Monday, February 28, 2011

The Skin MapThe Skin Map by Stephen R. Lawhead

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“The most incomprehensible thing about the world, is that it is comprehensible” Albert Einstein

“Do you know that Einstein is wrong, and that certain objects and forces can move with a velocity greater than that of light? With proper aid expect to go backward and forward in time, and actually see and feel the earth of remote past and future epochs” (The Whisperer in the Darkness by H.P. Lovecraft)

London’s rain and thunderstorms change Kit Livingstone’s life. Not because he gets sick, but because of the power of nature that reveals to Kit the ‘unpredictable’ laws of physics.

Telluric energy flows are mapped since centuries, and they are known as ley lines: pathways to other worlds.

So the adventure starts: Kit meets his great-grandfather, who tells him about the ley lines and the possibilities of time-slip (only backwards) and body travels.

“... the possibilities are endless. Your friend could be anywhere or anywhen.”


“Moving from one world or dimension to another, you inevitably travel in time as well.” (page 40)

Kit’s great-grandfather needs him to find the Skin Map, that has been separated into five pieces.

The Quest of the Bright Empires involves many characters, places, and epochs.

Kit Livingstone and his girlfriend Wilhelmina.

Kit’s great-grandfather, Cosimo and his friend Sir Henry.

Arthur Flinders-Petrie, the first ‘owner’ of the Skin Map.

Lord Burleigh, the villain of the story; who, as every villain, is present in every epoch of the Skin Map’s search.

The locations and epochs: ancient and nineteenth century Egypt, Prague during sixteenth / seventeenth century, China when the Portuguese inhabit Macao (seventeenth century), London contemporary and in the year 1666.

Lawhead with the ploy of the ley lines has written an historical fiction book, where the History is presented as a whole. So The Skin Map is recommended for readers of historical fiction, but also for whom is interested in physic laws or, better, Quantum Mechanics. Of course, The Skin Map is not a textbook about quantum mechanics, it is a book of fiction; but as quantum mechanics has opened new horizons in the physic’s field, The Skin Map could open, and in my opinion this is Lawhead’s main idea of the introductory book of the series, new understanding of reality, and unpredictable: everywhere and everywhen.

“The Many-Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics says that different editions of us live in many worlds simultaneously, an uncountable number of them, and all of them are real. …

Quantum physics is stranger than science fiction.” (The Dancing Wu Li Masters by Gary Zukav, page 96) (See also Many-Worlds interpretation of Schroedinger Cat’s paradox).

“And then?” - asked Lady Faith

“We wait” (page 370)

We have to wait until September for Quest the Second: The Bone House.

BookSneeze has provided me with a complimentary copy of this book.

View all my reviews

Friday, February 25, 2011

Thoughts and quotes: The Colour Out of Space by H.P. Lovecraft

The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories:
by Howard Phillips Lovecraft
Penguin Classics (1999), Paperback, 448 pages

“It is not because of anything that can be seen or heard or handled, but because of something that is imagined.” (page 170)

The Colour Out of Space (March 1927) is narrated by an unnamed surveyor from Boston. He is looking for a place where to build a new reservoir.
Surveying a rural area he comes across a patch of land. The surveyor’s feelings are of angst, so he hurries to go on.
Curiosity grows in the surveyor, he asks for information and talks with an hermit, Ammi Pierce.
Ammi tells to the surveyor an horrific story: in June 1882 a farm, run by Nahum Gardner and his family, was hit by a meteorite containing a substance of an indescribable colour.
“It was just a colour out of space …” (page 199)

Lovecraft in The Colour Out of Space quotes two painters: Salvator Rosa and Johann Heinrich Fuessli.
Both painters probably had been source of inspiration for Lovecraft: Salvator Rosa for his landscapes, overgrown wilderness, mountains swept by wind, haunting vistas.
Johann Heinrich Fuessli’s paintings suggesting of the supernatural.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Thoughts and quotes: Un Bel Morir and The Tramp Steamer's Last Port of Call by Alvaro Mutis

The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll (New York Review Books Classics):
by Alvaro Mutis
NYRB Classics (2002), Paperback, 768 pages

(or Un bel morir una vita honora from Francesco Petrarca
A Beautiful Die a Lifetime Honor)

‘I imagine a Country, a blurred, fogbound Country, an enchanted magical Country where I could live.
What Country, where? …
Not Mosul or Basra or Samarkand. Not Karlskrona or Abylund or Stockholm or Copenhagen. Not Kazan or Kanpur or Aleppo. Not in lacustrian Venice or chimerical Istanbul, not on the Ile-de-France or in Tours or Stratford-on Avon or Weimar or Yasnaia Poliana or in the baths of Algiers.’ (page 286)

The Gaviero takes lodging in La Plata and finds a room in the house of a blind woman. Under his room, the river: ‘The room resembled a cage suspended over the gently murmuring, tobacco-colored water …’ (page 193)
Quiet living is not for the Gaviero, so he is hired to transport supposed railway materials upriver. The job turns out to be very dangerous, and ‘His wide-open eyes were fixed on that nothingness, immediate and anonymous, …’ (page 294)

The Gaviero’s question, where ‘I could live?’, has only one answer: everywhere, and always with water (a river or the ocean) which faces and leads to another place.


Alvaro Mutis tells about his ‘meetings’ with a dying tramp steamer, the Halcyon, all around the world.
‘The tramp steamer entered my field of vision as slowly as a wounded saurian. I could not believe my eyes. With the wondrous splendor of Saint Petersburg in the back ground, the poor ship intruded on the scene.’ (page 301)

The tramp steamer as a talking soul suggests to Alvaro Mutis about ‘the world of dreams and fantasy’.
But ‘Life often renders its accounts, and it is advisable not to ignore them. They are a kind of bill presented to us so that we will not become lost deep in the world of dreams and fantasy, unable to find our way back to the warm, ordinary sequence of time where our destiny truly occurs.’ (page 302)

The bill is presented to Alvaro Mutis in form of the Halcyon’s captain; who recounts his love affair with Warda, and the Halcyon.

Warda is the sister of Abdul Bashur, close friend of the Gaviero.
Abdul Bashur warns the Halcyon’s captain: ‘What you two (Warda and the captain) have will last as long as the Halcyon.‘ (page 349)

Alvaro Mutis needed to know Halcyon or the idyllic time of the past.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Thoughts and quotes: Mushishi, Volume 7 by Yuki Urushibara

Mushishi, Volume 7
by Yuki Urushibara
Del Rey (2009), Paperback, 240 pages


‘You silently withstand blizzard …
You silently overflow with beauty …
You silently …
steal life away to thrive yourself.’ (page 3)

Lost in Blossom tells about a woman alive for hundreds of years drinking a sap from a sakura (cherry tree). ‘There’s something living in this tree. It’s a mushi called Kodama, and it’s taken the form of froth.’ (page 16) The tree lives longer than the normal tree of its kind, and Kodama can also give people long life and beauty.

‘They say that a soul resides in ancient tree that have withstood the ages. And it is the soul that captures the heart of man.’ (page 47)


‘There’s a mushi called Mizukagami that lives in stagnant water.’ (page 59) When the image of an animal reflects on the surface of a lake that contains Mizukagami, it mimics the animal’s shape and step by step replaces the animal. But Mizukagami lacks of blood and flesh, so it disappears when its image reflects itself: a mirror, or the eyes of a human being.
A mushi version of The Portrait of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde.


Shoraishi is a mushi living in the atmosphere, eating lighting; sometimes the larva of Shoraishi falls to earth and enters the human body through the belly button. This time Shoraishi has chosen a child whose mother doesn’t love him.
Mushi seems to intervene as a Trojan Horse in the life of mother and son. Mushi doesn’t change the relation itself, with Ginko’s help it shows a different point of view of the same problem. So Ginko asks to the mother: ‘You never … looked at his actions that way before, did you?’ (page 128)


‘It is the Ragged Road. It is the path that mushi travel to come above ground. It is the eye that links the worlds of the mushi to our world.’ (page 159)
Ragged roads are paths filled with trees and shrubs. When someone leaves you and there are trees or shrubs around, that one is watching you from the shadows of the leaves.

Ginko should meet a mushi called David Bowie.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Thoughts and quotes: The Rescue (Guardian of Ga'hoole, Book 3) by Kathryn Lasky

The Rescue (Guardians of Ga'hoole, Book 3)
by Kathryn Lasky
Scholastic (2004), Paperback, 208 pages

‘Six strong, quick witted owls about to fulfill a destiny, they had indeed become a band of owls who would rise into the blackness …’ (page 168)

Dreaming of the past, ‘Once upon a very long time ago, in the time of Glaux there was an order of knightly owls, from a kingdom called Ga'Hoole, who would rise each night into the blackness and perform noble deeds.’ (page 18)

Today, Eglantine, Soren’s sister, is back, but at the same time Ezylryb has disappeared.

‘Soren, Gylfie, Twilight, and Digger could not imagine anything worse, anything more brutal than St. Aggie’s. But the Barred Owl had told them differently. There was something far worse.’ (page 51)
The band, Soren, Gylfie, Twilight, Digger, Octavia, and Eglantine, are ready to start the rescue of Ezylryb.
The first clue comes to the band from The Rogue Smith of Silverveil, a female snowy owl who works as blacksmith not attached to any kingdom in the owl world. The Rogue Smith reveals important information about the past of Ezylryb, and Metal Beak.
‘Metal Beak … thought any owl who was not a Tyto Alba was a little less than completely pure … before we could become true members of that Way of Purity, we had to sleep in stone crypts with the bones of the old Tytos that they called the Purest Ones. (pages 139-140)

Eglantine helps the other members of the band to find the castle where many questions about Ezylryb, Metal Beak, and the world of the owls would find some answers.

And the humans (the Others)?
- Oh, you know about the Others do you?
- Did you know that not only did they not have wings or feathers, but that they had two long sticks for legs that were just for walking.
- How did they get along?
- Not that well, apparently. (page 92)

Thoughts and quotes: The Call of Cthulhu by H.P. Lovecraft

The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories:
by Howard Phillips Lovecraft
Penguin Classics (1999), Paperback, 448 pages

The Call of Cthulhu (1926) is written in a documentary style, in three parts. The narrator recounts his discovery of notes written by his granduncle George Gammell Angell.

The narrator, among the notes, finds a bas-relief sculpture. It shows an octopus, or a dragon, or a human caricature. Henry Anthony Wilcox, who based his work on dreams of great Cyclopean cities, is the author of the sculpture. Wilcox’s dreams happened in March, April 1925, and during the same time in every angle of the world there were cases of group folly.

‘The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.
We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity … but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality … that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.’ (page 139)

The second part of The Call of Cthulhu, is The Tale of Inspector Legrasse: Legrasse assists at a meeting of people venerating a statuette, and repeating:
‘In his house at R’lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.’
Legrasse, as police inspector, arrests some people and takes the statuette. The statuette has close resemblances with Wilcox’s bas-relief.

‘Those first men formed the cult around small idols which the Great Ones shewed them; idols bought in dim aeras from dark stars. That cult would never die till the stars came right again, and the secret priests would take great Cthulhu from His tomb to revive His subjects and resume this rule on earth. The time would be easy to know, for then mankind would have become as the Great Old Ones; free and wild beyond good and evil.’ (page 155)

‘the Great Old Ones who lived ages before there were any man, and who came to the young world out of the sky.’ (page 153)

The Madness from the Sea is the third part of The Call of Cthulhu. The narrator after reading the notes, investigates on Cthulhu Cult. Casually he reads an article about a derelict ship with only one survivor, Gustav Johansen.
The narrator reads in a diary written by Johansen that they have been attacked by another ship; eventually they have defeated the attackers and sailed toward an uncharted island.
‘The thing cannot be described - there is no language for such abysms of shrieking and immemorial lunacy, such eldritch contradictions of all matter, force, and cosmic order.’ (page 167)

About the Joshi’s note regarding an obvious Lovecraft’s reference to Nietzsche, the editor quotes Lovecraft: ‘let me state clearly that I do not swallow him (Nietzsche) whole.’ The note is referred to the Nietzsche’s idea of morality, beyond evil and good. Although I agree with Joshi about morality, I’d like to suggest interesting connections between Lovecraft and Thus Spake Zarathustra by Nietzsche.

‘Some day he would call, when the stars were ready and the secret cult would always be waiting to liberate him.’ (page 154)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Thoughts and quotes: The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

The Paris Wife
by Paula McLain
Bond Street Books (2011), Hardcover, 336 pages

‘Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know’
Ernest Hemingway

Hadley Richardson is the Paris wife of Ernest Hemingway. She is his first wife and they lived mostly in Paris during 1920s.
Paris in 1920s is the center of literary world, when the so-called Lost Generation shows its apex.
‘We could walk into any cafe` and feel the wonderful chaos of it, ordering Pernod or Rhum St. James until we were beautifully blurred and happy to be there together.’ (page xi)

Paula McLain writes an absorbing book from Hadley’s point of view, with some insertions from Hemingway’s thoughts (in italic characters).

The couple struggles to survive with no money, and especially Hemingway’s will to become a writer.
Just after their marriage, Hadley’s doubts about her ‘collocation’ in Hemingway’s life is increasing.
‘I wasn’t at all convinced I was special, as Ernest was. He lived inside the creative sphere and I lived outside, and I didn’t know if anything would ever change that.’ (page 107)
Actually Hemingway was one of the few writers to whom life is a link for books, and the contrary; the stories come to Hemingway from real life, and he lives his real life always on the border between life and death, where life shows its power. At the beginning of Hemingway’s career, when he is with Hadley, that objective is very far but Hemingway already knows it.

McLain, almost until the first Hadley and Hemingway’s journey in Spain, shows respect and fear, writing about Hemingway. That could be McLain’s choice of Hadley as a weak character, but the reader’s feeling are different: it seems mostly McLain’s fear to write, although indirectly, about Hemingway.
The Paris Wife improves when Hadley and Hemingway life changes with the first books’ success, although it means a change also in the marriage: ‘It was the end of Ernest’s struggle with apprenticeship, and an end to other things as well. He would never again be unknown. We would never again be this happy. The next day we boarded a train back to Paris.’ (page 195)

I recommend this book to Hemingway’s fans: it’s better than a biography, although less ‘feral’, vitalistic, than Hemingway’s books.

PAULA MCLAIN was born in Fresno, CA in 1965.
She received her MFA in poetry from the University of Michigan in 1996, and since then has been a resident at Yaddo, the MacDowell Colony (a community of artists where they can work in peaceful surrounding, some notable names: Leonard Bernstein, Jonathan Franzen, Alice Sebold, etc.).
She is the author of two collections of poetry, a memoir Like Family (Little Brown, 2003), and one previous novel, A Ticket to Ride.
Paula McLain lives in Cleveland, OH with her family.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Review: The Festival, He, and Cool Air by H.P. Lovecraft

The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories:
by Howard Phillips Lovecraft
Penguin Classics (1999), Paperback, 448 pages

The Festival

The Festival (October 1923) is considered to be one of the first of Cthulhu Mythos.
During Yuletide (a winter festival celebrated by Germanic people, and later absorbed into Christian celebration) an unnamed narrator is going to Kingsport, Massachusetts.
The narrator comes at his relatives’ house where he meets an old man. The old man tells the narrator to wait a few moments in a room. The narrator picks up a book from a pile: the Necronomicon.

At the sound of a clock bell the narrator goes outside the house and follows a crowd of cloaked figures.
The people is going to a great white church, where they engage in a Yule-rite.

‘It was the Yule-rite, older than man and fated to survive him; the primal rite of the solstice and of spring’s promise beyond the snow; the rite of fire and evergreen, light and music. … But what frightened me most was the flaming column; … For it all that seething combustion no warmth lay, but only the clamminess of death and corruption.’ (page 115)

Lovecraft suggests the idea of ‘the survival of some clan of pre-Aryan sorcerers who preserved primitive rites those of the witch-cult … that … had its origin in a pre-Aryan race that was driven underground but continued to lurk in the hidden corners of the earth.’ (from the explanatory notes, page 385)


He (August 1925) tells the story of an unnamed narrator who has moved to New York.
One night the narrator meets a man, who is wearing eighteen’s century clothes, and offers to show him the city.

Eventually the narrator follows the man at his home, where he learns about the true face of New York: he sees visions from the past and the future with flying creatures and mutated people.

‘I never sought to return to those tenebrous labyrinth, nor would I direct any sane man thither if I could. Of who or what that ancient creature was, I have no idea; but I repeat that the city is dead and full of unsuspected horrors.’ (page 129)

These were Lovecraft impressions of New York.

Cool Air

Cool Air (March 1926) is another story written during Lovecraft’s journey to New York.
The narrator is looking for an apartment for rent in New York. He finds one where, upstairs, lives a doctor, Dr. Munoz.
One day the narrator suffers a heart attack and he is rescued by Dr. Munoz.
As the acquaintance goes on, the narrator learns about Dr. Munoz’s obsession: he keeps his apartment at a vey low temperature (13° C) using a refrigeration system.

Problems occur when the refrigerator’s pump breaks down.

Dr. Munoz, after death, has preserved his body for eighteen years helped by the cold. The narrator is witnessing Dr. Munoz’s body decay, caused by the warm.

A technologically (refrigeration system) version of The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar by E.A. Poe.

Review: Ilona Comes with the Rain by Alvaro Mutis

The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll:
Ilona Comes with the Rain
by Alvaro Mutis
NYRB Classics (2002), Paperback, 768 pages

Ilona comes with the rain, and goes with the fire.

‘Somewhere in his soul he bore the mark of the defeated that isolated them irremediably from other men.’ (page 105)

The adventures (and misadventures) of Maqroll this time are set in Panama City.
As always in Maqroll’s life, when the bottom is very close, he meets an old friend, Ilona: so Maqroll’s adventures start again.

Maqroll and Ilona start a business of ‘stewardesses’. After a while, of course, they become bored of this way of life and also another woman, Larissa appears to remind them about finitude of life.

Maqroll’s adventures are always mixed with the idea of humankind without borders, distances, as a world waiting for this character to start running its soul.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Review: Mr. Humphreys and his Inheritance by M.R. James

More Ghost Stories:
Mr. Humphreys and his Inheritance
by M.R. James
Edward Arnold & Co. (1911)

Mr. Humphreys has inherited a property from an uncle: ‘neither the property nor the uncle had he ever seen.’ (page 219)
Mr. Cooper, the property’s bailiff, has gone to the train station to pick up Mr. Humphreys.
Soon after arriving at the house, Mr. Humphreys and Mr. Cooper start an exploration of the property. Mr. Humphreys enters into the maze or labyrinth, where he finds a strange sundial. But the first impression is wrong, instead of a sundial on the top there is a stone column with a metal globe engraved with figure of the patriarchs of evil.

The dessecretion of the maze follows a series of strange events.

When Mr. Humphreys is tracing a maze’s plan, he finds a dot or a hole on the plan:
‘An ugly black spot about the size of a shilling. Ink? No.
It resembles a hole, but how should a hole be there? …
It seemed to go not only through the paper, but through the table … and through the floor below that, down, and still down, even into infinite depths.’ (page 269) and ‘far, far down there was a movement, and the movement was upwards - towards the surface. … waving black arms prepared to clasp the head that was bending over them.’ (page 270)

Quid multa?

I didn’t believe in ghosts, not until I became one.

Review: Martin's Close by M.R. James

More Ghost Stories:
Martin’s Close
by Montague Rhodes James
Edward Arnold & Co. (1911)

- Madam, will you walk, will you talk with me?
- Yes, sir, I will walk, I will talk with you.

The narrator has to visit some land in the West. He is accompanied by the estate handy-man John Hill.
The rector of the parish where there are the properties, tells to the narrator to inquire about Martin’s Close.
During the visit the narrator asks to John Hill about Martin’s Close: the story of this bit of land concerns the murder of a young woman, Ann Clark by George Martin.

George Martin ‘was troubled before his cruel action come to light by the young woman spirit.’ (page 174)

The narrator finds a report of Martin’s trial by Judge Jefferies.

The story that follows tells about the trial’s last days. Accordingly to witnesses ‘Ann Clark was seen after the 15th of May (murder’s day), and that, at such time as she was so seen, it was impossible she could have been a living person.’ (pages 190-1)

‘And prey, what came out (from the cupboard), a mouse?’ (page 199)

Review: The Rats in the Walls by H.P. Lovecraft

The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories:
The Rats in the Walls
by Howard Phillips Lovecraft
Penguin Classics (1999), Paperback, 448 pages

‘They must know it was the rats.’ (page 108)

A descendant of Delapore’s family is the narrator of The Rats in the Walls (1923). He has recently moved from Massachusetts to England.

The narrator and his cat, named Nigger-man, hear noises of rats scurrying behind the walls.
Looking for the rats he discovers ‘a subterraneous world of limitless mystery and horrible suggestion.’ (page 105) The narrator’s family raised human cattle building an underground city.

Eventually the narrator attacks a friend and eats him. He is locked in a mental institution, claiming his innocence and telling that were the rats in the walls to eat his friend.

A gift from Lovecraft to Edgar Allan Poe.

Review: The Shipwrecked Men by Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca

The Shipwrecked Men (Penguin Great Journeys)
by Alvar Nunez Cabeza De Vaca
Penguin Classics (2007), Paperback, 160 pages

Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca (ca. 1492 – ca. 1560) was a Spanish explorer.
He took part in the 1527 Panfilo de Narvaez expedition to explore Florida.
Became famous writing in 1542 The Report, or The Shipwrecked Men. Six hundred men and five ships was reduced to four people.

Cabeza de Vaca’s story of the journey is brief but tells to the readers many important facts related to the first knowledge of the New World. Cabeza de Vaca’s point of view is not the usual of the conqueror, but like one of a modern anthropologist: accepting the people with their way of life, without judging or trying to change something.

Although there are several theories about the exact route of Cabeza de Vaca’s journey, it is known that they travelled across Dominican Republic, Cuba, Florida, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Mexico City where they have been rescued.

‘Since the lodges afforded so little shelter, people began to die, and five Christian quartered on the coast were driven to such extremes that they ate each other, until but one remained, who, being left alone, had no one to eat him.’ (page 50)

Review: The Snow of the Admiral by Alvaro Mutis

The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll:
The Snow of the Admiral
by Alvaro Mutis
NYRB Classics (2002), Paperback, 768 pages

The Snow of Admiral is the diary of Maqroll’s journey on Xurando` river towards a sawmill.
Everything is real but could be otherwise: as Don Quixote and the windmill, or the quest for Dulcinea.

Metaphysical question, and some answers:
‘The best thing is to let everything happen as it must. That’s right. It’s not a question of resignation. Far from it. It’s something else, something to do with the distance that separates us from everything and everybody. One day we’ll know.’ (page 45)

‘How many wrong turning in a labyrinth where we do everything we can to avoid the exit, how many surprises and then the tedium of learning they weren’t surprises at all, that everything that happens to us has the same face, exactly the same origin.’ (page 62)

‘A woman’s body under the rush of a mountain waterfall, her brief cries of surprise and joy, the movement of her limbs in the rapid foam that carries red coffee berries, sugarcane pulp, insects struggling to escape the current: this is the exemplary happiness, that surely never comes again.’ (page 17)

Eventually Maqroll comes to the sawmill:
‘And again, in the fading afternoon light, the enormous metal structure was surrounded by a golden halo that made it look unreal.’ (page 70)

Review: The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral by M.R. James

More Ghost Stories:
The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral
by Montague Rhodes James
Edward Arnold & Co. (1911)

Dr. Black is cataloguing the Barchester’s Cathedral library, when he discovers a box containing some fifty year old diaries.
The diaries concern the death of Dr. Haynes, a former Archdeacon of the Cathedral.

During winter time Dr. Haynes is alone in the cathedral’s apartment, because his sister’s health doesn’t allow her to stay.
Dr. Haynes diaries tell of ordinary events, but soon after the main theme of the diaries are the noises of cats in the cathedral (although Dr. Haynes has never owned a cat).
‘The hall and the staircase seemed to be unusually full of what I can only call movement without sound.’ (page 157)

Has a carved figure on the stalls of Barchester Cathedral something to do with these noises?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Review: Casting the Runes by M.R. James

More Ghost Stories:
by M. R. James
Edward Arnold & Co. (1911)

Warning: before to write a book’s review, read Casting the Runes (You could change idea!).

The runic alphabet, developed from the Etruscan, was used in northern Europe from third to seventeenth century.
In magical practice ‘casting the runes’ means send curses through slip of paper in runic letters.

Karswell is a writer of alchemy and witchcraft books. When somebody refuses to review or submits a negative one about his books, the reviewer’s fate is marked.

‘The obvious course was to find a match, and also to consult his watch: he might as well know how many hours of discomfort awaited him.
So he puts his hand into the well-known nook under the pillow: only, it did not get so far.
What he touched was, according to his account, a mouth, with teeth, and with hair about it, and, he declares, not the mouth of a human being.’ (page 112)

Review: The Tractate Middoth by M.R. James

More Ghost Stories of an Antiquary:
by M. R. James
Edward Arnold & Co. (1911)

Mr. John Eldred is looking for a book in a library. The book is Tractate Middoth from the Talmud. A library assistant, Mr. Garret, helps Mr. Eldred to find the book, but a man is reading the Tractate:

‘It looked to me dry, and it looked dusty, and the streaks of hair across it were much less like hair than cobwebs.’ (page 58)

Mr. Garrett is shocked from the reader of the Tractate and he is forced to stay at home. Before Mr. Garrett returned to work at the library, the librarian wanted that he takes a week’s rest. Mr. Garrett leaves for a village on the sea.

In train he met a landlady, Mrs. Simpson and her daughter. Mrs Simpson had apartments empty at that season, so Mr. Garrett decides to take one.
An evening, during their talk, Mrs Simpson is very interested in Mr. Garrett’s job as librarian. The Simpson’s decide to ask for help to Mr. Garrett: the women have to find a book where inside could be the will of their uncle. The only clue is a number that sounds familiar to Mr. Garrett: it is the number of the book that Mr. Eldred was looking for. Another interesting clue for Mr. Garrett is that Mr. Eldred is Mrs. Simpson’s cousin.

Mr. Eldred is the first to find the mysterious book, but when he is searching for the will in the book:
‘something black seemed to drop upon the white leaf and run down it, and then as Eldred started and was turning to look behind him, a little dark form appeared to rise out of the shadow behind the tree-trunk and from it two arms enclosing a mass of blackness came before Eldred’s face and covered his head and neck.’ (page 79)

The story has a good plot and M.R. James is a master to insert the ghost’s passages only when needed, so to keep the reader’s curiosity high.

Review: The Baron by Katherine Mansfield

In a German Pension:
by Katherine Mansfield
Dodo Press (2005), Paperback, 112 pages

In a German Pension contains thirteen short stories written by Katherine Mansfield after she visited Germany.

The Baron (1910)

A young lady is fascinated by a mysterious German baron.

‘I imbibe nourishment in my room.’ (page 14)
or Sic transit gloria German mundi (Thus passes the glory of the German’s world),
or When you don’t know, you could imagine everything.

Review: The Temple by H.P. Lovecraft

The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories:
by H. P. Lovecraft
Penguin Classics (2001), Paperback, 464 pages

The Temple (1920) is narrated as a found manuscript written by Lieutenant Commander in the Imperial German Navy, Altberg and during WWI.
The manuscript describes the last days of Altberg and his U-boat before sinking at the bottom of the ocean.
After defeating a British freighter, Altberg and his crew find a dead body with a strange piece of carved ivory in his pocket. One of Altberg’s officers keeps the object, but soon after a series of unexplained accidents occurs.
Altberg survives after his crew, but he doesn’t manage to con the U-boat and lands at the bottom of the ocean.
Altberg discovers that he is surrounded by the remains of an ancient city: Atlantis?

Lovecraft spoils this story when he describes Altberg’s germanophile feeling.
‘But the story is significant in postulating an entire civilization antedating humanity and possibly responsible for many of the intellectual and aesthetic acievements of humanity.’ (from explanatory notes by S.T. Joshi, page 374)