Events, Fiction, Reviews

Fancy A Little Gothic With Your Christmas?

‘Tis the season for all things Christmas, but I for one am still thinking about Halloween and all things Gothic… partly because I love Halloween, but also because I recently did two things that have made the Gothic stick in my mind: attending the Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination exhibition at The British Library, and reading the new collection of Horror Stories from Oxford University Press.

First, to the Library. Now that I live in Oxford I don’t get the opportunity to go to exhibitions in London as often as I would like, so I jumped at the chance to visit this one as part of our day out for my boyfriend’s birthday recently (we also had dinner at Gaucho Sloane – very trendy and a bit ‘clubby’, but the best steak we’ve ever eaten).

IMG_4882

Having studied a few Gothic novels at university, including And Radcliffe’s The Italian, I knew a little of what to expect, but the exhibition provided so much more to think about than just the early Gothic novels. From Mrs Radcliffe it takes you through the Romantic poets (both generations), Frankenstein (there’s quite a lot about the fateful night at the Villa Diadoti where the idea for Frankenstein was conceived), through Edgar Allen Poe and Bram Stoker, and right up to twentieth century Gothic writers like Arthur Machen and H.P. Lovecraft.

There were some beautiful and very cool ‘originals’ like an early copy of Frankenstein, a script for the film Hellraiser, a first edition of Matthew Lewis’ The Monk, and letters between some of the writers I’ve mentioned. Towards the end the exhibition became more and more about film, with a focus on Hammer Horror, as well as later movies like Hellraiser as mentioned, and The Shining (for which there was also an original script with notes by Stanley Kubrick). In short it was a Gothic and horror fan’s dream. We absolutely loved it and I would highly recommend it, even if Gothic and horror aren’t really your thing (and a trip to the BL is always nice isn’t it?). The gift shop for the exhibition was also amazing!

 

In October, just in time for Halloween, Oxford University Press released a beautiful new collection of Gothic stories, simply titled Horror Stories. It has a fantastic cover, featuring a gargoyle of Thomas Becket, and it is a truly beautiful book:

IMG_4945

 

IMG_4941

 

IMG_4944

 

IMG_4942

It is a beautifully finished book that you just want to take care of. It has a classic ribbon as a page marker, meaning no folded over pages or crappy old bus tickets as bookmarks. It has also pleasingly thin pages that flop over in a very satisfying way. It is ‘so Oxford’ and a book they should be proud of.

The content is as good as the production. There are stories from some of the best and most famous horror writers, including Bram Stoker, Edgar Allen Poe, Sheridan Le Fanu, Arthur Machen, and Algernon Blackwood. But there are also writers here that I wouldn’t necessarily associate with horror, but who actually fit in rather well, namely Charles Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Rudyard Kipling. It’s also worth noting that the stories by the more famous writers were none that I had ever heard of or read, so that added some intrigue and excitement.

This volume is also my first opportunity to read The Yellow Wall Paper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, which is not only psychological and rather chilling, but also a groundbreaking piece of feminist literature. I’ve read it once and am sure I will have to read it again to be able fully grasp the depth of it. The narrator’s tone is so cheery throughout you could mistake it for contentedness, but as you read on, and reread certain sentences, it becomes clear she is anything but content. The ending really gripped me and I read the last couple of paragraphs more than once. There is something quite unnerving about it.

But then, unnerving is something that the Gothic does so well. It creeps us out, amazes us, draws us in, and scandalises us with its horror and glory. I have just finished reading The Raven’s Head (2015) by Karen Maitland, which was dripping with the Gothic, and it certainly did all of those things – as did all the stories in this brilliant new volume from OUP. I really recommend it as a Christmas present (as it’s so beautiful as well as brilliant) for the Gothic fan in your life – even if that’s you! It’s also a perfect example of the power of short stories, and their ability to enrapture you with deceptively simple means. I personally feel that Modernism (such as the stories of Katherine Mansfield) and Gothic are two of the best genres for short stories, and I intend to read more of both in 2015.

I’m sure there are lots of you who love short stories – why do you think they work so well? And will you be reading this new volume of Horror Stories? Or attending Terror and Wonder? It’s so good!

*

Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination is on at The British Library until 20th January 2015. You can book tickets here.

Horror Stories was published in October 2014 by Oxford University Press. My thanks for the publisher for the review copy.

Advertisements
Standard
Articles, Events

Liza Klaussmann at The British Library

I loved Tigers in Red Weather so much, I jumped at the opportunity to see author Liza Klaussmann doing a reading and be interviewed at The British Library. The interview was conducted by Naomi Wood, the Writer in Residence at the Eccles Centre for American Studies at The BL. Wood is a writer in her own right, and has an obvious love for Tigers in Red Weather and an admiration for Klaussmann. So, at 6.45pm on Monday 3rd September I bought myself a glass of wine and assembled with other “literary types” in the Bronte Room of the BL Conference Centre to hear Klaussmann read from the novel, and hear Wood ask her what we all wanted to know.

The main piazza of The British Library

Klaussmann read beautifully. Choosing a couple of scenes at the tennis club in Daisy’s section of the novel, Klaussmann centred in on the key scene just before the younger members of the family discover a body hidden behind the country club. Hearing the text in the original American accent helped to bring it to life – it is always great to hear an author read their own work. One feels that is how it is supposed to sound.

Wood asked insightful questions that prompted Klaussmann to chat quite informally about her work and  making us all laugh. She said that the murder (don’t worry, not giving anything away) creates a ‘seismic shift’ that exposes the flaws within the family – but that it is not the focus of the novel. Rather it acts as a catalyst that sets the main story in motion.

Klaussmann also spoke about her writing process. The novel is set on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, just off the coast of Massachusetts. It is a place Klaussmann knows well, having spent summers there as a child and currently having a house there; but she also lives in London, and this is where she wrote Tigers in Red Weather. While there are a few scenes in London, Florida and LA, the majority of the action occurs on Martha’s Vineyard – but Klaussmann actively chose not to write there. She and Wood agreed that being in the place you’re writing about gets you too caught up in the ‘exactness’ of it – the layout of the town, the length of the street. Being across the sea in London allowed Klaussmann to focus on her characters and create a fictional Martha’s Vineyard for them to live in.

A huge consideration for Klaussmann when plotting the novel and developing the relationships between the characters was the post-war feeling in America that you had to be grateful and happy now that the war was over – you weren’t allowed to be unhappy. Klaussmann stated that it is this search for happiness that ultimately makes the characters unhappy. Their unhappiness leads to the circumstantial destruction of each other, as they all try to be happy individually.

Tigers has been out since August, and so Wood naturally asked about the reception in the UK and the US. Klaussmann said, interestingly, that readers and critics in the US were more concerned with the likeability of the characters that those over here in the UK. To me this spoke of a cultural need to like everyone and have everyone like you in return; in the UK we’re more comfortable with accepting it if we don’t like someone or they don’t like us. That’s just my opinion.

Lastly, I smiled quite a lot at Klaussmann’s sincere recommendation of Royal Holloway as a place to study – I studied there and loved it. Well done RHUL.

After the talk we all mingled and had some more wine and I was lucky enough to meet Emma from Picador, with whom I have corresponded about Tigers, as well as Klaussmann herself, who very kindly signed my copy for me. It is lovely to meet a writer who is as likeable and charming as you hoped they would be, and Klaussmann did not disappoint. Her sense of humour and ability to relax her audience is part of why she is so great a writer, and so charming a person to meet. Her laugh is also brilliant.

My signed copy

*

Tigers in Red Weather was published in August 2012 by Picador and is available everywhere.

Standard