Dan Sandman

Archive for the ‘Horror’ Category

47: The North Water by Ian McGuire

In Adventure, Books, Fiction, Horror on 18/11/2016 at 12:00 pm

the-north-water-by-ian-mcguireSumner is an Irish doctor on a whaleboat full of untoward characters, including a psychopathic killer called Drax. He has recently been wrongly dismissed from the army and is addicted to laudanum. When the cabin boy is violated and then found strangled to death, things start to go terrible wrong for Sumner and the whole ship’s crew. What ensues is a gripping, violent and gruesome horror story. Sumner must fight for his life, as the arctic freeze and the villain Drax conspire against his chances of survival.

What makes this novel different to most other historical sea stories are the swear words, which would be hard to imagine in anything written more than fifty years ago. McGuire sets out to shock and thrill the reader from the very first chapter, where we are immediately introduced to expletive language. The questionable morals of the characters are used to amuse the reader, as the plot becomes increasingly more macabre. Overall, the tone of the book is playful and intended as entertainment.

Sea adventure stories have long been a popular staple of the British public. Television series and films have been made of the most popular books, such as the Hornblower on ITV and Master and Commander starring Russel Crowe. These adaptations are all part of a long tradition of popular fiction stretching back to Robinson Crusoe.  I am going to be researching sea stories in the coming weeks as a potential topic for my MA dissertation.

What would you write about for your dissertation?

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49: Macbeth by William Shakespeare

In Books, Fiction, Horror, Literature, Plays on 04/12/2015 at 12:00 pm

Macbeth by William ShakespeareUnusually, the play begins with the three weird sisters, whose language is immediately unsettling. Nothing is to be trusted, even language itself is full of deceit: e.g. ‘Fair is foul’ and ‘the battle’s lost and won’. Before Macbeth enters the stage, King Duncan steeps praise upon his ‘valiant cousin’, later promoting Macbeth to the position of Thane of Cawdor. But like the Thane whom he usurps, and the language used by the sisters, Macbeth is not what he seems. We will know this soon after Macbeth and Banquo’s supernatural encounter, by listening to his soliloquies, which reveal his ‘vaulting ambition’. Even ahead of his Lady’s further encouragement towards ‘dreadful action’, Macbeth is thinking in terms of an ‘o’erleap’ of Malcolm the Prince of Cumberland. Just as Macbeth has supplanted the treacherous Cawdor, he will himself usurp the King and plot against Duncan’s rightful heirs. But whereas Cawdor was killed honourably in battle, Duncan will be dishonourably murdered by Macbeth’s dagger, attacked whilst asleep in the bed chamber of his host and hostess’s abode.

Lady Macbeth’s role is to secure Macbeth’s murderous action, which has already been set in motion by the weird sisters prophetic implanting of the idea itself. To achieve this, the Lady summons up her inner masculinity, ready to ‘unsex’ herself and to ‘bash’ the heads of her unborn children to become Queen. The Lady’s disturbed thoughts will eventually unravel into madness, although here at the beginning of the play she is still able to find ambitious reasons for murder within her thoughts and conversations. It is the cold ambition of ‘unkindness’ that she wishes to implant into her husbands power-hungry mind. Lady Macbeth becomes the co-plotter of this terrible deed, putting forward her dreadful plan to drug the guards wine so they are drunk asleep. According to the Lady’s premeditated direction, Macbeth will commit the murder itself, whilst she offers practical assistance; later going back to plant the daggers on the drowsy guards, whose clothes she will stain with the dead King’s blood.

As the play continues, and Macbeth has his comrade Banquo assassinated; at a publicly held banquet, the Lady attempts to control her husband’s shock and horror when Macbeth sees Banquo’s ghost. At this point of the action, Lady Macbeth appears the more sane of the two murderous co-plotters, attempting to explain her husband’s unusual behaviour as she clears the guests from the room. But by the time her husband is encouraged to commit a series of further murders by the the weird sisters, the Lady’s ability to cover up the crimes we the audience have seen committed will begin to diminish. Following the horrible slaughter of a rival family, Macbeth and his Lady begin to separate into two different forms of madness. Whereas cold blooded Macbeth has ‘almost forgot the taste of fears’, his Lady descends into a sleepwalking fear of her past actions, with the realization that ‘What’s done cannot be undone.’

In the end, Lady Macbeth is the more pitiable of the two.

40: Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

In Books, Fiction, Horror on 03/10/2014 at 12:00 pm

Fight Club by Chuck PalahniukPublished in 1996, this somewhat disturbing novel is narrated by an unnamed office worker suffering from insomnia. Depressed by his predictable life and utilitarian furniture, he fakes various medical conditions in order to attend support groups because he longs for human sympathy. At one such meeting, the narrator meets fellow fake Marla, who unravels the narrator’s secret world. Following this turning point, the narrator meets Tyler Durden, a charismatic leader with anarchistic tendencies who sets off a confused love triangle. And so, to replace the psychological crutch offered by the support groups (ruined by Marla) fight club is invented in the basement of a bar.

The first rule about fight club is you don’t talk about fight club.

This edition of the novel contains an afterword written by Chuck Palahniuk in 2005, following the book’s hugely popular screen adaptation. In the afterword, Palahniuk humorously comments on the influence his story has had on society since the film was released, and offers a background to the story. In a similarly wry tone to the narrator, he juxtaposes Tyler Durden quotes on t-shirts with Fight Club as ‘just an experiment to kill a slow afternoon at work.’ Apparently, Palahniuk’s initial aim was to create a story that would cut quickly, like the film Citizen Kane, without losing the reader’s interest. This is where the rules (see above) come into play and help to make certain phrases within the novel so quotable.

My first reaction to this book was one of shock, with its vivid depictions of violence and chemical burns making me feel a little uneasy. Having said this, there was always a black humour to the horror, which served to emphasise the themes of the novel. This novel is highly critical of late twentieth century society; particularly, its hollow emphasis on consumerism and celebrity. The narrator has no name, appears to have no family, and has no helpful friends to fall back on. Therefore, he tries everything, from pretending to be a bowl cancer patient to writing haiku poems, until voluntary communal self-harm (i.e. fight club) offers a solution. However, later, when fight club becomes Project Mayhem, and things start to get out of control, the dark jokes begin to choke the reader into wanting out of this Gotham City type version of humanity.

Today, in our post-social internet culture, the planned graphic novel sequel will be most welcome.

39: The Magician by W. Somerset Maugham

In Books, Fiction, Horror on 26/09/2014 at 12:00 pm

The Magician by W. Somerset MaughamArthur Burden is a sensible doctor with a scientific mind who does not believe in magic. In a bohemian Paris cafe, Arthur meets the enigmatic Oliver Haddo, a deceptive magician and practitioner of the dark arts. In between the two men stands the virginal Margaret, innocent victim of Haddo’s horrific actions. As the story develops, moving from Paris to London to Monte Carlo, Haddo tightens his evil grip upon his victim Margaret. Back at the magician’s country estate, in a remote place called Skene, the horror reaches its exciting climax.

Writing at the start of the twentieth century, W. Somerset Maugham was first trained as a doctor. It was not until the success of his first novel Liza of Lambeth that Maugham decided to commit to working as a writer. To write this novel, Maugham drew on his experience as a doctor and spent many hours studying the occult. The writing comes across as well informed, purposefully constructed, and influenced by the popular gothic horror stories of the past. Apparently, the evil Oliver Haddo is based upon the infamous, real life character Aleister Crowley – who wrote a wrote a review of the novel in Vanity Fair, which he signed ‘Oliver Haddo’.

In conclusion, I found The Magician to be an intriguing novel, with memorable characters and a strong story line. For me, it successfully sets the pretensions of polite society against the decadence of bohemian society. With great style, W. Somerset Maugham focuses his descriptive skills on creating a realistic setting, which the writer then upturns by introducing supernatural elements to the story. In this way, Margaret’s delicate sensibility represents all that is good in the world, a goodness which is corrupted by the evil powers of Haddo. I think Maugham believed that Aleister Crowley was a fraud, but thought that giving Crowley real magical abilities would be a great idea for a novel.

Escapism at its very best and an absorbing page turner.

14: I’m The King of The Castle by Susan Hill

In Books, Fiction, Horror on 04/04/2014 at 11:00 am

I'm The King of The Castle by Susan HillHorror films, such as The Omen, Child’d Play and The Shining, often involve evil children. It is frightening when young people – traditionally portrayed as innocents – take on psychopathic traits in stories.  I’m The King of The Castle by Susan Hill, first published in 1970, is one such horror story. However, unlike the Hollywood movies, or the novels of Stephen King, the supernatural does not contribute to the horror. Instead, Hill draws upon psychological fear, the crazed traits of a bully, and the anxieties and tensions between characters, to create a dark and evocative novel.

The story begins – as many Gothic ghost story do – with an old house located near a wood. Single father Mr. Hooper asks single mother Mrs. Kingshaw to move into the ugly Victorian building, following the death of his father. The action is focused on their two boys, referred to by surname as Hooper and Kingshaw throughout. Hooper is a malicious bully, able to orchestrate the adult’s opinions and conduct a campaign of intimidation upon Kingshaw.

As the story progresses, Kingshaw tries to run away, but Hooper follows him into Hang Wood. Whenever Kingshaw escapes, he is followed by Hooper; whenever Kingshaw wins, his victories are short lived. The result is a terrifying portrayal of life as seen from a bullied child’s perspective.

A dark fiction, worthy of discussion.