30 November 2016

The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris

Clarice Starling is one of my heroes. The relationship between her and Lecter, and the conversations they have, is pure genius. In Lecter, Harris constructs a character hair-raisingly dangerous, yet one that’s almost impossible not to admire for his twisted intellectual finesse. And then there’s Buffalo Bill, who says, ‘It rubs the lotion on its skin. It does this whenever it is told.’ The tension never lets up, and even though I fear for Clarice’s safety and sanity, and perhaps even my own while reading it, I can’t help but read on. It’s sheer brilliance.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson 

Jackson writes with perfect restraint, meandering the reader through the frailties of the human mind. The concept of ‘what goes on behind closed doors’ is flipped on its head when you realize Merricat, her sister Constance and her uncle survive in a mundane yet comforting routine, which although peppered with magical thinking and superstitions gives the overriding sense they’re content. Because of this, the insanity drips off the pages: it shouts loudly on behalf of its quiet yet unreliable narrator WE HAVE LOST OUR MINDS. A suitably terrifying notion and Jackson’s writing inspires me to leave as much ‘unsaid’ as possible. To slowly turn the screws. 

The Knowledge of Angels by Jill Paton Walsh

At fifteen years old, this book blew my mind. Philosophical in nature, and set in medieval times on a Mediterranean island, it tackles the notion of whether the knowledge of god is innate. Reading it made me question why we believe the things we do, and highlighted the cruelties that happen in the name of religion. I felt outrage and sadness and love, especially for Amara, a feral child raised by wolves that the church uses in an experiment. This book piqued my interest in how children survive extraordinary circumstances, and I love the richness and poetic feel to Walsh’s writing.

As If  by Blake Morrison

The Bulger case was one of the reasons I trained as a children’s mental health nurse. I wanted to know why the boys had done it, and how they were going to be reformed. Morrison so eloquently describes the conflicted feelings he encountered when exploring the same questions. On one hand, his devastation at the brutal death of a toddler, and on the other, the demonization of Thompson and Venables in the press. The inappropriateness of an adult court trialling them, and the fact the grown-ups who neglected and abused them were never held accountable. Morrison’s need to write about the things that trouble him inspire me to do the same.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

It’s the wordplay and literary allusions that keep me coming back to Lolita. The phonetics, the double consonants, the references to Edgar Allan Poe and so on. There’s no forgetting, and neither there should be, that the subject matter is dark and criminal, but there’s also no escaping the flamboyance and brazen personality of this book. Nabokov’s glee at alchemizing language shines throughout, and I particularly enjoy the fact it has a confessional feel, written from Humbert Humbert’s prison cell. A book within a book, a trick within a trick and so it goes on, the layers and layers of Nabokov and his genius.

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