R.I.P. XVII Plans

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!

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14 thoughts on “R.I.P. XVII Plans

  1. I wouldn’t exactly call The Sundial a horror story – I found it more darkly funny and sarcastic, about a dysfunctional family, about class and privilege, about psychological manipulation. The stage adaptation of The Woman in Black did make me jump though!

    1. I’m cool with psychological manipulation too–it seems quite different from the Jackson novels I’ve previously read, so that’ll be exciting.

  2. Great post! I won’t be officially taking part in RIP as I need some time to regroup after 20 Books and to save myself for SF Month in November, but much of my reading tends to be along these lines anyway. I’ve recently been tearing through Mira Grant’s zombie trilogy, which is set post zombie-rising but shows a society that is learning to cope with zombies, thirty-ish years on, rather than having dissolved into total chaos, which I love (lots of unintentional Covid resonances as well, including constant self-testing, though the consequences are rather worse if you test positive!). I’m also keen to read The Hunger. Zone One was disappointing for me, sadly, and Her Body a bit hit and miss.

    I generally agree with you about ghost stories like The Woman In Black, but for some reason it’s one of the very few that have ever worked for me. I watched the old film version in school (I don’t think you can get hold of it now?) and remember it as terrifying until we see a rubbish puppet of the woman, at which point the whole class collapsed in hysterics! The Daniel Radcliffe version is good but I didn’t find it especially scary. I tried to rewatch recently but had to turn it off because my dog kept barking at the dog in the film…

    1. I’d love to do SF November, too – something to remember! Mira Grant is a definite fun-read author for me, after Into the Drowning Deep; I’ll look out for the zombie books. Will let you know about The Hunger (my guess is it won’t be as good as The Terror but will be diverting). Zone One starts off a bit meandering for my genre taste (I read the first few pages of most of them while waiting for a doctor’s appointment!) but I’m willing to persevere and see if it picks up. And it doesn’t surprise me to hear that some parts of Her Body are more successful than others–that’s generally true of short story collections for me.

      I didn’t even know there was a pre-Radcliffe film of TWIB. Terrible practical effects are such a tension-killer! I’ve seen a few screenshots of the Radcliffe version and they did scare me (one of him standing in the nursery window and the woman is *right* behind him), so I think it’s definitely a medium thing. (Ghost stories are a pleasant thrill for me, generally, whereas the few ghost movies I’ve seen have really freaked me out – even a little 40-minute BBC short with Rory Kinnear!)

      1. Incredible stuff! The Radcliffe also seems to change the plot quite a lot (mostly, it appears, to add more upsetting child-death sequences). Perhaps that’s helped it too.

  3. I’m taking part in RIP too, but haven’t made a big list as I need some freedom after doing 20 Books of Summer! You have some great books on your pile – I’ve enjoyed some of Sheridan Le Fanu’s work although I haven’t read that particular collection and I remember loving Misery. I agree with you on The Woman in Black, though; I didn’t find it very frightening at all, although my friend said the stage version was quite scary!

    1. A free-choice approach seems a very good one, especially after the big 20 BoS push! Hoping for good things from Le Fanu and King (I’ve enjoyed IT and The Shining from him thus far). Pleased to hear someone else relatively unscared by TWIB – I suppose fear is like humour and everyone has their own conditions for experiencing it.

  4. I read Le Fanu’s In a Glass Darkly many moons ago, and while much have of detail has slipped from my mind since then I do recall being spooked by it. A perfect pick for your RIP reading!

  5. You’ll like the Machado. I found the Toon pretty underwhelming, though I was drawn to the premise. My options for next month include Hare House, Let the Right One In, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, and The Sister Who Ate Her Brothers (a Jen Campbell children’s book). It’s a good excuse to get to some spooky stuff, which I barely read otherwise.

    1. I’ve read Let the Right One In (surprisingly violent, I struggled with that) and We Have Always Lived in the Castle (fantastic voice, obviously; it stands up to its own hype). Hare House looks like a great one for Wuthering Heights fans!

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