A quick post on my plans for the RIP XVII challenge, which runs from 1 September to 31 October and involves reading any number of books classifiable as horror, dark fantasy, crime, or thriller. I’ve got the above stack to pick and choose from:
Shirley Jackson’s The Sundial was last year’s RIP group read, which I didn’t participate in, but I like the sound of it: creepy family/house/inheritance story that starts with an old lady pushing her son down the stairs!
Sheridan Le Fanu’s In a Glass Darkly ticks the “old-fashioned ghost story” box nicely; I liked the M.R. James stories I read a few years back and Le Fanu is in the same tradition
Colson Whitehead’s Zone One is a zombie novel and I can’t resist seeing what he does with the genre
Stephen King’s Misery was the most “classic” King novel I could find on the shelves at the local lib; I’d probably have preferred Salem’s Lot (or indeed Needful Things, which I hear is better) but neither was immediately available
Alma Katsu’s The Hunger is based on the American mythography of the Donner Party, which became synonymous with cannibalism and the dark elements of Western expansionism. I loved Dan Simmons’s The Terror a few years ago and this seems to be in the same ballpark
I’ve already read Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black (at the top of the stack). It’s a pretty good pastiche, but it’s far from being the creepiest or scariest thing I’ve ever read; I can easily see how the movie or theatrical versions would be terrifying, though. On the whole it strikes me as a sad story, not a frightening one. (Until the last page or two, perhaps. But even that feels frustratingly implausible.) It’s interesting to think about how different stories and different mediums (and even different types of stories within the same medium) frighten us. I’m much more haunted by gore and upsetting imagery than I am by The Woman in Black‘s bag of tricks. Not to say it’s not scary at all, just that I’d need a visual of its effects (the woman appearing in places where she can’t/shouldn’t be able to reach, etc) to really be chilled.
On a second pile–a virtual, electronic pile–are:
Francine Toon’s Pine, set in the Highlands and opening with that classic of creepy fiction, a disappearing woman
Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties, because I adored Machado’s memoir with every fibre of my being and her fiction must be worth a go
Ellis Peters’s The Raven in the Foregate, because of course I will shoehorn in a Cadfael mystery if I can; this one involves a dead priest (monks not necessarily being priests is one of the things you have to remember, reading this series) and a suspicious nephew
I’ve also already read one library ebook for RIP XVII: Christina Henry’s postapocalyptic take on Little Red Riding Hood, The Girl in Red. It’s mostly highly capable fun, although how intensely weird is it to read a novel about a virulent global pandemic that was written in 2019? Very weird. (Red’s attitude towards the government, for instance, might conceivably have made her an anti-vaxxer in 2020, although she surely wouldn’t have been an anti-masker. If nothing else, she’s extremely keen on personal survival. There’s something about the novel’s insistence on individualism and mistrust that, in its libertarianism, creeps close to the merciless authoritarian ideal it’s trying to critique. Still, she does eventually trust a few people and make some decisions based on emotion, not pure logic, which rescues her from being an inhumanly smart Final Girl. The whole point of the novel is to emphasize that there are some things you can’t prepare or plan for and that’s not your fault.) Also, big fan of the disability rep: Red has a prosthetic leg and strikes a realistic balance with it, aware of how strong and well-conditioned her body actually is but not pushing it beyond its limits (no super-crip trope here).
I’d love to hear everyone else’s plans for this year’s RIP!
Time limit: I started on 5 June and gave myself until the end of August to read the five books on my list. I also had two alternates in reserve, in case any of the main books were difficult to find or too boring to bear.
How did I do?: I read four of the five books on my main list, DNFing one (A Question of Power by Bessie Head) and replacing it with The Brave African Huntress by Amos Tutuola, which wasn’t on my alternates list. I did read one of the alternates anyway, though—The Grass is Singing, by Doris Lessing. And although I twice included only the first book in a trilogy on the main list, I ended up reading the sequel to Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions, entitled The Book of Not, and both of the sequels to Naguib Mahfouz’s Palace Walk: Palace of Desire and Sugar Street. In total, I managed nine titles.
Any favourites?: I loved The Grass is Singing, with its powerful articulation of white supremacy’s corrosive effects on the individual. Naguib Mahfouz’s Palace Walk was so enjoyable that it, along with the two sequels, formed one of the best reading experiences of the summer (and probably the year). His way of showing the impact of national and international events in the lives of an extended family is deeply engaging and addictive, even despite the stilted translation. Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s Petals of Blood was also fantastic, and has confirmed me in my wish to read more of his work.
Any disappointments?: Well, it’s a shame that I didn’t get on with A Question of Power, of course. I wouldn’t say that So Long a Letter was a disappointment but its very short length made it difficult to sink my teeth into, and only bits of it have stayed with me. Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions wasn’t a disappointment but the relentless psychological pain of its sequel, The Book of Not, really did put me off trying to read the third in the sequence.
Any surprises?: I was expecting a much colder piece of work from Doris Lessing and was pleasantly surprised to find her not so.
Resolutions and discoveries: This felt less organically enjoyable than my Russian Spring, although I’m still glad I did it. “Magical realism” is a dreadful term, but if we accept it as one that people generally understand when used, it’s obvious that the more a book is “magical realist”–the more it uses fantastical elements within the real–the less I tend to enjoy it. (Commit! Be fully fantasy or don’t!) So the African novels I’ve enjoyed the most in this challenge are definitely the ones that adhere more to the Western ideal of the realist novel, which is a little embarrassing, although not totally surprising. I definitely want to read more Lessing (Martha Quest?), Mahfouz (Midaq Alley?), and Thiong’o (Devil on the Cross?). I also largely ignored contemporary authors in this go-round; Abdulrazak Gurnah, David Diop, and Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi are just a few of those I’d focus on if I did this again.
Next?: I’m taking a little pause from this format of themed read for now, since the new academic term is starting in October and I need to prioritize that. However, I have a few more ideas lined up for later in the year or perhaps in 2023. Meanwhile, I’ll participate in the low-key R.(eaders) I.(mbibing) P.(eril) challenge between 1 September and 31 October (read any number of books that fall into the categories of: horror, thriller, crime, supernatural, dark fantasy), and this year I’m interested in joining Novellas in November and/or Nonfiction November.