship with Isaac, another cancer survivor, also rang true.

The characters of Hazel’s parents are nicely summed up by Hazel herself,

“Appraising myself in the mirror as I brushed my teeth, I kept thinking there were two kinds of adults: There were Peter Van Houtens—miserable creatures who scoured the earth in search of something to hurt. And then there were people like my parents, who walked around zombically, doing whatever they had to do to keep walking around. Neither of these futures struck me as particularly desirable.”

I liked the character of Lidewij Vliegenthart. She is an unrealistically nice person but I wish such people did exist in real life.

I deeply distrust contemporary writers, having read a few really bad current books. But John Green is not half as bad as I thought he would be.

I loved how Green quotes from various poems! It seems like we have a similar taste in poetry. The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot and Nothing Gold Can Stay by Robert Frost deserve special mention.

The book is designed to tug at your heartstrings and it does do so, especially the last part. It is a sentimental book and normally I don’t do ‘sentimental’ (barring some Victorian lit and a few others like Goodbye, Mr. Chips). But overall I enjoyed The Fault in Our Stars. For a book from an era and a genre I don’t particularly enjoy, I would say it was pretty good.

What’s in a Name Challenge 2012

What’s in a Name 5  is being hosted by Beth at Beth Fish Reads. I have been meaning to sign up for it for the past two years but I always end up procrastinating and end up not doing it. This year I thought I would do it even if it is kind of late in the day.

Now about the challenge, between January 1 and December 31, 2012, read one book in each of the following categories:

  1. A book with a topographical feature (land formation) in the title,
  2. A book with something you’d see in the sky in the title,
  3. A book with a creepy crawly in the title,
  4. A book with a type of house in the title,
  5. A book with something you’d carry in your pocket, purse, or backpack in the title,
  6. A book with a something you’d find on a calendar in the title.

Other Things to Know

  • Books may be any form (audio, print, e-book).
  • Books may overlap other challenges.
  • Books may not overlap categories; you need a different book for each category.
  • Creativity for matching the categories is not only allowed but encouraged.
  • You do not have to make a list of books before hand.
  • You do not have to read through the categories in any particular order.

Thanks to Beth for hosting this challenge. Now on to finding appropriate titles for this challenge. Wish me luck!

Completed Books: 1. A book with a topographical feature (land formation) in the title – The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson.

2. A book with something you’d see in the sky in the title – The Fault in Our Stars.  John Green.

3. A book with a creepy crawly in the title –

4. A book with a type of house in the title –  At the Villa Rose. A.E.W. Mason. 

5. A book with something you’d carry in your pocket, purse, or backpack in the title – A Pocket Full of Rye. Agatha Christie.

6. A book with a something you’d find on a calendar in the title – The Day of the Jackal. Frederick Forsyth.

Challenge Incomplete.