Autumn Fiction Round-up #1

 

The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay

This was a planned read for a book club that I follow but don’t actually attend, using mostly for reading ideas (as if I needed any more help in finding books….). The Cabin is the most recent of Tremblay’s horror novels and the first one (but not the last) that I have picked up.

Wen, who is seven, is on holiday in a remote cabin with her dads, Eric & Andrew, when a huge young man turns up asking to be let in with Wen’s help. He is soon joined by three others, two women and a man, and they have a mission – they need Wen’s family to make a sacrifice to avoid the end of the world.

It’s a home invasion story with a twist, and it’s never made clear through all of the terrible events whether the incomers genuinely believe they have a mission to head off the apocalypse or whether they are just horrible people doing nasty things. There are clearly events happening in the outside world which are informing their actions, but we never really find out what’s going on.

It’s all very vague & ambiguous, especially the ending which doesn’t provide any closure at all, but I was hooked and thought it was very well done.

Night Film by Marisha Pessl

One night in a warehouse in New York, the body of Ashley Cordova, daughter of a famously reclusive film director, is found dead. Most people, including the police, believe that she has taken her own life, but this doesn’t convince Scott McGrath. He’s a journalist who ruined his career by pursuing Cordova the father, making rash allegations that he couldn’t prove. And he’s still obsessed.

This is a literary thriller and a huge one at that. I was given this as a Christmas present a few years ago and hurried it up the TBR pile when I saw it mentioned in a list of recommended horror novels earlier this year. I had to cave in and buy the Kindle version because I found it physically difficult to read in hard copy, so be warned.

It seems to be a real love-it-or-hate-it book; if we’re keeping score, the Guardian hated it and the Telegraph loved it. I fell somewhere in between – it was worth reading and I did gallop through the second half when I was on holiday, but I didn’t really warm to any of the characters (except for Scott’s wee girl, who was adorable and hopefully grows up undamaged by the way her parents behave) so it became more about the puzzle than the people. The structure is interesting and the idea of a filmmaker so reclusive, and whose work is so horrific that it is only viewed in bootlegs by ardent fans, was intriguing. Some reviewers likened it to The House of Leaves (which I loved and need to re-read), and although I can see how they came to that conclusion I don’t think Night Film has the same impact; certainly not on me.

So an interesting novel, frustrating at times, and if you pick it up be prepared to make a significant investment of time.

The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers

Longlisted for the Man Booker prize and winner of the Arthur C Clarke award, Jessie Lamb is yet another post apocalyptic novel, or more of a rushing headlong towards extinction novel if I’m honest. I cannot resist these at all.

Jessie is 16 and living in a world where an act of biological terror (presumed not explicit) has set loose a virus which is activated in a woman when she becomes pregnant, resulting in an extreme form of CJD and the death of the mother and baby. Science is looking at solutions and settles on the concept of Sleeping Beauties – women who will be put into an artificial coma and given drugs to stop the disease progressing while their baby comes to term. Once the child is delivered, immune to the disease, the woman will die.

Jessie has made a choice to become on of the Beauties, and the novel is about how she reaches that choice and the consequences. This is particularly an issue for her parents, who see the need for the solution but don’t want it to be their daughter. Jessie’s story is told against a background of civil unrest and protest, and her decision is he attempt to make the world better.

I like Jessie very much, though she clearly sees the world very much in black and white as most teenagers do. Some scenes, especially when she is imprisoned by her desperate father, are very upsetting but not gratuitously so. I’ve seen a couple of commenters mention the heavy religious symbolism of her name (Jessie = Jesus, lamb = sacrifice) but I have to say if that was the author’s intent it went completely over my head.

I thought this was very well done, and not as bleak as many of the novels I read in this genre; it makes clear that sometimes there are no easy choices. Well worth reading.