Monthly Archives: June 2021

The Complete Works of H.P. Lovecraft: Impressionism as written stories

I naively dove right in to the Complete Works of H.P. Lovecraft with no real idea what was in store for me. I’d recently read Mexican Gothic and Wuthering Heights I was interested in exploring this sort of creepy side of gothic stories. I wasn’t prepared for the month it would take me to read all 1,342 pages (I read three or four other books in between, because I just couldn’t do it all in one go).

Lovecraft is known for Cthulu and The Necronomicon, but I hadn’t realized that his style is what I would call impressionistic. By that I mean Lovecraft’s characters share a lot of impressions and feelings about the horrors they witness and experience, but most of the monsters and even the worst of the experiences are left to the imagination, with very few details and descriptions. This is an interesting juxtaposition with Lovecraft’s extensive descriptions of architecture and carvings, so we know that he uses this as a storytelling technique to allow the reader to imagine horror however they will.

Some of his short stories get a little repetitive, some of them drag on, and some of them are really interesting and strange. I was let down quite a lot by The Call of Cthulu, which I thought would be longer and more interesting. But other stories I’d never heard of more than made up for it. Additionally, Lovecraft would continually refer to and return to characters and places in his stories, building a loose continuity within them that made me wish this particular compilation was put together differently.

This particular edition seemed to have little to no rhyme or reason behind the organization of the stories. It wasn’t in order of writing nor publication, nor were the stories with like characters and locations always grouped together.

But as I said, I needed to take a few breaks while working my way through Lovecraft. While some stories gripped and engaged me, I frequently found myself reading without actually taking in anything of the story. Most of the stories had minimal dialogue and the set up to the moments of horror often dragged. Lovecraft is certainly an interesting writer and worth exploring for anyone who enjoys horror, gothic, and simply strange stories. But I wouldn’t advise committing to the complete works all in one go.

Wuthering Heights: Where everyone is miserable, always

I’ve decided to finally dive into some more gothic novels because I love the genre and I love weird stories. Since discovering that there’s so much more to the genre than just mysterious moors and manors, I’m curious to broaden my horizons. Of course, Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte doesn’t branch out from what I’ve read so far. But after this I will.

A bachelor rents Thrushcross Grange for a year, seeking solitude after an embarrassing sort of fling. His landlord is the mysterious Heathcliff who lives at Wuthering Heights with his miserable daughter-in-law and the son of the former, and now deceased, master. While laid up with a cold, the bachelor convinces his housekeeper, Mrs. Ellen Dean, to relate the history of Heathcliff and Wuthering Heights. She weaves a tale of misery and abuse for everyone involved, starting with Heathcliff’s childhood there with Hindley and Catherine Earnshaw. Though Heathcliff and Catherine loved each other, Catherine ended up choosing to marry Edgar Linton and Heathcliff chose to pursue vicious revenge against everyone who slighted or wronged him, expecting to finally arrive at a place of satisfaction and peace.

I’m not sure I’d even read a synopsis of this book before diving in, I just knew it was a classic and is classified as a gothic novel. I wasn’t prepared for everyone to be awful. It’s actually a quite miserable story, with very little by way of happiness and goodness.

Told by way of a story from the housekeeper, readers don’t quite get inside the characters’ heads and we must realize that everything is colored by the housekeeper’s perception. However, as one who at one point or another loved each primary character, we’re led to believe that she is about as honest a narrator as one could hope for.

Unlike some older novels, this one doesn’t seem to get bogged down as much in wind-swept moor scenes, which helps keep the story moving quite quickly. I kept reading on, expecting some dramatic redemption arc to emerge, but it really didn’t. While I enjoyed the book, it’s definitely not a feel-good book and not the kind of thing to read if you’re already feeling down.

The Midnight Library: A reminder that there’s light at the end of the tunnel

So I know it’s pretty early, but I’m thinking I’ve found my favorite book of this year. Last year I thought V.E. Schwab reached into my heart and mind and wrote my feelings for everyone to see in The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue. Well, now I’m feeling like Matt Haig has done the same thing with The Midnight Library. And it’s a little overwhelming.

Nora Seed is a 30-something gal living in Bedford, full of regrets about all the things she could have been if she’d just pursued another life. A champion swimmer, lead singer in a band, passionate about nature and glaciers, Nora has ended up working in a music store, teaching piano to a neighborhood kid, and struggling to keep her depression under control. As everything seems to be falling apart, Nora decides to end her life. But somewhere between life and death is the Midnight Library, where Nora finds the chance to try on all the lives she could have had if she’d made just one different choice. And if she finds the life she was meant to live, the library and her past life will fade into memory. But what Nora discovers ends up being so much more than simply the life she was meant to live.

Haig tackles a subject that I think is still somewhat off-limits in our culture. Generations past are very familiar with mid-life crises, but it seems like those crises of purpose and existentialism are coming earlier and earlier, hitting my generation around the quarter-life point. Nora encounters a book of regrets in the library, a place to start when thinking about what different life she wants to live. As she experiments and discovers different isn’t the same as better.

Though the topic of the book is a little heavy, dealing with depression, suicide, and self-harm, Haig manages to make it somehow upbeat, a story of hope and potential. Woven into the fabric of the fiction is real-life lessons of letting go of what could have been and pursuing what is now. Haig also highlights the ways one small action or word can be of immense importance to someone else. Life isn’t all about doing grand things, sometimes life is grand because of the collection of little things.

The Iliad: Lots of stabbing, not much else

Reading through classic literature is really hit or miss. Many books that get the title of “classic” are interesting, revolutionary for their time, or simply capture the attention of the masses. But some stories lose their power over time and others definitely lose things in translation. For Homer’s The Iliad, I think it loses a lot when the words are inked onto a page.

The Iliad is the story of the siege of Troy. For nearly a decade the Argive army has wreaked havoc around Troy in retaliation for a Trojan prince spiriting away the beautiful Helen. Apparently they aren’t very good at waging war, if it’s taken 10 years to get around to confronting the walls of Troy, or maybe they got distracted by all the shiny treasure. Either way, as they are ready to attack, the king of the Argives insults his best warrior, Achilles, who refuses the enter into the fighting. As the gods of Olympus pour all their efforts into supporting Troy, only Achilles can turn the tide of the battle.

While I’m familiar with the story surrounding the stealing of Helen, the siege of Troy, Achilles and his grudges, I’d never actually read The Iliad. And something that I read recently prompted me to dig it out of the book boxes (and truthfully, I can’t remember what book made me think it was a good idea). And while reading it brought out some details that are missed or glossed over in movie renditions, it also cast me back to last year, slogging my way through Le Morte d’Arthur. If we cut out all the monotonous passages of who stabbed whom, we’d easily lose two-thirds of the book. And it would be better for it.

I suspect that, in its entirety, The Iliad is at its best when done as a dramatic reading, as Homer would have told it. And for those who would have probably still been able to trace lineage to the warriors involved, all the listing of stabbing would be much more interesting.

The other consideration is the translation. Reading it in a language not the original means there will literally be things lost in translation. Not to mention all the changes between the telling and the writing.

All in all, it’s not a book I’ll be revisiting time and again. While the story has its place in history and academia, once was enough for me. Plus, I thought it would encompass the Trojan horse and Achilles’s death. So, imagine my surprise when it ended with Hector’s funeral games. Apparently The Odyssey is the epic that had all the good action.