Saturday, 21 December 2013

The Yellow Wallpaper: If You’re Not Already a Feminist, You Will Be After This

A Review By: Amelia
Feminism has been a real hot topic button this past year and I, for one, couldn’t be more pleased. It’s time the world stops looking at women like objects and accepts we’re people too. In honour of the feminist movement I dug into my old university books to retrieve The Yellow Wallpaper–one of the first feminist pieces ever written and a truly creepy short story regardless of that!

Presented in first person through a collection of journal entries, The Yellow Wallpaper is about a woman whose doctor husband has confined her to the attic room to recuperate from what he calls a ‘temporary nervous depression’, a diagnosis given to many women of the period. The windows are barred, the door is locked, and with nothing to stimulate her she becomes obsessed by the pattern and colour of the room’s wallpaper until it finally drives her mad.

The author of The Yellow Wallpaper is Charlotte Perkins Gilman who was a prominent American feminist, sociologist, novelist, and a utopian feminist because of her unorthodox concepts and her lifestyle during a time when her accomplishments were considered exceptional for women. The Yellow Wallpaper was a semi-autobiographical piece which she wrote after a severe bout of postpartum psychosis.

The main character of the piece is the woman narrator who goes unnamed for the whole piece (although it’s likely when the woman mentions a Jane near the end of the piece that she’s speaking about herself). The narrator is an upper-middle-class woman who is newly married and a mother who is being treated for a slight hysterical tendency. Her only company is a secret diary and, as she loses grip of reality, the women she’s convinced are creeping around the attic room’s yellow wallpaper. As she loses touch with the ‘outside’, she comes to understand her ‘inside’ with a comprehension that the women (the ones she sees in the yellow wallpaper) are forced to creep around and hide inside their own lives–lives prescribed to them by the society in which they were born into–and that she herself is one of them.

The Yellow Wallpaper is hailed as one of the first and one of the most important feminist works as it illustrates the attitudes in the 19th century towards women and the physical and mental health. The woman’s mental decline is thought to be normal by her doctor husband because he couldn’t be bothered to learn that it’s not. It’s a story that brings up feelings of sadness for the women and immense angry at a world that would let this happen to anyone. It’s also a truly creepy piece of literature, though it’s not a horror story based on anything supernatural: it’s quite the opposite. The horror comes from the realization that the narrator (and perhaps the readers themselves) has to lose herself to understand herself and that speaks deeply to the fact that many women, then and now, don’t get to just be themselves; they have to label themselves and then hide behind that.

My final thoughts on short story The Yellow Wallpaper is that it’s hauntingly amazing. Gilman writes with such conviction because, well, she went through something disturbing like this, and doesn’t that make it even more terrifying? It’s a short story that feminists, their critics, and everyone else should read to gain perspective and possibly even lose some.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

The Ring: A Novel Turned Movie Turned Manga – And I Must Say, Third Time’s a Charm!

A Review By: Amelia
I love ghost stories! I’ve said it in reviews in the past and I’m saying it again in this review–a well thought out ghost story is the best thing to read, and no one country does a good ghost story quite like Japan does. The Ring is one such ghost story. Like Ju-On (also one of my favourite ghost stories!) it features people with regular lives that are suddenly thrust into a horrifying world of vengeful, powerful ghosts.

The story of The Ring (for those that don’t know) is about a cursed video. When a journalist looks into the existence of the supposedly cursed videotape, she unleashes a ghost upon herself that’s bent on revenge. With the video giving little to nothing in way of clues, all seems lost. When her little boy accidentally watches it though, she has just one week to solve the mystery of the cursed video if she wishes to save herself and her child. Although there are some major changes from the book to the manga to the movies (not even including the American remake) this is the plot that drives the terrifying story forward.

Koji Suzuki penned the novel The Ring to which all other Ring stories are based off of, but if you’ve seen the Japanese movie and read the book, they are very, very different. This is down to Hiroshi Takahashi, who adapted the novel to a manga and a screenplay form. Along with the manga artist Misao Inagaki, Takahashi has taken a story that was good and made it great with a deeper look into the mythos of The Ring.
The art style of The Ring is fairly simple compared to what I’ve seen in other mangas. The faces are detailed just enough to show emotion and the locations detailed just enough to show you where the characters are: a forest, a living room, an auditorium–everything is very minimal and features a lot of closes up and a lot of shadows. It’s actually a very striking art style and works well with the horror atmosphere that the plot creates.

The Ring makes a great manga; it makes a better manga than it does a novel or movie! The minimalistic art is striking and doesn’t take away from the story. In fact, it adds to it! By not drawing attention away from the story with showy, over detailed art, the horrifying plot really shines.

My final thoughts on The Ring, as a manga, are that it’s really good. Better than good–it is great! It’s a horror story like no other. It’s an old-fashioned ghost story that is truly unsettling and after so many years of unsatisfying, unintelligent, unscary horror bombarding us from every possible media, The Ring has a manga is a breath of horrifyingly fresh air!

Saturday, 7 December 2013

The Birthing House: A Horror Novel That’s Horror Is Stillborn

A Review By: Amelia

I love horror stories, they’re one of my favourite genres to read, and I always browse the shelves of thrift stores for any good horror pieces. The Birthing House was one such book that caught my eye and even had a rave review on the inside cover that compared it to Stephen King’s The Shining. For two bucks I thought it was a steal. Unfortunately it turns out that two bucks and the several hours I spent reading it, were completely and utterly wasted.

When Conrad Harrison impulse buys a big, old house in Wisconsin, his wife Jo doesn’t share his enthusiasm and Conrad is left to set up their new home as she ties up loose ends in LA. But the house isn’t what it seems and Conrad soon hears the wailing of a phantom baby and sees a woman who looks exactly like Jo but isn’t. When he becomes obsessed with the pregnant girl next door, who claims to be a victim of the evil of the house, Conrad’s life begins to unravel and leads him to a nightmarish conclusion.

Sounds pretty good, right? Creepy, original, and weird–maybe just a touch disturbing? Well prepare to be as disappointed as I was. As far as debut novels go, this one should NOT have gotten the author, Christopher Ransom, a book deal.

The main characters of the piece is Conrad Harrison and his wife Jo and boy are these two just a pair of hot messes. Ransom didn’t develop his main characters at all. Or rather, he did, but he did it poorly! Conrad is as shallow as a puddle and about half as interesting and Jo–what a bitch!–and not even in a ‘that’s her character way’ just in a ‘she’s written so poorly and her character is incomprehensible’ way! Nadia, the pregnant next door neighbour, is the only semi-likeable character and that’s only because she’s a mostly vapid teenage girl character and Ransom has apparently seen enough of those over the years to write one himself! There’s also an old girlfriend named Holly that appears in several long-winded and rather pointless flashback chapters but she’s just as hollow as the other characters. If anything, Holly is less a fleshed-out character and more just a fictional teenage fantasy of a fictional man.

I don’t even know where to begin with the themes of this piece. At first, Ransom leads us to believe that the house is haunted, but then it’s not and the characters are simply unravelling because of extenuating circumstances. Then, lo and behold, by the last fifty pages the house is haunted again. What are we, as the readers, supposed to make of that? What does it say about the characters? About the plot development? Nothing good, that much I can tell you!

The location of this disastrous novel is set pretty much exclusively in the creepy old house that Conrad buys. The whole mystery that the book is based on is tied-up completely in the house, but Ransom’s incohesive prose leaves almost all the mysteries of the birthing house unanswered.

The Birthing House is awful. It’s as simple as that. It’s just awful. It’s a book that doesn’t know what it wants to be. The narrator’s voice is sloppy, the prose is ugly and clunky, the characters unappealing, the plot full of holes, the dialogue pure drivel, there are gross and useless sex scenes, superfluous swearing (and I, myself, swear gratuitously so for me to say that means a lot), the mysteries are left unsolved, the horror unutilized–need I go on? There is not one good aspect of this book and I must say, my favourite thing about it, was finishing it and throwing it away!

My final thoughts on The Birthing House are don’t read it. Seriously, just don’t bother. In my opinion, this book should not have been birthed. This is a novel that Christopher Ransom’s editor should have had aborted.