Wide Sargasso Sea (1966)

Jean Rhys

Considered a colonial interpretation of as well as a prequel to Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. Wide Sargasso Sea is a well-written and constructed book which uses it’s Caribbean setting to provide a gothic landscape and setting for the sins of the father and a ghost in the attic. Rhys draws influence from Charlotte Bronte and Daphne du Maurier in creating this sense of fear and unease in her setting and I found that it was this tone that was the most interesting part of the book.

The setting, the tone and the writing I liked but as usual I personally just didn’t find the themes of power struggles between men and women very compelling. A glimpse into the history of creole and the islands was an interesting bonus but, even so, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this book unless perhaps it was to someone who was interested or a fan of its influences. That said I read it fast for a uni subject with a massive book list and I do still wonder what I missed and may re-visit one day. That probably won’t happen any time soon as the shelf of books waiting to be read is fast outgrowing those I’ve read. As it is this one may have to join the stack of classics which I haven’t appreciated and, in that, at least Rhys will have good company with Dickens and George Eliot.

Southern Bastards – Vol. 1: Here Was a Man

Jason Aaron & Jason Latour

I’d heard a lot about this book. Well, actually no, not a lot to describe it but just general buzz around it. Eisner winner, good word of mouth and I’d known about and been attracted to the title for quite a while. This, the first issue, is good and perhaps even great. Volume 1 delivers enough to warrant the buzz though it seems too that this is also a kind of prelude to what this series is ultimately about which is, I’m guessing revenge, the sins of the father and ownership of places and communities.

It’s hard to say much else without spoiling the story and as I haven’t read the next volume yet I don’t know just how important these initial events are. It seems though that this series is seeking to create a history around a place. This idea of place is also emphasized in the intro by Jason Latour where he talks about his love/hate relationship with the South. As someone from country Australia the feelings he expressed rang familiar and inclined me to like the book more than I might have. The idea of the southern gothic is threaded through the story and the books explores the idea of our birth place and what it means in relation to identity and how we may seek to revisit a place and/or attempt to reject its meaning.

Again, it’s hard to judge the series off this, the prelude first volume. Having read this far I know that I still really like the title and that it relates well to the content. This is a graphic novel grounded firmly in reality, there’s a good amount of violence and the art is suitably rough but full of detail and though I was going to say the story shines stronger perhaps the art sits on an even level in its stylistic choice.

Very keen to get more volumes of this series.

 

Carmilla (1897)

Sheridan Le Fanu

Carmilla is said to be the first vampire novel. It pre-dates Bran Stoker’s Dracula by 26 years and Stoker is said to have taken influence from it. Sheridan Le Fanu was an Irish journalist and uses the minimalist spare style you’d expect from his vocation. From what little I know of him Le Fanu was a workmanlike author intent on writing ghost stories for money. The novel is interesting in its use of using the young female character Lauraas the protaganist and the allusion to lesbian sexuality between her and the vampire Carmilla. It is also interesting that it’s style has not dated as badly as other novels of the time.

This is said to be the beginning of a different perception of the vampire myth. The start of the vampire being a representative fear of the aristocracy. Until Carmilla vampires had been represented as poor shambling zombie-like monsters.

Published in 1897 this is a surprisingly readable book. Leagues ahead of Frankenstein from earlier in the 19th century and arguably more interesting to read than Dracula. It’s not even the proto-type vampire novel you perhaps expect. Instead it an almost very matter of fact ghost story. It doesn’t establish the vampire rules, I think that comes with Dracula, and probably benefits from being read by the modern reader who automatically attributes these rules into a story which doesn’t state them but into which they easily fit.

Batman 8: Superheavy (2016)

Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo

I’m still not sure what I’m supposed to be reading in the new 52 DC universe. I’ve tried a few different series and they’ve been a bit hit and miss. Some of the continuation is confusing for me as well. I thought I could read the core batman series by itself and have a good understanding of what was happening in the universe but it seems as if events in Detective Comics and Batman Eternal have an effect in this story line. It seems as though to understand Batman 8 you have to read the Endgame story line which collects events just as the A Death in the Family story line collected different strands from various New 52 books.

Edit: No, I actually missed reading Batman 7: Endgame. It’s not that confusing at all. This is the continued effect of trying to buy more books in stores rather than online and totally forgetting what I do and don’t own. I brought Batman 6 twice, forgot, and then skipped to this, Batman 8.

Even so this book is still readable. (Even after skipping a book… so credit to them). Snyder and Capullo are still trying to make their mark and do something different even after having created such iconic new batman tenants as the court of owls and the Joker of A Death in the Family and the origin story of Zero Year. I think in some of their origin work they tried too hard to be different, particularly some of the art and colour choices, but here despite similar bold colour work they are more on track and succeed more consistently than they have in the past several volumes which have been hit and miss and suffered particularly when Capullo hasn’t supplied the artwork.

Batman 8 is set shortly after zero year, I think. So the idea and evolution of Batman is still young. The events of Endgame have meant that Bruce Wayne no longer wants to be Batman and so Commissioner Gordon steps into the role, if not the suit (at least as we know it) of Batman. It’s a controversial move but one that I don’t mind as it allows Snyder to play with new gadgets and explore ideas which would be impossible, canonically, to do in an actual Batman book. As it is Snyder and Capullo have finally walked the fine line of balancing the unusual art colour palate, bringing Batman into a contemporary setting and involving new ideas and stories methods within and sometimes outside of the restrictions of the character, setting and genre. I loved their first three batman volumes and my interest has lessened since Zero Year. This book I liked and am again looking forward to catching up on other volumes as well as branching out to Batman Eternal and Detective Comics.

I’m still not sure which title to follow in the DC’s New 52 but I’m glad Snyder is continuing to do such interesting work on this their lead book.

Dead Snow (2009)

Tommy Wirkola

I re-watched this film at the start of 2017. It was around this time I started keeping track of what I was watching and reading. Mainly because I was bored and housebound. I had wondered if perhaps some sort of pattern might emerge in my media consumption. Or, if nothing else, I might start to understand what I kept coming back to and perhaps what I should concentrate on in the future.

As far as I can remember I’ve only seen this film twice. The first time was circa 2004 when I hired it from a video store in Preston. It had a little more novelty then. Though consuming foreign indie film was much different as well.

*edit: the films wasn’t released until 2009. I had moved back to near Preston and was hiring videos from a different but similar store.

Twelve years (actually eight) later this sort of idea of the double hinged camp horror film has been fairly well mined and yet this film still holds up well. The zombies look great, it’s all shot perfectly and the acting is fine. The plot is bare and doesn’t try to do anything other than play as expected. Group of friends travel to remote location, a ghost story signposts coming horror, said ghost(s) materialise and kill and terrorise until what is left of the group can turn on and destroy the ghosts.

For the budget this is a good film and I respect how well they executed a flimsy concept. Still I don’t think I’ll watch this a third time. Though still I’m curious about the sequel even as everyone campily combines Nazis into their speculative/sci-fi/horror stories. It’s true there’s nothing more evil then a Nazi. It’s depressing though seeing true evil so easily defeated by sexed up bumbling Norwegian teens. Even Bed knobs and Broomsticks treated the concept more seriously.

Bloodlust: Tournament of Death (2016)

Damien Abraham

A short vice style (for lack of a better descriptor) documentary about the CZW wrestling company and its annual death match wrestling event: Tournament of Death. Not a subject I’m usually interested in but, like a lot of the Vice shows, I was drawn to it more because of the presenter than the subject matter. I’m a big fan of the Damien Abraham’s band, Fucked Up, and his various podcasts particularly Turned Out a Punk.

So, that said, it’s hard to say too whether I would recommend this doco. Its violent and gory and if you don’t want to see wounds being inflicted on another person, even semi-staged ones, this if a no-go zone. If, however, you’re intrigued by just how many people it takes to remove a roofing nail array from someone’s skull than, well, this doco is for you.

Abraham examines the life of the owner of CZW and the amount of work he puts into his company and these tournament of death events. He interviews various wrestlers and examines some of their expectations, motivations and plans. It is almost interesting in its coverage of the culture and this sub-culture of wrestling and how something that is generally viewed as being a large produced for TV multimillion dollar industry can also be produced on such a grass roots level and for little other than the passion of the fans and the performers. Unfortunately though this angle isn’t properly explored and there isn’t any full closure on the financial success or failure of the event. By the time the documentary finishes and the various participants, including the owner, are being treated for wounds and concussions it is hard to see the appeal or any basis for the passion and bloodlust which the fans are so full of.

It feels too as if the doco was cut short. As if there were either not enough time for a narrative to develop or there wasn’t enough of a narrative present to justify more time. Whatever the reason the result is that the documentary, stand-alone, falls a little flat. That said this documentary makes much more sense and is far more interesting when viewed after Abraham’s interview with one of the wrestlers, Jeff Cannonball, on the Turned Out a Punk podcast. This interview provides more of the background and motivation of Cannonball and shines a light of context upon the CZW tournament and similar events as well as the violence inside the ring. Though much of the sport at this level still, to me at least, seems like savagery just for savagery’s sake the interview with Jeff Cannonball shows that, like punk- hardcore and various other sub-cultures what can appear strange and violent to an outsider can be a passion and way of life for the participants and fans. Abraham is more than able to flesh out the interest and appeal of sub-cultural passion and its importance in relation to the development of other sub-cultures and even popular culture in his free-form podcast medium. Strangely though there is no such connection or summation made in this film. Many other vice documentaries I’ve watched seemed to dedicate an ending portion to making these connections and it’s kind of jarring that in this there isn’t enough time for same level of ‘so what does this mean’ or ‘why does this matter’ and the whole flick seems so much less important than it may have as a result.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1994)

John Berendt

I always assumed I knew what true crime writing was. In the same way, you assume you know a lot of things. I thought I knew because I had once read Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood and thought that was the broad template. An in-depth immersion into the many facts of a crime, it’s surrounds, the criminals, the victims, the trial and the punishment.

Berendt’s book does not adhere to this template. It is a different kind of true crime writing and it’s not necessarily lesser but it is certainly different. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil itself is still a good book. I was simply surprised that it took such a different tack. Berendt’s book is written in a light journalistic and serial manner. The crime isn’t overly complicated and so Berendt instead investigates the local characters and town surrounding act of murder. There is a degree of conceit whereby the writing seeks to act as entertainment first and provide any form of investigation, resolution or solution as a distant second. As such Berendt revels in providing a southern gothic portrait of the city of Savannah and its eccentric inhabitants.

As a novice to true crime this book was entertaining and easy to read and almost pulpy with its first-person perspective and rearrangement of chronology to help the narrative. It shows how problematic true crime writing can be. How easily facts can be rearranged to amp up the entertainment factor. How easily the truth and non-fiction of an event can be morphed into fiction. This book doesn’t ask any searching questions into the nature of crime and how it relates to the human condition but it was a good introduction and primer towards some of the more harrowing true crime novels I’ve since read while also acting as a reminder that the genre, while serious and often intensely so, is also almost paradoxically still acting as a form of entertainment