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This month’s starting point is a book I haven’t read, from an author I haven’t read!
Second Place by Rachel Cusk is explores the fall out when a woman invites a famous artist to stay with her at the remote coastal region where she lives, in the belief that his vision will ‘penetrate the mystery of her life and landscape’. His provocative presence upends how she thinks about her life.
Lives are also changed by an invitation extended to a provocative stranger in Swimming Home by Deborah Levy. Set in a summer villa in the French Riviera, the story takes place over a week and focuses on a group of wealthy, flawed tourists. After they discover a beautiful young woman floating in their swimming pool and invite her to stay, their relationships and lives come apart at the seams.
A stomach-churning accident in a swimming pool features in Haunted, Chuck Palahniuk’s collection of linked short stories. The story in question – Guts – made headlines when there were reports of people fainting and being sick when Palahniuk read the story in public. Haunted has a framing device of a main story which centres on a group of seventeen who have answered an ad to participate in a secret writers’ retreat. At this retreat, held in an abandoned old theatre, they must write the scariest stories they can imagine. Throughout, their experience is frequently compared to the Villa Diodati retreat of 1816.
Lord Byron rented the Villa Diodati in Lake Geneva in 1816 and stayed there with John Polidori, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Shelley and in June of that year, the group famously spent three days together inside the house creating stories to tell each other, two of which were developed into landmark works of the Gothic horror genre, The Vampyre by Polidori and Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.
Published in 1818, Frankenstein tells the story of Victor Frankenstein, a young scientist who creates a sapient creature in an unorthodox scientific experiment. This slim terrifying novella opens as a group on expedition to the North Pole rescue a frozen and emaciated Victor Frankenstein, who has been chasing his creation.
A more recent novel which opens with a polar rescue, this time on Antartica, is Lean Fall Stand by Jon McGregor. The novel opens as an Antarctic trip goes horribly wrong and the ensuing battle for survival is described in a propulsive, arresting style. The novel then takes a sharp turn in both tone and dynamic as it hones in on the story of Robert, a survivor of the accident who has suffered a stroke. The rest of the novel explores Robert’s agonising journey to recover from his stroke, the toll it takes on his wife Alice who overnight has gone from being a professional working woman with a successful career, to becoming her husband’s carer.
Another woman who is a reluctant carer is the title character in Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh. Eileen Dunlop, is an unassuming yet disturbed young woman trapped between her role as her alcoholic father’s caretaker in a home whose squalor is the talk of the neighbourhood and her day job as a secretary at a correctional facility for boys. When she becomes infatuated with a new co-worker, Rebecca Saint John, Eileen is drawn into the commission of a sadistic crime.
A chance meeting in Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith also leads to a character committing a crime they never thought capable of. Successful architect Guy Haines is drawn into a tit-for-tat murder plot when he meets wealthy sociopath Charles Bruno on a train. Charles offers to kill Guy’s ex-wife if Guy will kill Charles’ father. Guy assumes that the conversation is a joke until his ex-wife turns up dead a few weeks later, leading to a claustrophobic game of cat and mouse between the two men.
So there we go, from an invitation offered to an artist to visit, to an invitation to a stranger to kill, those are my Six Degrees of Separation for September!
I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!