Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

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I am rather embarrassed to admit this, but I have never read this book. I have seen lots of TV adaptations, lets not linger on the recent ITV series, but never actually read the book. So as I was wandering through the library the other day, I saw it on the shelf and thought I’d give it a whirl.  It is much shorter than I expected, more of a novella, and it is far darker, more creepy and thoroughly more horrifying too.

The story focuses on Mr Utterson, Dr Jeckyll’s friend and lawyer who is concerned over his pal’s odd behavior and instance that if he disappears his estate is to be left to Mr Hyde.  Mr Hyde, is of course Dr Jeckyll’s alter ego after he takes a potion developed in his lab. Mr Hyde is reputed to give everyone who claps eyes on him quite a turn, seeming to be the embodiment of evil.

The idea that a person has both good and evil inside them is synonymous with this famous book, and even though I knew the story I was still gripped. It goes a long at a terrific pace, with scenes of a dark Victorian London, and the ever present possibility that the evil Hyde will do something monstrous. Marvellous, marvelous stuff. 

Ghost Stories By MR James

ISBN: 978-0099560562

Published By Vintage Classics

Assuming you can get past the cover which was enough to give me the creeps in the first place, inside you will find a series of short ghost stories which MR James wipped up to entertain friends and family at Christmas.  

James was a scholar at Cambrigde University and many of his stories are about academics going about their business, researching an obscure subject only to make a discovery which leads them into disturbing and paranormal realms. They often start with a description of the protagonist going about his normal day, setting up the idea that this type of experience could happen to anyone. Often it is the curoisty of the poor soul which leads them to their fate.

Whereas many horror stories have the protagonist meet a violent end at the hands of some supernatural being, James’s protagonsits tend to bring about their own end through their own terror, which leads to the question of whether there was really anything spooky going on at all, or whether their immgainations had run away with them.

The stories were published between 1904 and 1925, and the societal norms of the day were used as added fear factor. For example, contact between character such as a touch on the shoulder signalled an evil intent, as such physicallity was not the norm then. He also seems to have a bit of an obession with the horror of hair. It crops up all the time, dank, greasey, matted and wet to name but afew. It would seem that MR James only approved of beautiful glossy locks. 

The language is creepy and has that abilty to instill terror rather than horror, and reading the stories back to back really creates a chilling tension which crept back into my mind one early, dark, dank morning stood alone on platform 2 of my local railway station. 

These are great stories, read them with the lights down low, and even if you won’t admit it in public, you will feel a tingle of dread flow down your spine.

 

Anton Chekov’s Short Stories By Anton Chekov

ISBN: 978-0393090024

Published by W W Norton & Co

It was Mr B who suggested I give this a try a few years ago. I was a little hesitant as I had always thought of Chekov as “diificult”.  Having had a read I discovered that they are far from difficult, but the are very different from anything else I have read. If you are looking for lots of action you won’t find it here, indeed, in many stories very little happens. What Chekov is skilled at is understanding and articulating what it is to be human, and how society impacts us as individuals. I am no Chekov expert, and I have heard it said that he has written the finest short stories by any author. The stories are relatively short, so why not give them a try?

The Diamond As Big As The Ritz and Other Stories By F Scott Fitzgerald

ISBN: 978-0140624106

Published By Penguin Classics

This was my first experience of F Scott Fitzgerald, quite a long time ago now, and I came across it on my bookshelf and memories of it came flooding back. It is a collection of his short stories. This particular edition is now out of print, but there are other editions now available. Penguin have a rather beautiful hardback version of his short stories at the moment.

The first story is “The Diamond As Big As The Ritz”, a story about unlimited wealth with a rather nasty sting it it’s tail. I can remember quite clearly reading this and although it is short, I had to stop at the end to take it all in, before moving onto the next story.

“Bernice Bobs Her Hair” is another of my favourites. It is a story about social pressure, again with a neat twist at the end. Even ninety years ago there was pressure to fit in.

As the weather is supposed to be nice this weekend, I shall get out the deck chair, mix myself a cocktail and re-read this in the sunshine.

Advent Review Day 18: The Haunted Man By Charles Dickens

ISBN: 978-0307947215

Published By Vintage Books

I couldn’t blog about Christmas reads without including a Dickens story could I? My first list had A Christmas Carol on it, but although it is a wonderful book, I thought I would take a look at the other Christmas Books Dickens wrote. I have picked a novella called The Haunted Man. Professor Redlaw teaches chemistry, and is haunted by a spirit who seems to be a replica of him. Redlaw is tormented by memories of the past. The spirit gives him the ability to forget these memories, but the problem is that everyone Redlaw then comes into contact with also forgets their bad experiences. Remembering only the good and not the bad, is not good for anyone. As with A Christmas Carol, a happy ending ensues after some life lessons are learned. 

Dickens can sometimes feel a little bit of a struggle because of the excessive description. I find the easiest way to approach it is to accept you won’t read his works quickly and to let the language flow over you. 

This little story is a nice alternative to A Christmas Carol with all the Dickensian festive joy you could want.

Advent Review Day 16: Bella Fleace Gave A Party By Evelyn Waugh

ISBN: 978-0141193687

Published By Penguin Classics

Bella Fleace is an old lady and lives in a big old house in Ireland, and for many years has lived as a virtual recluse. One day she decides to hold the biggest and best Christmas party the region has ever seen. She hires new servants to clean the rooms, organises music, catering and has fun choosing her outfit. She makes lists of who to invite, and who not to. On the evening of her party, she is excited beyond belief, and the band starts to play as she waits for her guests. 

I won’t say anything more about what happens, but it has a twist at the end. I am by no means a Waugh expert having read very little of his work, but this short story shows his satirical eye for society at the time.  

Advent Review Day 13: The Little Christmas Tree By Stella Gibbons

ISBN: 978-0099528678

Published by Vintage Classics

Another short story, this time from the Stella Gibbons collection “Christmas At Cold Comfort Farm“.

Rhoda Harting is a writer, and spinster who chooses to spend Christmas on her own in her little cottage rather than going up to London to spend it with her friends. On Christmas Eve she shops for a chicken, a Christmas pudding and decorations for her little Christmas tree.

On Christmas morning a knock at the door brings three small children asking to be hidden from their wicked step-mother. Rhoda isn’t entirely convinced by their story, but can’t work out where they live, so she takes them in a spends the day with them. They eat dinner, light the candles on the tree and play games. Inevitable their father eventually turns up to collect them after a frantic day of searching.

This was first published in 1940, and feels free of all the pressure to have a perfect Christmas overflowing with presents and food. It is so full of nostalgia it might just be a bit too much after a big Christmas lunch!