Tag Archives: Gothic genre

The Shifting Fog, Kate Morton

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I love the sensation of freshly read novels percolating away in my mind. Like a deliciously brewed coffee, time and concentration filter away extraneous details as themes and flavour strengthen, simmer and crackle. One of the many stories on the stovetop of my mind at present, is The Shifting Fog by Kate Morton.

I’ve been curious of this particular author for a while. In the summer of 2011-12, my little trio road-tripped across the Nullarbor with our camper trailer, a few tonnes of water and books – the essentials. I distinctly remember seeing the audibook of The Shifting Fog at every roadhouse we stopped by. Finally, I decided to give the debut novel a go to kick off my participation in the Australian Women Writers challenge.

And you know, I enjoyed this novel. Let me tell you about it.

The Shifting Fog

The Shifting Fog is told from the perspective of Grace, a 98 year old woman who recounts her life as a young maid at Riverton Manor during a turbulent time where a famous war poet, Robbie Hunter, committed suicide. In the present day, a movie is being made about the tragic death, and the sisters Hannah and Emmeline who witnessed it. When approached by the director, Ursula, for an interview, Grace, who has spent a lifetime forgetting the events, is plunged once again into her youth and the events that darkened and shaped her life.

Ultimately, to me, the story was about Grace and her relationship with Hannah, the grandaughter of the lady of Riverton, whom Grace serves. Though there relationship is unequal, it is the bearer of secrets, and pivotal in shaping the events that transpire in the early 20th century.

Set in 1920’s England, the two eras are juxtaposed: the 1920’s aristocracy, propriety and naive belief that society will never change; to the early 21st century: where love and marriage are no longer a given, women aren’t as bound to their positions, technology continues to change the ever-changing world, and war is no longer shrouded in glory.

The gothic novel is fairly predictable, it’s not too hard to piece together the events that transpired at the lake at Riverton Manor. Having said that, I enjoyed this story, I enjoyed Grace’s narration – though I’m not sure it can be trusted. Even if the memory of a 98 year old woman wasn’t fragile, time and guilt have a way of warping events, don’t they?

Thematically, there are many issues touched on, though not delved into deeply. Nothing I wouldn’t have expected to be present: class, economics, pre and post-war ontologies and particularly women, marriage and the roles of both in an aristocratic society.

One aspect of the novel that struck me, and I imagine this is highly intentional, is the motif of secrets and inheritence. The most significant heirlooms passed down through generations are not always objects, but ideas, beliefs and secrets. Grace was born into a world of secrets, bearing her own, carrying them for others, and discovering some along the way. Secrets serve almost as a roadmap, the most ancient of GPS systems, navigating and dictating the life-paths on which to take – whether one wishes to, or not.

When all the details filter away on the bubbling stovetop of my mind, the question I am ultimately left with is this: did any of the main characters, Grace included – with their varying positions and opportunities in society, actually live the life they wanted? And if so, was it worth the price? Today, I would suggest not, tomorrow, I might feel differently. Read the book for yourself and let me know if you disagree.

I liked The Shifting Fog and am keen to explore more novels by Kate Morton.

Let me know what you think!

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Melbourne Gothic

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November 19, 2012 · 1:26 pm

Five Kings

I could read my favourite Stephen King books over and over and over again until the end of time. So, one of my reading goals for 2012 was to read 5 Stephen King books I’ve never read before. I’m happy to say that this has been achieved! I read 5 new Kings, and man, it should become an annual policy.

Here’s what I read:

On Writing (1999)

Source: StephenKing.com

It’s great to read about your favourite author. I’ll admit, there were times when the approach of just plonk on paper any random memory in no order and call it a memoir was a tad irritating, but I  still enjoyed reading the bits and bobs that made SK the writer he is today.

The second half of the book that addresses the craft of writing was excellent. Definitely a great read if you are interested in Stephen King and / or the craft of writing.

Verdict – 6/10

Bag of Bones (1998)

Source: StephenKing.com

Bag Of Bones is a great modern gothic story. After the death of his wife, author Mike Noonan returns to their cabin on the lake, ‘Sara Laughs’ and finds himself in the midst of an extraordinary battle between the living, the dead, and one little girl he must protect. I really enjoyed the sensory aspect of this book, which may have been heightened because of the audiobook format. The gothic elements were a wonderful: location, wild weather, supernatural events, the sound of loons crying on the lake. In fact, that phrase ‘a loon cried on the lake’ is repeated so often during tense moments, that every time I heard it a little shiver ran down my back, keeping me on my toes throughout the story.

The novel contains all the makings of a good King: great characters, an interesting plot, a sprinkling of cool genre and literary devices, not to mention the irony of SK having written Bag Of Bones from the perspective of an author way below his calibre = an ‘I-can’t-put-this-down’ type book… my favourite kind. Yes, definately a good read.

7/10.

11.22.63 (2011)

Source: StephenKing.com

If you’ve read my post ‘11.22.63‘, you know I loved this book. Damn it was good. I’d love to read it again next year and see if the second time round is just as good!

8/10

Full Dark, No Stars (2010)

Source: StephenKing.com

Full Dark, No Stars is a collection of short stories that are more like character studies. And, well, they’re quite dark. Ultimately, each story explores the circumstancial and psychological factors that combine to make a ‘normal’ person decide to murder someone else. It was pretty heavy at times, particularly as it focussed on the darker shades of humanity rather than monsters lurking in the closet.

What is also interesting is the response I had as a reader – there were some scenarios in which I identified with the protagonist and was barracking for them as they went on their rampage of revenge. Other scenarios made me feel sick. I imagine this variety of responses evoked by the stories was intentional.

I have to add that there were a couple of moments where the writing felt a bit like fan fiction, but ultimately it was a good collection. I’m glad I read it.

I’d be interested to know what other people thought. 6/10.

Hearts in Atlantis (1999)

Source: StephenKing.com

Hearts in Atlantis is a collection of short stories that follow a loosely connected group of characters beginning in 1960. One character who gets a mention in all stories is Carol Gerber – though she’s never the main protagonist or narrator. I realised at the end that I’d learned more about the journey of Carol’s life then that of any of the others though she is peripheral through much of it. Clever. But Hearts in Atlantis is not primarily about Carol Gerber. The collection is compiled of a series of stories bookended with Bobby Garfield in 1960 as an 11 year old kid, and Bobby returning home in 1999 (incidentally, these stories are a nice little plug for the Dark Tower series). The Vietnam war plays a major role in the stories, as the protagonists continue to battle through life long after the war has ended.

Great read. 7/10

A word on time:  

So, here are the five Kings I read this year. One thing I noticed through all of them is how SK plays with time. ‘Bag of Bones’ deals with historical events that affect the protagonist’s past and present. ‘Hearts in Atlantis’ follows a timestream for a group of people loosely connected and how their lives spin off in different directions like a spinning top. ‘11.22.63’ explores the concept of time travel and changing history, even ‘On Writing’ plays with time in examining some of the building blocks of SK’s life.

What was my favourite new King you ask? The jewel on the King’s crown?

They were all interesting and captivating in their own ways. I really loved Bag of Bones, but 11.22.63 will have to be the number one King that I read this year, mainly for the emotional response I had to the book, it was such a great story.

What do you think?

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