This is a hugely enjoyable fantasy-adventure page-turner and first-rate post-flu cranky-convalescent distraction. I hesitate to call it ‘horror’ since the squick factor is pretty low—low enough even for me—but it does have some very unfriendly ghosts. Being murdered can do that to a person. And on the subject of page-turning, I recommend you set aside enough time to read the last hundred pages in one go. Once our intrepid ghost-stalkers enter the Red Room at Combe Carey Hall, the most haunted private house in England, you are not going to want to put the book down till the end. I was given an ARC: I notice the book’s not actually out till August. But you can still put it on your TBR list.
The England of Lockwood & Co has a Problem: ‘. . . Something strange and new did start happening around fifty or sixty years ago, and no one’s got a damn clue why. . . . you can find mention of scattered ghostly sightings cropping up in Kent and Sussex around the middle of the last century. But it was a decade or so later that a bloody series of cases, such as the Highgate Terror and the Mud Lane Phantom, attracted serious attention. . . . At last two young researchers . . . managed to trace each haunting to its respective Source . . . and for the first time the existence of Visitors was firmly imprinted on the public mind.’ So far so conventional. But (as I keep saying when I’m wearing my author hat) there are no new stories, only good, bad or indifferent retellings of old stories. This is a good retelling. The world-building does that excellent thing where the out-there goofballery of the set-up leads to clearly sensible and practical applications: ‘We ducked out across the road, stepping over the open drain or “runnel” of running water that separated the pavement from the tarmac. The wandering dead were known to dislike moving water; consequently narrow runnels crosscrossed many of the great shopping streets in the West End, allowing people to walk in safety well into the evening. Earlier governments had hoped to extend this system across the city, but it had proved prohibitively expensive. Aside from ghost-lights, the suburbs fended for themselves.’ Lockwood & Co are three kids—you’re washed up as a ghostbuster field agent by the time you reach voting age—Anthony Lockwood, the narrator Lucy Carlyle, and George Cubbins the library geek. (This ‘modern’ London has electricity and telephones, but no computers and no internet. If you want to do research, you go to the library, and Lockwood & Co’s records are kept in box files.) And they have the Talent.
But things keep going wrong for them: ‘Yes, the Mortlake Horror was driven out, but only as far as Richmond Park. . . . Yes, both the Grey Spectre of Aldgate and the entity known as the Clattering Bones were destroyed, but not before several further . . . deaths.’ Which is why Lockwood decides to accept an obviously crooked commission from the extremely wealthy and also extremely creepy owner of Combe Carey Hall. And then of course things go even more wrong. . . .
I had no intention of reading this book because it was going to be pretentious, patronising drivel by someone much admired in the field of lit’rature, who would make it clear in every paragraph that she was slumming by writing a kids’ fantasy.
I loved it.
I had been, with most of the rest of the reading world, gobsmacked by Winterson’s first novel, ORANGES ARE NOT THE ONLY FRUIT. You’ve read it, right? It was also made into a very effective (and affecting) TV miniseries*. And while it is about an adopted girl who may be rather like Winterson herself growing up gay in an English Bible belt town with a ferocious mother, I entirely agree with Winterson’s comment about this, ‘I’ve never understood why straight fiction is supposed to be for everyone, but anything with a gay character or that includes gay experience is only for queers.’** ORANGES is just a fabulous novel about growing up not belonging to your family or your society or your world.
I’ve read some of Winterson’s other books but I’m about a hundred years out of date in my liking for literature. As a modern reader I tend toward the genre end. But Winterson is a witty and powerful writer so I’ve kind of kept an eye on her. There was a fairly substantial hoohah when TANGLEWRECK came out, and I thought, nah, it’ll just make me crazy. But I kept frelling tripping over references to it. Too many of the writers and critics I like liked it—in the edition I ended up with there’s a quote on the front from Jacqueline Wilson***—and I could feel myself becoming ensnared, rather like the heroine and her friend Gabriel in the evil machinations of Abel Darkwater and Regalia Mason.
And then on one of Fiona’s and my yarn expeditions we spent some time at an old-books store. I’m sure I mentioned it at the time. Well, one of the books I bought was . . . TANGLEWRECK. I didn’t mean to! But it was sitting face out on its shelf, all shiny and new, and obviously having belonged (briefly) to someone who didn’t appreciate it! It was waiting for me! †
Here. Read Chapter One, The Time Tornado, and see if you don’t immediately want to read the rest of it:†† http://www.amazon.co.uk/Tanglewreck-Jeanette-Winterson/dp/0747580758/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1362011579&sr=1-1#_
And there’s a scene near the end that I wish I had written. This happens a lot less often than you might think. There are lots of Great Books I wish in a sort of admiring, mostly intellectual way, that I’d written. There are not that many books that get me close in, through the secret back entrance, grab me by the heart and squeeze. This scene is one of those. But Winterson thought of it first. Ah well.
* * *
* Wiki says Winterson herself did the adaptation. It was also extremely well cast.
** I am so grateful Wiki happens to cite that quote. I was wondering how the doolally I was going to persuade Google to find it for me.
*** ‘A fantastic book, a big wonderful story. It’s got everything’
† It was also rather less than half price. Never underestimate the draw of a bargain.
†† Here also is a very good review, I mean not merely positive but persuasive, although in case anyone else has the same reaction I will add for your reassurance that I thought the rabbit named Bigamy was a sure sign of the tweeness I feared http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2006/jul/02/booksforchildrenandteenagers.jeanettewinterson
Here also is a review of the more-or-less sequel which I clearly have to read. I haven’t done so yet because the Creature Sawn in Two will give me nightmares.
I never tell you about what I’m reading, right? Or almost never. This is not, in fact, because I throw everything across the room. I am a cow, but I am a cow who loves reading, and there are books that Pollyanna would let me talk about. No, the problem is that writing B o o k R e v i e w s freaks me out because I’m sure I’ll do it wrong.* So I don’t do it. So I read a great book and . . . I don’t tell you about it. I pull down an old favourite and reread it and love it all over again, and I don’t tell you about that either.
So, when I was thinking about the Future of the Blog and my wish for placeholder posts on nights I need off for one reason or another** I thought, I know! BOOK RECS! Not reviews. Just . . . here’s a nice book. I liked it. You might too.
However, being the hellgoddess, which means cranky and perverse, as soon as this brilliant notion flashed into my consciousness I knew I wanted to start this new tradition not with a fabulous fantasy novel*** but with an example of the peculiar nonfiction I spend most of my time reading.
I’d seen references to CHURCH BELLS AND BELL-RINGING, A NORFOLK PROFILE by Paul Cattermole, knew it was ‘destined to be a classic’ as the foreword says, and knew there was a new edition coming out. I’m geeky enough to think it sounded interesting, but not right before Christmas when I’m running out of money anyway and should buy a few Christmas presents†.
And then . . . fancy . . . I received an email from the sales and marketing director of the academic firm who’s publishing it offering me a comp copy. After I finished laughing—and I did try to warn the nice man that, supposing that I feel it lives up to its reputation, my puffing it on my blog will not result in a run on sales—I said yes please, I’d love one.
The thing is . . . it’s frelling fascinating. It really is. Here’s the link:
It’s hard for me to judge because I am a bell ringer, and I like knowing how things work, and how they’ve come to work the way they do. But it seems to me that anyone with an interest in cranky history—particularly cranky English history—might well find this fascinating too. Note also that I am a flibbertigibbet dilettante and pretty well incapable of beating myself through text I find dry and graceless, even if it’s the only book or article or clay tablet on a subject I urgently want to know more about. This is, ahem, surprisingly well written and equally surprisingly moves right along, bringing great swathes of archaeology, sociology, heraldry and bell-casting with it, and is stuffed with (black and white) photos and diagrams.
It’s just way cool. And good cranky nonfiction is worthwhile twice: imagine taking CHURCH BELLS AND BELL-RINGING to the café because you want to read it . . . and watching people’s faces when you prop it up against the sugar-bowl and they see the title. . . .
* * *
* What if I praise the wrong character, the wrong plot development, the wrong turn of phrase? What if I look COMPLETELY AND UTTERLY CLUELESS? I spend a lot of my life looking pretty nearly utterly clueless^ and mostly I’m resigned but I have some faint professional vanity that resists being publicly clueless about other people’s books.
^ See: Bell ringing. Singing. Knitting. Quantum Physics. Japanese.
** Tonight, for example, when you’d think I’d have LOTS of time, having SENT SHADOWS IN TO MY EDITOR THIS AFTERNOON . . . you’d be wrong. Because I also had a cup of tea with my curate, who sent me home with an armful of books on Zen Christianity and the Christian contemplative tradition—there’s a lot more of the latter than I realised—and I want to go to bed^ and read.
^ I don’t read other people’s books in the bath. Just in case.
*** I promise there are a few of these in the queue.
† for other people
Yup. With a rushing sound like a very large meteorite. Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhh WHOMP. The earth shivers and lurches off its orbit. Well, I shiver and lurch off my orbit. And will I ever return? Well, not exactly. . . . because I now have three dogs.*
Olivia left Birmingham slightly later than I was expecting and then I was doing my silly trying to work trick and didn’t take hellhounds out for the afternoon hurtle till later than I should have** and as a result managed to miss the actual moment of touchdown. But as hellhounds and I sprinted back across the mews courtyard*** Olivia emerged from her car† . . . carrying a puppy. Which for some reason she thrust at me.
Oh, said hellhounds. What is this strange apparition? It’s not staying, is it?
Olivia locked the other three up (securely) and Pavlova, hellhounds, Olivia and I went out to the little piece of open grass at the end of Peter’s garden where hellhounds could get away from the awful phantasm, I put Pavlova down, and she made a beeline for them, wagging her still-tiny tail††. AAAAAAAUGH, said hellhounds. It’s a . . . it’s a . . . AAAAAAAUGH.
But you know . . . it could be a lot worse. A lot worse.††† And I am dazzled at the prospect of having a food motivated dog. What an idea. Blither blither blither. I was reading Karen Pryor’s Clicker Training for Dogs tonight as Pavlova had some Holding Time‡ and I was focusing on this click and then give your dog a TREAT thing.‡‡ Wow. I mean. Wow. I was furthermore sitting on the sofa for this epic moment of horizon-broadening‡‡‡ with the hellhounds draped roundabout in similar to standard pre-puppy postures.§ I’m hoping that more sofa time might resign them to Pavlova rather, in fact, quickly. . . .
* * *
* Last night I dreamed, in the twenty or so minutes I was actually asleep, that I was getting a fourth dog. NOOOOOOOO. Well, that woke me up.
** I had to go back to the cottage when I found out that I’d run out of my favourite Caffeine Triple Whammy tea at the mews, which I have a secret stash of at home for just such an emergency. And then there was Arrival of Puppy and all three of us humans went straight on to champagne. Well, I’ll need it tomorrow. AAAAUGH. I HAVE THREE DOGS^^.
^^ I think this kind of thing is supposed to drive you to alcohol. It drives me to caffeine.
*** With a large packet of tea sticking out of my pocket
† I’d missed the fun however. She had all four of them with her^ and while hellhounds and I were pelting back down main street had ferried them through the house to make the inevitable messes in the back garden where it’s easier to clean up.^^ Whereupon Fruitcake and Croissant^^^ fell in the pond. They’d just had their ears tattooed today# and Fruitcake emerged green. That’s not the water. It’s the tattoo ink. I took a photo but my camera couldn’t cope.
^ It’s all about socialisation and learning to live in the world, which includes long rides in cars, and I think furthermore that her usual range of puppysitters were having lives today. Maybe doing things like dressing up in their good clothes and speaking in complete sentences that contain no references to kitchen roll and newspapers.
^^ They recently resurfaced the mews courtyard, which is to say dumped about sixty lorry-loads of large gravel on it. Large gravel. Driving over it you feel like you’re on safari somewhere far from civilisation or the concept of paved roads. It’s pretty horrible for sprinting over too. And I really don’t want to pick puppy crap off it.
^^^ Olivia had (possibly unwisely) told Natalie, Croissant’s future possessor, about this blog, and was shortly told off to inform the proprietor that she, Natalie, was getting the prettiest puppy in the litter. I think we’ll just leave her to her little delusion, don’t you think? It’s very sweet of her to prefer her own inferior puppy.+
+I have or anyway had an adorable photo of Croissant on the sofa with forty-seven other bullies, visiting at Aunt Southdowner’s but with all the computer havoc going on lately I can’t find it. I wanted to post it here so that you would see that Croissant is adorable too. If I continue to fail to find it I’ll ask Southdowner to send it again.
# Yup. Tattooed. These are seriously pedigreed show-quality puppies and personally it seems to me a better proof of identity than microchips which first someone has to look for and second may wander.
††But golly has she grown. They do of course, puppies. But. . . golly. Her ears still aren’t standing up. Just by the way. Will you stop with the ears? said Olivia. She’s not going to be huge, okay? I guarantee it. —Noooooooooo. Don’t say things like that.
††† It could still get a lot worse, of course. But it’s not going to. Not.^
^ This includes her not turning into Yeti II.
‡ I think it will be a long time before I can knit with a hellterror in my lap.
‡‡ I’m immediately starting the process of trying to convince her to relieve herself on command. Hey, have a crap and get a treat! Dogs must think we are totally nuts.
‡‡‡ Occasionally the Holding part required two hands, but mostly I can read.
§ Eventually some negotiation will have to be made for occupation of the hellgoddess’ actual lap. And we had some, you know, proper sofa time while the hellterror slept, exhausted, in her new crate, worn out by having been repeatedly picked up and removed from underneath the apple tree which is ankle-deep in disgusting rotten apples. I’m reminding myself that having a food-motivated dog is going to be a good thing.
I have been reading. Books with names like YOU’RE GETTING A PUPPY? THERE GOES YOUR LIFE. And: YOU’RE BRINGING A PUPPY HOME? MWA HAHAHAHAHA YOU POOR FOOL YOU’RE TOAST. This is not entirely reassuring.
I possess forty years of dog training manuals—no, I have unloaded most of them, but I have tended to keep each generation’s most useful and/or most user friendly text. And while the forty-year-old one is badly out of date in terms of more recent research into and understanding of dog character and dog behaviour* I’ve kept it because I remember the way it blew me out of the water at the time, having trained my poor Alsatian by the choke-collar and the meanest s.o.b. in the valley method, because that’s what they taught you in dog school in those days, and while [wince, wince] I went along with it because these were grown-ups and experts and of course knew best I didn’t like it much.** And here was a dog book saying, hey! It’s okay to love your dog in a ridiculous and soppy fashion! You can still teach it manners! And training your dog is not an adversarial situation!
There’s a lot of great stuff in (some of) the new(ish) generation(s) of dog books, and I’m grateful that Southdowner and Olivia got me in a head lock*** and told me I had to read x and y or I couldn’t have Pavlova.† But . . . there are two glaring errors of practical application in most of the straight how-tos†† from my point of view:
- They’re all frelling based on frelling food rewards. If your dog isn’t interested in food, you are frelling STUFFED. So to speak.
- They assume YOU HAVE ONLY ONE DOG and that ONE is the puppy you are being advised on how to train.††† This is particularly infuriating from a DOG TRAINING WRITER WHO FREQUENTLY REFERS TO HIS/HER SEVERAL DOGS.
I started out thinking that perhaps these are several generations of dogs the writer has owned, but nooooooo. Tucked somewhere in a throwaway line there will be reference to when Megalopolis first met Poltroon there was some ambivalence, but they’re best friends now. Define ambivalence.‡ And then tell me what you did about it. And don’t tell me it’s all based on desiccated liver, that universal, unilateral dog manna. My hellhounds couldn’t care less about desiccated liver. I will probably try to insinuate a little raw liver into the introduction to Pavlova‡‡ . . . and hope that this doesn’t merely put them off raw liver, which is the nearest thing they have to a food grail, and I’d be sorry to lose it. I’ve wondered if where I went wrong with the desiccated liver is that I mistook it for the universal, unilateral dog manna, and offered it as such, rather than appreciating that all food is scary and dangerous and can only be negotiated with cautiously and under exactingly and inflexibly regulated conditions.
I’m hoping that Pavlova will prove to be made of robuster stuff, which is to say that SHE EATS. And while I’m home all the time—and there are two other dogs in the family—so the learning to keep herself amused calmly when she’s left alone is not a big issue, I am going to try the Kongs‡‡‡-stuffed-with-food trick . . . again.§
The beginning of the year, I threw out a bunch of dog toys, including several Kongs, because I had no earthly use for them.§§ And, you dog training manual writer bozos, there are a lot of people with more than one dog. And a lot of dogs that are not good eaters.
Please address this. Before I bring my next sighthound home.
* * *
* And, just by the way, call me a cynic, but I predict that the teenager who is buying today’s top dog-training picks is going to be looking back in thirty five or forty years and thinking, I can’t believe I believed that. How did poor Spot/Sid/Ash/Mongo/Mayhem grow up to be such a nice dog in spite of my training style?
** And she was still a surprisingly nice dog, although she had some issues.
*** Which they would never do to a dog.
† To which I replied, I don’t want to talk to you no more, you empty headed animal food trough wiper. I fart in your general direction. Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries.^
Then I bought the books because I’m a doobie really. Also, Pavlova is MINE.
^ There isn’t anyone out there who doesn’t recognise this, is there? If there is, allow me to shield your shame by suggesting that you google ‘I fart in your general direction’ or ‘your mother was a hamster’. It will come up immediately. With video clips.
†† There’s more in the dog-behaviour books, but they tend to leave you to figure out productive strategies yourself.
††† Mostly I don’t mind the assumption that I’ve never had a dog before in my life and (apparently) have barely ever met one and that everything my puppy does is going to be strange and bizarre to me.^ Um. Remind me why I’m buying this incongruous alien being? Peer pressure? Given the further assumption of most dog-training manuals that your neighbours all have canine barbarians who uproot trees, eat small children and the mailperson, and bark like the last trump, why you are clutching this book at all becomes even more mysterious.
^ Including things like eating, sleeping, peeing and defecating+. Gosh. Us modern humans are really out of touch with our bodies, aren’t we?
+ I’m not sure if this was a typo and/or Word auto-corrected in the wrong direction, but what this word originally appeared as is defecting. Snork.
‡ Was there blood loss? How much? Did it involve a trip to the vet’s/doctor’s? In or out of office hours? How many stitches? Is there a permanent limp?
‡‡ Which will probably mean the kitchen ends up looking like Hannibal Lector came to tea.
§ And in vivid memory of Hannah’s first dog, many generations ago^, whom Hannah was advised to placate with food-stuffed Kongs, which she, Lucrezia, demolished enthusiastically and then went on to dismember hundreds of dollars’ worth of guaranteed dog-proof crates. The dog behaviourist stopped returning Hannah’s phone calls.
^ I’m a little surprised that after Lucrezia Borgia she didn’t decide to keep an alligator in the bath, or something easy-going and low maintenance.
§§ And the total FAILURE they represented every time they rolled out from under the tallboy covered in dust was depressing.