The Overcoat and Other Short Stories by Nikolai Gogol
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
In this slender paperback book there are a series of short stories introduced by the esteemed author Nikolai Gogol. I am familiar with his work since I first encountered it in a Gothic Horror anthology, which featured a short story by him called 'The Viy.' I believe it is the finest work that I have read by Gogol thus far. The short stories in this book did not contain any horrifying tales of an elderly witch stalking the night for their next victim, but instead I read short snippets of marginally boring, run-of-the-mill lifestyles of everyday people in Russia. In these stories the reader will encounter drama stemming from two friendly neighbours that have a sudden disagreement over an old, long-forgotten gun and an elderly man that is brokenhearted after he lost the love of his life- his wife. In spite of the quotidian lifestyles of the main characters in Gogol's short stories, he still manages to exhibit a certain flair of artistry in his simple tales of life and love. Dripping black ink on a thin sheet of paper, the author Gogol is able to create images for the reader to fully visualize. His writing is exemplary and should not be so easily dismissed by other readers or critics of text from European writers in the twentieth century. I would highly recommend him to readers that are interested in reading stories that do not stem from the typical westernized culture (i.e. Britain or America).
My favourite story by far is the 'Overcoat.' Mainly because it contains a supernatural element at the very end of the book, an unexpected twist that left a whimsical smile upon my face. I do love a good ghost story! Anyways, I am happy I purchased this thin paperback at my local book store, although I will admit (with some reluctance) that it is not something that I will quickly re-read anytime soon.
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26 Brentwood Avenue and Other Tales by Katrina M Thornley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Are you a fan of chilling short reads? If so, you might enjoy Thornley's '26 Brentwood Avenue and Other Tales.' Each story is extremely short, and yet, it has an underlining spooky tale that generally has an ambiguous ending that leaves further questions for the reader.
My favourite by far is the first story 'The Strange Case of Cousin Felix.' The title reminded me of H.P. Lovecraft's 'The Curious Case of Charles Dexter Ward,' which is a favourite horror story of mine and one that haunts me often. Thornley's story is immensely shorter and is told by a somewhat unknown narrative that is a cousin of Felix. In the story we learn about Felix's eccentric ways and his love of entertaining large audiences at his family's estate. One evening, Felix announces to a crowd of people that it should be his last and that very night he suddenly disappears without a trace... or does he? As you can tell I do love a good mystery with an thrilling twist, so this one was right on the button.
Most of the dark tales in this paperback book featured supernatural creatures or objects that verged on the unexplained. For instance, the short story 'Claire's Mirror' reminded me of something from the Twilight Zone or a dark episode of Doctor Who. Random objects or strange people suddenly take on a malicious air when it falls in the hands of this author. Suddenly mirrors become a grave danger, or dark shadows at night can bring the main characters of the story to a tragic end; abandoned houses hold tragic secrets or tarot cards take on a whole new meaning when it falls into the hands of a certain young woman. In short, I enjoyed the first segment of this book titled 'Tales inspired by darkness.' The other two segments belong to a different genre that is devoid of dark, foreboding tales, which resulted in me having less of an interest for the remainder of the book (although the stories were still enjoyable to read).
All in all, the highlight of my weekend was me reading Thornley's short stories, especially the first few spooky tales that were featured at the front of the book. Anything with vampires and werewolves are an easy sell for me. I highly recommend this book to anyone that is a fan of fantasy, mystery or dare I say it... Lovecraftian horror.
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The Hunchback of Notre-Dame by Victor Hugo
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
A story with the potential to reel the readers in, but did not exactly hit the mark. I have very little knowledge of 'The Hunchback of Notre-Dame' although I am well aware of the named author, Victor Hugo. There is no doubt in my mind that he is a talented and prolific writer. He uses his words as a paintbrush, describing the city like a bird that soars through the air to take in its surroundings. He does not write in a poetic way, but he does describe the scenery with such descriptiveness that the reader feels like they are in the hollowed gloom of Notre Dame.
The story centers around a few characters, each with their own designs in life and want to make the most of their opportunities in France. The focal point is the looming tower of Notre Dame, its figure head emits throughout the city like a God high up in the sky. In the dark dwelling of its hollowed abyss is a decrepit, limping monster-like creature named "Quasimodo." he is known as one of the central characters, the Hunchback of Notre Dame.
The origins of his Quasimodo comes in little snippets throughout the novel, making him a mystery to both the characters of the book and the readers alike. I came into the novel with a clear expectation that he would be the central character, but I was terribly wrong. Over time the readers becomes acquainted with other members of the Cathedral, both the glorious noble and the helpless fallen. I had taken an interest in the Priest, the Archdeacon Claude Frollo, mostly because he appeared to be a haunted man, torn between his loyalty to the church and his desire to learn more of the sciences. His secret dabbling in alchemy and possibly sorcery adds a certain element of Gothic notary that is prevalent in this genre.
The person that stole the show is a young woman, a Bohemian Gypsy, which naturally steals the heart of many characters in the film. Her name is Esmeralda. She takes on the stereotypical characteristics of that time period for "Gypsies." She is young, beautiful, enchanting and feared by God-fearing men. She is like a ray of starlight, dancing effortlessly in the street, which unfortunately spells disaster for her in the end.
I confess that I spent a good portion of this novel skimming through the pages. Reading the full-length novel on an e-book was a mistake, and it is one that I would not recommend to others. The author has a talent of creating memorable characters, but the long-extended descriptiveness of the city streets, the history of the cathedral and the features of the poverty-stricken people lost my interest. I found most of my attention was fixated on Esmeralda and her devoted goat. To me it screamed witchcraft, so I was not surprised when others whispered those very words in the dark alleyways of Paris.
I can comprehend the reasoning for this novel to be listed as Gothic romance. It is dark to be sure, it has elements of the supernatural, the grotesque, and the disfiguration of the soul of man. I suppose most readers would have imagined that it is the most blackhearted villain would be the Hunchback of Notre Dame, but they are terribly wrong. Beauty is held in the eye of the beholder, and in the case of this novel it is especially true. Although I did not finish the book in its entirety, I can understand the reason it is proclaimed as a masterful piece. The author does have a natural art of drawing the reader in, but for myself, I found it burdensome to read and at long last I gave up on the adventure.
For those readers that enjoy a good dark tale with seedy characters scuttling down dark alleyways and tightly enclosed abbey's then this is the book for you. If you love anything involving "Gypsies" or a great grizzly tale of love and despair, I can assure you that this is the ideal novel for you. As to my parting words, if I want to read a book about a "Holy man" losing his sanity over a beautiful woman that he can never be with because of his sacred vows to the Church, I would rather read the deliciously sinful and exceptionally Gothic horror story 'The Monk' by Matthew Gregory Lewis.
I will leave this book review with my favourite quote from this book, coming from none other but the deeply despaired and undeniably lusty Priest. The prisoner recoiled with horror. “Oh!” said the priest, “young girl, have pity upon me! You think yourself unhappy; alas! alas! you know not what unhappiness is. Oh! to love a woman! to be a priest!"
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A huge congratulations to the two winners for this month's giveaway. Supremely happy to be giving away two signed copies of 'The Tragic Tale of Teddy Woven." If you would like to take part in the next giveaway, make sure to follow me on this site or Instagram under the username @petergray_writer