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Wednesday 9 October 2013

Shelf Esteem: Tales From the Dead of Night & Johnny Alucard

Yes, yes, I know Hallowe'en is still bloody weeks away, but I adore it, and wanted to get a couple of books lined up for you in advance. The nights are drawing in, and it's time to get scared...

Tales from the Dead of Night: Thirteen Classic Ghost Stories compiled by Cecily Gayford
Shelf worth: 4/5

Amazon preview

Firstly, this is such a beautiful book I kind of just want to look at it for ages. Instead, I've been carrying it around with me all week, which is why I've got the corners all bashed up - bad. The silver embossing on the front is fabulous, and the contents even better.

Cecily Gayford introduces each of the stories with a discreet bit of blurb about the author - E. Nesbit! Kipling! Ruth Rendell! Saki! Loads of great stuff, and characters called things like Sybil - and then, more interestingly, the history behind the story and what it means to them. The one behind E.F. Benson's story Pirates was heartbreaking.

There's a perfect balance between dread and sweetness, balls-out icy horror and "Ooooh! Clever" scares of the type you loved at school. My absolute favourite was one called The Crown Derby Plate, by an author called Marjorie Bowen who apparently inspired Graham Greene to write. This is such a clever, funny and icy little story and I just sat in my seat and went wow a few times when I'd finished.

This is a beautifully-presented book that is gorgeous to look at, and even better to curl up with. Classic old-fashion stories that pile up the adjectives and the atmosphere with glorious abandon. I haven't had a nightmare yet, but then I've been very careful to only read it in broad daylight.

Johnny Alucard by Kim Newman
Shelf worth: 4/5

Amazon preview

A disclaimer: this is written by a great chum of mine. Second disclaimer: I am a terrible liar, and can't imagine anything worse than puffing a book if I didn't like it. This is a great book.

This is the fourth in Newman's Anno Dracula series, and the first for 15 years. Don't worry if you haven't read the previous books because this is a great standalone, imagining a world in which vampires exist, Dracula married Queen Victoria, and Holmes, Watson and any number of pop culture icons and Vampire Slayers casually hang around the world as real people. If you like Terry Pratchett or Jasper Fforde, you will absolutely lap this up. I adored a scene where Quentin Tarantino's video store is overtaken by a gun shoot-out, and I only wish there was an appendix of all the references I probably missed.

We start in the 70s where Francis Ford Coppola is desperately trying to shoot a film of the now-destroyed Dracula (Newman appropriates the travails of the Apocalypse Now shoot - wonderfully, apparently, but I am a heathen and have never seen it). One of the last vampires to be 'made' by the Count gets a helping hand onto the set, then moves to America and builds a mythology around himself as Johnny Alucard, with ramifications for the rest of the world's vampires and taking in Warhol, coke-fuelled Hollywood and the Gordon Gecko/Patrick Bateman era along the way.

What makes this more than just an innovative romp is Newman's excellent female characters. A trio of vampire leads underpin the story: a journalist, Kate Reed; an vampire elder turned PI, Genéviève Dieudonné; and Penelope Churchward, a total chancer who plays like a marginally less sarcastic version of True Blood's Pam.

Great fun, and something to get properly stuck into before Hallowe'en.

This week I re-read...
Sexually, I'm More of a Switzerland by David Rose
Shelf worth: 5/5

Amazon preview

'Dipped into' is probably more accurate than re-read, because this screamingly funny collection of personal ads from the London Review of Books is so amazing that I can only take it in quite small doses in case I hurt myself.

"I've been parachuted in to return this column to its usual standard. Man, 96. Box no. 3270"

"Word to yo mums - I came to drop bombs. I got more rhymes than the bible's got psalms. Classics lecturer (M, 62). To some I'm possibly the single more embarrassing person at any social gathering. To others I'm fly-er than the zipper on yo pants. 4reals. Laters. Or something. Please make love to me. Box no. 9749."

"This advert is about as close as I come to meaningful interaction with other adults. Woman, 51. Not good at parties but tremendous breasts. Box no. 5436."

"I put the phrase 'five-header bi-sexual orgy' in this ad to increase my Google hits. Really I'm looking for someone who likes hearty soups and jigsaws of kittens. Woman, 62. Berwick. Box no. 7862."

"My success as a lover is matched only by my success in the field of astronomy. Man, 37. WLTM woman to 40 with eyes as big and as bright as those stars that come up over by the trees opposite my house at about 9pm every night then every 15 minutes or so. You know the ones. I call them the Regular Magic Tree Stars. They may be comets. Or planes. Whatever. Write, we'll have sex, you'll love it. Box no. 8909."

I have actually died of joy.

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