I’m very much enjoying the slow slide into autumn (my favourite time of the year) and have been delving in to some creepier reads for the RIP Challenge in the run up to Hallowe’en.
The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold
You all told me this was great and, as always, you were all right!
In The Five, Hallie Rubenhold sets out to reclaim the stories of Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary-Jane, a group of women who became famous through no fault of their own, as being the victims of Jack the Ripper in 1888. Their killer has gone on to mythic infamy, yet his victims have always been dismissed as prostitutes who were just as complicit in their own deaths.
By telling their distinct and different stories, Rubenhold asks how in Victorian England, these women – who were mothers; sisters and wives – ended up destitute on the streets of Whitechapel. She follows the five women from birth to death and despite their strikingly different circumstances; their lives are marked by a cycle of motherhood, dependence on men and on alcohol and most of all, by poverty. The main difficulty in all their lives was that they were born female into a world that held them to different standards as men and never allowed them to have a voice.
Rubenhold gives them a voice in this insightful and readable work, which combines social history with vivid characterisation and sharp attention to detail. Their killer is given scant attention, centring these women for probably the only time in their lives.
Hawk Mountain by Conner Habib
Divorced single father of one Todd Nasca has just moved to a town by the sea to start a new life with his young son Anthony and take up a post at the local high school. As the book opens, Todd and Anthony are playing at the beach when a man approaches Anthony and starts to talk to him. Todd is alarmed when the man turns out to be Jack Gates, who viciously bullied Todd at school many years before. Jack has also recently come out of a marriage and is vague about his situation and before he knows it, Todd has offered him a place to stay for a few nights. The relationship between the two men is complicated and the reader senses that the tension between them relates to something more than the bullying that took place. The longer Jack remains, the more unsettled Todd becomes and the added pressure of his ex-wife wanting to make contact with his son leads to a moment of shocking violence that will link the two men forever.
To say any more would be to spoil what is a brutal, horrifying yet often beautiful book. Habbib’s control of the narrative and sense of pacing is fantastic, creating a palpable tension and dream-like atmosphere that never lets up. His prose is controlled yet emotive and the relatively straightforward plot belies an intelligent exploration of identity, sexuality and control. It is not an easy book to read but it is completely unforgettable. Highly recommended.
The Graveyard Apartment by Mariko Koike, translated by Deborah Boliver Boehm
This Japanese horror novel from 1986 is often cited as a classic of the genre. I wouldn’t go that far but it is a diverting and mildly unnerving read. The Kano family are having difficulty finding an affordable apartment in Tokyo, so when a large, airy one becomes available in their price range, they jump at the chance to rent it. The main drawback is that the apartment building is surrounded on three sides by a cemetery, a Buddhist Temple and a crematorium.
On the first night in their new home, their daughter’s pet bird dies in strange circumstances and the dead pet starts talking to the child at night. Strange dark figures start appearing on the television screen. The family dog is unsettled. The basement of the apartment, which is only accessible by a capricious elevator, is plagued with cold winds and strange noises and soon everyone else in the apartment building starts to move out, unhappy with the strange atmosphere. Unable to move for financial reasons, the Kano’s find themselves stuck in a building where things are about to get even stranger.
The Graveyard Apartment is a fairly bog standard haunted house (apartment) tale elevated somewhat by an affecting back story relating to the suicide of Mr Kano’s ex-wife and a nice line in characterisation. The translation by Deborah Boliver Boehm is sprightly and conversational and the book would undoubtedly make a great film.
It is not particularly scary, but the growing sense of desperation when the Kano’s literally can’t find a way to escape their building is well done and the final scene is genuinely chilling.
Read on: Kindle
I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!