December 16th, 2012

devil muse

Book 165: The Forbidden by F. R. Tallis

Book 165: The Forbidden.
Author: F. R. Tallis, 2012.
Genre: Historical Horror Fiction. Eroticism. Medicine. Mental Illness.Drugs. Magic and Demonology.
Other Details: Hardback. 378 pages

“Superstition. Possession. Hell on Earth..." cover blurb, The Forbidden

In 1872 idealistic young doctor Paul Clément takes a position at the mission hospital on the Caribbean island of Saint Sébastien with the hope of discovering cures for tropical diseases. While there he encounters the dark native magics that claim to be able to revive the dead. He is told that it is forbidden to speak of what he has seen but being a man of science shrugs this off as superstition. He returns to Paris with an interest in resuscitation and begins to study the nervous system under Jean-Martin Charcot and explores the idea of using a jolt of electricity to restart the heart. Hearing from patients who have been brought back to life of their visionary experiences of what seems to be heaven, he elects to undertake a daring experiment on himself. However, the outcome of the experiment is unexpected as he appears to have brought back an ancient evil that begins to infect his life. Is he going mad or has he unleashed a demon from hell onto earth?

Having enjoyed Tallis' other historical novels that often flirted with the occult, I was pleased to find that he had elected to write a work of supernatural horror. Tallis writes that the direct inspiration was the 19th century French occult novel Là-Bas (The Damned) by J.K. Huysmans and also cited Justine by the Marquis de Sade and Guy de Maupassant's stories as other influences. He also mentions the more recent writings of the British writer Dennis Wheatley whose Library of the Occult series published Là-Bas and other classics of horror and occult fiction from 1974 to 1977.

All of these influences, including de Sade's, are evident though novel's overall tone did remind me most of Wheatley's occult novels that I had happily devoured in the early 1970s. Tallis certainly captured that sense of a rational man being drawn into the dark arts despite himself and becoming morally overwhelmed. Tallis' ability to evoke his historical settings has always been a strong appeal of his fiction and here is no exception as he brings 19th century Paris and France alive.

I found this tale of demonic possession quite a controlled work despite its often explicit scenes of sex and violence though this suited its first person narration by an essentially uptight 19th century doctor clinging to rationality in the face of the supernatural. Tallis is obviously a huge fan of this kind of tale of occult horror and the novel served as an homage. As a fellow fan I certainly enjoyed his foray into this area.

Frank Tallis' page on 'The Forbidden'. contains a short essay on writing the novel.
book and cup

#129 Chronicles of Carlingford: The Rector and The Doctor's Family - Mrs Oliphant (1863)

These days of course a series is a very popular thing, both with readers and booksellers. A series of books of course are by no means a new thing. Anthony Trollope’s Barsetshire chronicles for example have delighted readers for many a long year. Less well known perhaps though from a similar era, are the Chronicles of Carlingford by Mrs (Margaret) Oliphant. Written in the 1860’s they then spent many years out of print. The Rector (a short story) and The Doctor’s Family a short novel– were published together by Virago Modern Classics and are the first two stories in the series. The books are now best obtained either on Kindle or in second hand VMC’s – I have three of the next four books in the series (2 VMC’s and a penguin classic) and hope it will be as easy to pick up number 5, books 2, 3 and 4 are fairly chunky, this delightful little book serving as something of an introduction to Carlingford – much in the same way as The Warden does with Barsetshire.
The Rector of the opening story is Mr Proctor – a middle aged clergyman who having spent the previous fifteen years cloistered happily away at All Souls, now takes up the living in Carlingford, in part to provide a comfortable home for his ageing mother. Mr Proctor is somewhat unused to the world is certainly unprepared for the blue ribboned prettiness of Miss Lucy Wodehouse.
“The Rector was not vain – he did not think himself an Adonis; he did not understand anything about the matter, which indeed was beneath the consideration of a Fellow of All-Souls. But have not women been incomprehensible since ever there was in this world a pen with sufficient command of words to call them so? And is it not certain that, whether it may to their advantage or disadvantage, every soul of them is plotting to marry somebody?”
In ‘The Doctor’s Family’ we meet the young Doctor Edward Rider, a bachelor who lives in the newer part of Carlingford, with a blue plaque outside his door bearing the legend M.R.C.S he ministers to those afraid of the word physician. It is Dr Marjoribanks in the older part of the town who has the practice Dr Rider coverts. However Edward’s elder and dissolute brother Fred has arrived back from Australia unexpectedly taking up idle residence in Edward’s house. Edward is incensed by his brother’s idle selfishness, and yet is little expecting to be faced by his brother’s wife Susan, three children and sister-in-law Nettie, arrived from the colonies to seek him out. Nettie is a small but determined young woman, she manages her family completely as Fred’s wife is as lazy and useless as he is himself. Only Nettie is able to manage the children, and it is only Nettie who has any money on which the family can live. Nettie secures the family some lodgings and her sister and brother-in-law much to Edward Riders disgust are happy to live upon her goodness and be managed absolutely by her. Dr Rider’s feeling towards Nettie inevitable lean towards romance and he is appalled that Nettie should be quite so content to sacrifice herself to others.
“Edward Rider stared at his brother, speechless with rage and indignation. He could have rushed upon that listless figure, and startled the life half out of the nerveless slovenly frame. The state of mingled resentment, disappointment, and disgust he was in, made every particular of this aggravating scene tell more emphatically. To see that heavy vapour obscuring those walls which breathed of Nettie – to think of this one little centre of her life, which always hitherto had borne in some degree the impress of her womanly image, so polluted and vulgarised, overpowered the young man’s patience. Yet perhaps he of all men in the world had least right to interfere.”
I absolutely loved this book. I hope it doesn’t spoil it for future readers to say that the ending is of course very satisfactory. Readers today may like to think ourselves oh so more sophisticated than in the 1860’s – but really? don’t we all rather like a happy ending? I am already a fan of Carlingford, and hope I find the next much fatter instalments of the series just as charming and readable.

The Chronicles of Carlingford comprise:

The Rector and The Doctor’s Family
Salem Chapel
The Perpetual Curate
Miss Marjoribanks
Phoebe Junior

Books 71-78

71. The Invisible Man, by H.G. Wells. I really enjoyed this classic. I was expecting it to be more of a horror story- and it was towards the end. But I was surprised at how darkly funny it was at the beginning. The story centers on Griffin, a young scientist who plays with the theories of optics and manages to find a way to make himself invisible. Thrilled at first, he discovers quickly the many drawbacks to his state and is horrified when he finds he can't reverse the procedure. His coming to Iping, a small provincial town, at the beginning to do his work in peace is the source of much of the comedy, as the villagers try to figure out who their mysterious and abrasive guest is. But when he runs into a former college associate, Griffin shows a darker, murderous side and the town finds itself pitted against a clever man bent on a reign of terror who cannot be seen. It made me think; it's curious how it seems that most scientists - Dr. Jekyll, Dr. Frankenstein, Griffin and others - are portrayed as men bordering on the edge of sanity, and individuals bent on pushing the envelope too far. One can see this as a lesson, or as a reflection of a society afraid of change. You can argue either way.

72. Losing My Cool, by Thomas Chatterton Williams. This was an interesting autobiography, one that offers insights on the pervasive influence of the hip-hop culture. Williams even subscribed to many of the negative ideals taught by the culture, but credits his father's early influence and insistence that Williams study hard (even in the summer he assigned his two sons homework and reading material) and go to college in making him an eventual success. Williams described his college years as an awakening for him, as he discovered new and better ways of thinking. Williams also goes into the segregation and treatment his father had to face under Jim Crow, and how he worked to give his sons chances he never had.

73. It Came From Ohio, by James Renner. I would have never pictured Ohio as a hot spot for paranormal activity (the Mansfield Reformatory notwithstanding), but this book is filled with short stories strange goings on in the Buckeye state. The stories range from well-documented to the campfire story told to scare new campers, and all are pretty entertaining. Each short story also has asides, set off in a gray box, related in some way to the main story. Most people are familiar with the Mothman legends, courtesy of the movie "The Mothman Prophecies." Lesser known stories include the Loveland frogs, the Mellon heads, werewolf sightings, Bigfoot sightings and even a couple well-documented UFO sightings (one of which inspired the UFO chase scene from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. A quick and entertaining read for those interested in the more unusual aspects of Ohio's history.

74. Charlie's Gingerbread House, by Melissa Staehli and Amy Rottinger. This is a very cute, whimsical picturebook aimed at preschool and early gradeschool. The large, vibrant pictures and simple text follows the adventures of a mouse, Charlie, who stumbles across a gingerbread house. He munches his way through the sweets until the house is no more. This will appeal to childrens' imaginations. Who among us haven't dreamed of finding a lifesize Gingerbread house, a la Hansel and Gretel, and dining on the sugary goodness (without the Wicked Witch, of course!)

75. Faith and You, vol. 2, by Terry Pluto. Terry Pluto is a local sports columnist who also writes a regular column on faith and religion. This is an interesting read for people of all faiths - whether they be athiest or agnostic, Muslim, Jewish or Christian. Pluto never comes across as preachy and he tells from the beginning that his columns are not meant to convert people, but rather to make them think. He covers a lot of family aspects - marriage, relationships with parents, frienships, as well as issues of jealousy, handling a crisis such as the school shootings or a diagnosis of illness. His writing style flows well and is easy to read, very conversational. He shares many anecdotes from his life - his relationship with his parents (especially his father), and his wife, and is not ashamed to confess his personal shortcomings. A side note, he is a very popular author. When I was done reading this book for an article, two coworkers asked to borrow my review copy.

76. Damn Right I'm From Cleveland, by Mike Polk. This is a very tongue in cheek "travelers guide" for Cleveland, really meant for the residents already here and familiar with this city's quirks and foibles. The author, a comedian who is known for his Hastily Made Tourism Video and Factory of Sadness video on YouTube, this time decides to write a book, complete with a lot of pictures and graphics, detailing Cleveland lowlights. He includes information on low moments in Cleveland sports (the funniest segment; he has his friends recreate the scenes), cheap dating tips, local bars and more. It's a quick read and pretty funny, and most Northeast Ohioans will nod and chuckle at the satire. Fair warning - keep this out of the hands of the kiddies. The humor is very adult (and at times a bit sophomoric).

77. Young and Courageous, by Marilyn Seguin. Grade schoolers looking for an idea for history figure to profile - or anyone interested in history - will enjoy this collection of short stories that briefly relate young women who, in their own way, make their mark on history. The stories are fictionalized and documented, and the author includes a brief afterwards on each person and their life following the events that made their mark. Most people will know the story of Sacagawea, who helped Lewis and Clark navigate the new American territories. Lesser known stories include the tale of sisters Abbie and Rebecca Bates, who managed to fool an entire British army, during the Revolutionary war. Or the story of Belle Boyd, a Confederate spy who risked jail and even getting shot. Or Minnie Freeman, a young schoolteacher who risked her life to save her students when a freak snowstorm struck the area.

78. Heroes of the Negro Leagues, by Mark Chiarello and Jack Morelli. In the 1990s, watercolor artist Mark Chiarelli made a series of baseball cards dedicated to the players who played in the Negro Leagues. The images of these cards have been compiled into a book, along with brief profiles of the players who played the sport during a time when the Major Leagues did not accept black players (indeed, one of the profiles includes Frank Grant, who was was named the Best Player in Buffalo History for his Major League playing - before being shown the door). There are 60 profiles in all, ranging from well-known greats such as Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays and Satchel Paige to those who might not be as well known. This is a good book for reluctant readers; the bios are short, barely a page, and the watercolor renderings of the players are gorgeous. This book also includes a DVD, Only The Ball Was White, which I plan to check out in the future.