Duma Key – Stephen King

A Stephen King fan? Have you read the 2008 novel Duma Key?

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Duma Key is the 2008 psychological horror by Stephen King. Although I have read a number of King’s short stories, Duma Key is only the second novel of King’s I have read. And again, King was proven that his work is worth the hype that surrounds his back catalogue. The novel centres around Edgar Freemantle, a self-made millionaire, who survives a horrific accident at work. The severity of the accident leaves him with an amputated arm, speech, visual and memory problems and causes him to have terrible mood swings. Following his accident, Edgar moves to a small island in hope an extended vacation will help in his recovery. This island is Duma Key.

I usually get put off by long books, as I find that a novel has to work hard to keep my attention for a long period. Duma Key was around 611 pages and I was a little bit apprehensive as to whether I would successfully complete the novel before boredom stroked. However, I was pleasantly surprised that King was able to keep me interested and engaged throughout the entire novel. Which, I am happy to say, has made me far more open minded when it comes to other books that may be of a longer length.

Duma Key reminded me of King’s short story ‘Obits’. This was due to the way that Edgar was able to make things happen through his paintings. Similarly, in ‘Obits’ the main character was able to kill people by writing up their obituaries. I thoroughly enjoyed ‘Obits’ therefore I was more than happy to read an extended piece of work that had a similar concept. This was because the novel was able to explore the concept in more depth, and we saw Edgar using his new found ‘abilities’ in a variety of ways. This I found to be so much more interesting as we were not just seeing deaths. We were seeing also things like the erasing of a brain tumour, which for me, was far more intriguing of a concept.

Although I thoroughly enjoyed Duma Key, I do feel as though the ending was slightly anticlimactic. I simply felt that there was something missing from the ending chapters of the novel. So, upon finishing the novel I was disappointed. And there’s nothing worse than investing so much time into a novel to only be left disappointed at the end.  I do however realise that I am such a harsh critique when it comes to the end of a story. I am rarely satisfied with a story’ ending, usually because I have already realised where the author is taking me. To King’s credit though I did not guess where he was taking the story of Duma Key, so the ending was a little bit of a surprise.

Although this was the case, I would still recommend Stephen King’s novel, Duma Key. If anything, it is an interesting concept and will truly have you thinking about life. And if you’re somebody who may be put off by King’s work due to his famous psychological/horror approach to his stories, be assured this one will not give you too much of a fright. I believe it is one of his tamer works, though i’m no King expert…so don’t hold me to that.

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The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde

Like a good classic? Why not check out the 19th century novel from Oscar Wilde

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The Picture of Dorian Gray is one of Oscar Wilde’s only novels. It is a gothic novel which follows the character of Dorian Gray and his demise after he sells his soul to the devil for beauty. Written in 1890, this novel is an interesting read as it was used as evidence during Wilde’s trial for gross indecency and relations with another man. At the time it was claimed that Wilde’s work emulated his own feelings in regards to homosexuality. Wilde even went on to add a prologue, which argues against the idea that his novel demonstrates his homosexual feelings. He argued that art can be created for the sake of it, that often there are no deep meanings behind art; it is just there to be enjoyed.

Believe it or not, previous to my introduction to The Picture of Dorian Gray I have not had much experience with Wilde and his work. I personally struggle to connect with literature which is regarded as being ‘classic’. This may be because I have been continuously made to study them, and thus have found myself not enjoying them. However when I came across Wilde’s book I was pleasantly intrigued. I love a good gothic novel anyway, but the concept of selling ones soul for the sake of beauty was truly intriguing. I mean, I’m sure we all know somebody that would seriously consider this to stay young and beautiful forever, right?

The Picture of Dorian Gray is only a short novel, so I found myself getting through it quite quickly. This is helped by how well written and fluid Wilde’s work is. The speed that I got through it even had me questioning how it could be a 19th century novel. Though, that’s because of my personal experience with novels from this time period.

What I liked most about The Picture of Dorian Gray though was the character of Dorian himself. I loved how over such a short novel we saw such a progression in his character. The novel is set out over the course of many years, and in this time Dorian goes from a very well respected young man to a soulless murderous villain. And for me, this was exciting to read, to discover how far somebody can fall when they have made the decisions that Dorian had made. It was interesting to read how his decisions over this time were haunting him both mentally and physically. Wilde certainly has you questioning some of the decisions you go on to make after reading this novel.

I lack any negative comments regarding this book, though this may be because of how happy I am to have found a ‘classic’ that I love. I definitely think this Wilde’s novel is worth a read, whether you like the classics or not. It is a novel that leaves you reflecting on numerous themes, such as beauty, youth and greed. And, any novel that keeps you thinking and reflecting on what has been discussed is definitely a book worth reading.

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His Bloody Project – Graeme Macrae Burnet

Looking for something a bit different from your usual read? Here I review Burnet’s unique novel

his_bloody_project_graeme_macrae_burnetHis Bloody Project is the 2016 novel by Graeme Macrae Burnet. I picked it up on a whim whilst I was browsing the tables in Waterstones at the beginning of the year. I had come to read it a couple of times but for a reason I cannot pinpoint I just never got further than the first few pages. However, a couple of weeks ago I found myself in my ‘reading zone’, so I thought I would try again. This time, I had my full attention on the text in front of me, and I found that I just could not put the book down. I am usually quite a slow reader, so I was surprised to find I had finished the book in two days.

The story itself is set in 1869 and tells of the brutal murders of three people in Scotland. There is no mistaking who committed these murders, however, what we do not know is how the boy responsible found himself in the positon to commit the crime. And, at a time when hanging was still a punishment, we are taken on a journey to establish what will be the consequences of his actions.

I feel Burnet created something truly unique with his creation of His Bloody Project. I have searched online repeatedly trying to establish whether this was a true story, or whether it is simply imagination. I found myself doing this because the novel is so well structured. We are given witness accounts, a memoir written whilst the alleged murderer is in jail, doctors reports and a day by day retelling of the trial. Therefore, the novel is easily mistaken for being simply a collection of found documents. So, although as far as I am aware it is completely fiction, we get a sense of an author who has done thorough research into his subject. As a reader this gives us a real sense of rural life in Scotland in the mid-19thcentury, as well as insight into the approach taken in the criminal justice system at the time.

If you have read one of my previous blog posts, So much history…, you will be aware I am currently taking part in a research project, Writing Lives, which looks into working-class autobiographies. Throughout my participation in this project I have been focusing on a memoir written by a man in rural England. So, when it came to reading His Bloody Project I was completely in my zone. The ‘memoir’ that Burnet includes was my favourite section of the novel. This is because we got a sense of what the alleged murderer was thinking leading up to the crime and whilst he was in prison. Through my participation is Writing Lives I have acquired the skills to look at a piece of autobiographical writing and read between the lines, thus, the memoir that Burnet created was a joy to read…even if it is fiction.

Although His Bloody Project does not follow the traditional ideals of novels that I am used to, and that I love, I would recommend the book for others to read. It provides brilliant insight into a world away from the one many of us are used to. Each, and every, section of the novel entices you to want to continue in your journey. Therefore, do not be surprised if you, like me, rush through this novel in a couple of days. It an interesting and rememberable journey and destination that the Burnet takes you to. And, if you do enjoy this book, make sure you do check out the Writing Lives project, for some fascinating and very true memoirs penned by the British working-class.

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Alice (The Chronicles of Alice: Book 1) – Christina Henry

A review of the first book in Christina Henry’s ‘The Chronicles of Alice’ series

alice_christina_henryAlice is the first book by Christina Henry in The Chronicles of Alice series. To put it simply, the book is a twist on the popular children’s books Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and Through the Looking-Glass, written by Lewis Carroll. Though it is a twist on these children’s books, I would not recommend Henry’s books to be read by a child. It is a dark story with some explicit ideologies, thus it should be left to an older audience.

I thoroughly enjoyed this twist on Lewis Carroll’s original Alice in Wonderland stories. Henry’s story is a completely unique reinvention of the story we all know. The dark and disturbing elements just make the original so much more compelling. Although the story can be vulgar, I think it is a quite enjoyable adventure that Henry takes us on, as she provides twists and turns throughout her novel. Although it is a unique story, Henry effectively includes so many of Carroll’s elements. For example, the characters are all there, just re-imagined into something else, and most of all, Henry’s novel is just as ‘trippy’ (for want of a better word) as Carroll’s original story.

I honestly cannot think of much that I did not like, aside from the fact that the novel did not go on for longer. However, since this is the first in a series, I can accept that this fantastic re-imagination will continue in Henry’s second book, Red Queen. If you are looking for something with a lot of depth and deep meaning, however, this book is probably not for you. I did not find that this book lead me to question our existence, or my path in life etc, but it is a novel that will leave you thinking ‘what did I just read’. – In the most positive way possible!

I am somebody who is not easily offended though. I like reading and exploring a huge range of topics, including the more dark and taboo concepts. However, I realise many people are not like this. So, as a warning, I will say that the book contains a lot of violence, and a lot of references to rape. This is a ‘theme’, is you like, that runs throughout the novel, therefore if this is something that you are not necessarily comfortable with, I would possibly think twice about reading this novel.

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The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson

Looking for something slightly more vintage? This is a review of a 1959 classic horror

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The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson is a twentieth century horror novel, considered one of the best of the century. The story sees four strangers, Dr.Montague, Eleanor, Theodora and Luke, make a visit to Hill House. Hill House is an eighty-year-old mansion built by the long-gone Hugh Crain. The strangers are brought to Hill House by Dr.Montague who hopes to find evidence that the paranormal exists.

This is a novel that I was required to read for my university course, and surprisingly, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It is not often I read a book that I am told I must read and find that I really enjoy it. Just like many gothic novels this novel keeps the reader guessing throughout its entirety. The characters experience numerous events, and the reader is left questioning whether the events are really happening. This is because alongside the paranormal events, Jackson creates characters who are far more in depth than the stereotypical characters in horror movies. i.e hot, college students having a sleepover; you know the ones! Eleanor, for example, the reader learns to be a very vulnerable woman suffering from guilt over her mother’s death. And Theodora is very much the opposite, she is an eccentric artist who we learn has had psychic experiences. Therefore, Jackson’s characters are very subjective to what is going on in the novel, so they cannot necessarily be relied upon

Though I believe this novel to be brilliant, I was a little bit disappointed with the ending. I thought the ending of the story was very abrupt. I even had to go back over the last couple of pages when I had finished, as I did not process what had happened. This was not because I could not believe it, but more because I just did not understand what had happened. I felt it was not as explicit as it should have been. Jackson does however carry on after the final event for one last paragraph. I feel this small paragraph is an attempt to close the novel seamlessly, however for me, it just did not work.

Out of all the novels I have read, The Haunting of Hill House has quickly become one of my favourite horror novels. Therefore, I would one hundred percent recommend this novel to anybody who is into horror novels. However, I would also recommend this novel to somebody who is not necessarily a fan of the horror genre. This is because there is so much more going on, aside from the apparent poltergeist. It is an adventure to be discovered!

side note: The novel has also been adapted into two films, both titled simply ‘The Haunting’. One from the 1960’s and the other from the 1990’s which stars Liam Neeson, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Owen Wilson. 

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The Bazaar of Bad Dreams – Stephen King

Looking for a collection of short stories? Here I review one of Stephen Kings collections

the_bazaar_of_bad_dreams_stephen_kingThe Bazaar of Bad Dreams is a collection of short stories by Stephen King. This is his sixth published collection of short stories. Some of the stories included in the collection however have been printed or have been previously available online. For example Blockade Billy can be found published alone and Mile 51 and Ur have been available on Kindle. Although this is the case, in an author’s note at the beginning of the publication King writes ‘some of these stories have been previously published, but that doesn’t mean they were done then’. Thus, as readers we are given the understanding that there could be changes and improvements to the stories, that they should not be overlooked.

Although I am nowhere near an expert in King’s work, and have only ready a small number of his publications, I am a fan of his. Therefore, when I came across this publication of short stories, I did not hesitate to purchase it. I do not often read short stories however at a time when I was not ready to commit to a full length novel I thought The Bazaar of Bad Dreams would be perfect. This was because I figured that short stories would be a low commitment. However, upon reading the first couple of stories I could not put the book down. I found each story was so well written, engaging and gripping that I did not want to cease reading them. Understandably, I do have favourites in the collection. These being, Ur, The Little Green God of Agony, and Obits. Although these are three stories which are extremely different, all three presented a different reality. Ur, presenting a story about alternative realities, The Little Green God of Agony, a story displaying an exorcism type event and Obits about a columnist who can kill people by writing their obituaries. These were three concepts which intrigued me the most and found that I could not pause from reading. From these three stories alone, you can see just how diverse this collection of King’s work is.

The diversity in this collection is something which thoroughly surprised me. As somebody who thinks of Stephen King and only pictures horror, I have been pleasantly surprised. I have been introduced to new sides of King, sides that I did not know existed. Thus, I am more inclined to delve further into his many literary works and discover how much more King can surprise and challenge my initial perceptions of him and his writing.

Alongside each story, King offers up an intimate author’s note which introduces each tale to the reader. This is something I have not yet come across and thus makes each short story more unique and personal. As we discover where the idea for the story stemmed from and why King felt the need to write the following story. This draws us, as readers, closer to the author, enabling us understanding of the mindset and the feelings King had whilst writing the stories. Something which is so rarely done with the literature we read.

Out of the publications I have read recently The Bazaar of Bad Dreams is one of my favourites. It is perfect for those who do not wish to commit to a full-length novel, for those who are die hard King fans and those who may not have read King’s work before. The amount of diversity King offers us as a reader means that there is something for everyone. And I would highly recommend you find your ‘bad dream’.

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