Wednesday, 19 March 2014

What I've been reading: The Calcutta Chromosone, The Ghost Hunters, The Resurrectionist

I seem to have been having something of a 'horror' bent lately. Hooray!Less worthy of celebration is that my reading speed appears to have slowed. Less yay. Let's see if I can stay within the word limit this time.

So, The Calcutta Chromosone by Amitav Ghosh is technically a reread. This should immediately come as an endorsement. Ghosh's writing is beautiful, if at times a little confusing. The narrative is essentially a literary thriller, and it does this well, but the book is more concerned with providing a history from the fringes, a rebuttal of Western arrogance regarding science, the Enlightenment and Empire. The plot device of the chromosome itself perhaps owes more to magical realism than biological reality, but I am not a scientist, and I also wonder if that is not - on some level - the point.

The only bad note in this wonderful book is the fact that, published in 1996, it shows a 'near future' where we have holograms and almost-A.I., but where internet is still dial-up internet and mobile phones are scarce. This isn't Ghosh's fault, but it can jar one out of the narrative, especially when the latter two world-facts are used to advance the plot.

Neil Spring's The Ghost Hunters is a fun little book and compelling, too. What I didn't realise at the time was that it is based on the real investigation of the haunting of Borley Rectory (kicking myself), and although Spring's account is fictionalised, I think this accounts for some of the books flaws. While, in the main, his inclusion of historical figures and real-time events was carefully done, the need to maintain that carefulness, that balance led to some off-putting pacing, and the odd narrative 'jumps'. I applaud, however, the care with which he worked, and the decision to have both a narrator and a 'plot' that were not slavishly referential to historical reality.

In short, good stuff. Not a heavy read, and while not the best ghost story out there, it's worth a look if you like the genre.

Now, here's a challenge. Can I review The Resurrectionist by James Bradley without using the word 'brooding'?

Well, let's start with: this is the kind of book I'd like to write. Although short, it isn't a quick read, the language is intricate and occasionally breathtaking. It is the story of Gabriel Swift, apprentice to a surgeon in 19th Century London, and his gradual undoing. It deals with class, with gender, with isolation, with the way the need to record, to understand makes us tear apart that thing would know. Skilful, it is a remarkably skilful work, but harrowing, gory, sad. I could write at length about this book, about what it might be saying, but I think it's focus is predestination, redemption, judgement.

Not a 'light' horror, not one those upset easily, and probably not a 'weekend' read, but it's definately worth your time.

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