Book Reviews: April 2020 Reads

We are 30-odd days into the lockdown, and I am not complaining about the extra time to read. Here are the books of the month.

A Lush and Seething Hell: Two Tales of Cosmic Horror (by John Hornor Jacobs, 2019)

Pleasure makes us numb, stupid, inert. Pain sparks our wicks. The light and scent of pain—the greater the better—draws the attention of the mighty. The prodigious. The vast and numberless.

The first of the two cosmic tales, The Sea Dreams It Is the Sky, is as gorgeously written as it sounds. The prose captivates right from the start with the charismatic poet Rafael Avendano, whom Isabel comes to fall in love with in spite of, or perhaps because of the danger in his reputation.

Caught in something less of a romance than a strange enchantment, she gradually learns of how he lost his eye and his life to the fascist regime. His story unfolds before her with as much grace and terror, gripping in every word.

A Lush and Seething Hell also finds another haunting note in My Heart Struck Sorrow. The voice of the men that Harlan Parker meets find resonance close to a century later. Its Lovecraftian spirit draws one into the unsettling folk song Stacker Lee, composed with the darkness of the human heart.

Touch (by Claire North, 2015)

True fear is the fear of doubt; it is the mind that will not sleep, the open space at your back where the murderer stands with the axe. It is the gasp of a shadow passed whose cause you cannot see, the laughter of a stranger whose laugh, you know, laughs at you.

Have you ever wondered where the hours have gone? Of the time you lost, Touch raises a disturbing possibility – “ghosts”. And in the adept hands of Claire North (whom I have 100% fallen in love with), these are not quite the ghosts we know. They are traumatised souls who jump from body to body, with none to call their own.

Kepler has been this way for as long as he can remember. When one of his willing hosts is shot dead, his hunt after her murderer uncovers a larger conspiracy. His story is about no one and everyone, as he lives in the bodies of a myriad characters during his unpredictable mission. Our protagonist is not a hero. He is a thief and a parasite, and makes us question what it truly means to be us.

Themes of ethics, perceptions and identity arise in the highly inventive concept. It is as introspective as it is exciting, when no one is truly whom they appear to be. P.S. Unfilmable? Psst, someone call the Wachowskis.

The Humbling (by Philip Roth, 2009)

Suicide is the role you write for yourself. You inhabit it and you enact it. All carefully staged – where they will find you and how they will find you. But one performance only.

Aged thespian Simon Axler steps on stage, but can no longer able to perform. He starts to see himself as a fraud and falls into a suicidal depression that drives his wife away. In the void, however, he finds an unexpected romance – with a much younger woman who had recently left her girlfriend.

Philip Roth has been hailed as a literary hero, but perhaps, The Humbling is the wrong place to start. There is but hopelessness in the tragedy of his self-destructive character. The book reads like the deep grief that Axler himself suffers, full of pain and spite that leaves only sadness and confusion in its wake.

Through the Woods (by Emily Carroll, 2014)

The worst kind of monster was the burrowing kind. The sort that crawled into you and made a home there. The sort you couldn’t name, the sort you couldn’t see. The monster that ate you alive from the inside out.

It came from the woods. Most strange things do. These unnatural creatures of the night find a comfortable home in Emily Carroll’s graphic novel Through the Woods.

The collection of five tales makes perfect bedtime stories for horror fiends. It is a relatively quick read, though no less impactful. Through her art that conveys both beauty and terror, Carroll proves herself a brilliant illustrator and an undeniably imaginative storyteller.

In the days between, I managed to leaf through 2 volumes of The New 52’s Justice League Dark too. After an underwhelming #1, The Books of Magic picked things up quickly with my favourite Hellblazer‘s obnoxiously charming attitude and his clever ruse. What’s not to love with the team’s twisted dynamics in play and a strong villain to boot?

So sums up April for me. Hope you found yourself a good book recommendation or two up there. As always, thanks for reading, and do feel free to throw some titles my way.

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