The Corset v The Silent Companions

SPOILERS AHEAD

The Silent Companions;

‘She pulled a page towards her. In the gloom she saw a void of white, waiting for her words. She swallowed the pain in her throat. How could she relive it? How could she bring herself to do it to them, all over again? She peered into the blank page, trying to see, somewhere in its vast expanse of nothing, that other woman from long ago.’

Newly married, newly widowed Elsie is sent to see out her pregnancy at her late husband’s crumbling country estate, The Bridge.

With her new servants resentful and the local villagers actively hostile, Elsie only has her husband’s awkward cousin for company. Or so she thinks.

The Corset;

Is prisoner Ruth Butterham mad or a murderer? Victim or villain? Dorothea and Ruth. Prison visitor and prisoner. Powerful and powerless.

Dorothea Truelove is young, wealthy and beautiful. Ruth Butterham is young, poor and awaiting trial for murder. When Dorothea’s charitable work leads her to Oakgate Prison, she is delighted with the chance to explore her fascination with phrenology and test her hypothesis that the shape of a person’s skull can cast a light on their darkest crimes.

But when she meets teenage seamstress Ruth, she is faced with another theory: that it is possible to kill with a needle and thread. For Ruth attributes her crimes to a supernatural power inherent in her stitches.

The story Ruth has to tell of her deadly creations – of bitterness and betrayal, of death and dresses – will shake Dorothea’s belief in rationality, and the power of redemption. Can Ruth be trusted? Is she mad, or a murderer?

***

Laura Purcell has been one of the most talked about authors this year, what with her two books, The Silent Companions and The Corset taking the book world by storm. I did not move for days when reading these books, and I can see what the hype is about. Purcell is a fantastic writer, her characters are complex and believable (I find that in horror stories, the characters are often stereotypes whose reactions can be so unrealistic), and I stayed on an emotional rollercoaster throughout both of her novels. She has more releases to come which I am incredibly excited for, but until then I thought I’d share my thoughts on both of these novels, and why I think that, while The Corset was one of my favorite books of this year, it wasn’t quite as good as Purcell’s first novel.

The Silent Companions is a tantalizing gothic novel, which is profoundly unsettling and the perfect read for Autumn. I think one of my favourite things about this novel was how atmospheric it was. Purcell’s descriptions conjure up a dark, creepy atmosphere that lasts throughout the complex narrative, keeping me engaged entirely in her story. In the second chapter, the descriptions of Elsie’s journey are so hauntingly beautiful, using symbols of death throughout: ‘Remnants of a grey brick wall poked up from the grass like tombstones.’ This morbid imagery sets the tone for the novel, Elsie’ and Sarah’s arrival at The Bridge, and foreshadows following events. The ideal Halloween read.

‘’You have written of these ‘’companions’’ as you call them. You say you were afraid of them. But do you know what really scares us? It is not things that go bump – or even hiss- in the night. Our fears are much closer than that. We are afraid of the things inside us.’’

A foreboding opening needs well-developed characters to continue the reader’s interest, and Purcell has done an amazing job at upholding this. There are no filler characters in this novel – each one has its role that carries the plot. I love Elsie. She is either authoritative or tries to be, always refusing to back down and sit in silence. Her relationship with Sarah is oddly adorable, as they are both trying to survive The Bridge and its mysteries together, even if at times it seems that they are separate. I love how protective they are of each other. I believe that their closeness is what keeps them going, motivates them to find their way out. Sarah becomes Elsie’s one and only friend, and it is clear that she is reliable…until the end at least. Which I still cannot get over, btw.

I liked the idea of interweaving Anna’s narrative into the story, and I do think that she is one of the most tragic characters out of the novel. When her husband refuses to talk to her because of the incident with the Queen’s horse, and how he disregards her only daughter, whom she conjured up just so she can have a friend, a female relationship. However, there were times when I felt bored of her adoration of her daughter, only because it featured so heavily throughout her narrative. I understand that it is a big part of her character, and it also stems from her loneliness, but I still found it slightly irksome. However, this is honestly the only criticism I have of this novel.

The Corset, on the other hand, is so different compared to its predecessor, and yet Purcell’s writing is so unique that it is also very similar. This book is still dark and haunting, and in some ways, it can be considered to be more morbid (stringing up a young girl and then beating her, starving her, dismembering her, before killing her and ordering a teenage girl to saw off her hand comes to mind).

Purcell’s writing, like her first novel, is so beautiful and exquisite, she really does know how to bring the Victorian era to life in our minds. She alters her writing style to fit the voices of the two narratives (Dorothea and Ruth), who are two seemingly different characters. It was so easy to switch POV in my head, falling instantly into the story.

What I like about this novel is that the history of this era is essential to the plot. Sewing and Phrenology, both of which were obsessed over by Victorians. Intertwining these two aspects into the narrative is a clever way to create a darker and creepier story. Sewing, according to some ancient stories, can lead to a disaster, as it was tainted with bad luck and superstition, especially if it were a man who was doing it. Women learned how to sew for survival and the good of the household, making it more acceptable, but even then, it was considered to be bad luck if you sewed while someone was wearing the garment. Also, let us not forget how easy it can be to prick yourself with a needle. Ruth proves that a needle and thread can be dangerous weapons if placed in the wrong hands.

Phrenology is the study of the skull, in which one could decipher someone’s character. The idea of a human being that is ‘born bad’ comes into play, and Purcell uses this to create a highly intelligent character who brings Ruth into the story. This allows Dorothea to develop as a character, as she becomes exposed to the harshness of the world: ‘’At what point do we cease to be merciful, and become fools?’’ Throw in the harsh social statuses of the time, and you’ve got yourself a gripping Victorian novel, made ten times darker.

Thinking of the books together, I can say that I prefer The Silent Companions. Although it was hard to pick a favourite, there were a few issues I found with The Corset that puts it behind the first novel. The first is that I did not find it to be as atmospheric as The Silent Companions. This could be because of the setting, or the storyline – I’m not sure which. Ruth’s story mostly takes place in the sewing shop, which just doesn’t scream Gothic Horror to me. However, the prison, Dorothea’s large home, and Ruth’s horrific family house helps retain that Gothic feel.

The only other issue is that I’m not a specialist in Phrenology, so there were times when I had to look up key terms and such. It did take me away from the story slightly, although I appreciate that Purcell does this to suit the time period – it is simply the language Dorothea would have used. Whereas with the Silent Companions, I did not have to Google exactly what they looked like to place them in my head; Purcell described them perfectly, so I was able to understand what they were completely.

Either way, I still adore both of these novels, and I am eager to see what Purcell releases next.

Review: The Seven Deaths Of Evelyn Hardcastle

SPOILERS AHEAD

‘Somebody’s going to be murdered at the ball tonight. It won’t appear to be a murder and so the murderer won’t be caught. Rectify that injustice and I’ll show you the way out.’

It is meant to be a celebration but it ends in tragedy. As fireworks explode overhead, Evelyn Hardcastle, the young and beautiful daughter of the house, is killed. But Evelyn will not die just once.

Until Aiden – one of the guests summoned to Blackheath for the party – can solve her murder, the day will repeat itself, over and over again. Every time ending with the fateful pistol shot.

The only way to break this cycle is to identify the killer. But each time the day begins again, Aiden wakes in the body of a different guest. And someone is determined to prevent him ever escaping Blackheath…

***

At first, I wasn’t sure if I was going to buy this book. I knew that Turton had drawn upon many familiar tropes of crime fiction – more so from the noir period in my opinion – and while I have enjoyed a few crime novels before, I was never really a fan of the traditional crime genre.

However, there was so much hype around The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, and the name alone was intriguing. So, caught up in the pleasant atmosphere of the Cheltenham Literature Festival, I gave in and bought a copy.

The one word I’d use to describe this book? Complex. The plot is full of shocking twists and reveals, it’s all just very mind-boggling. You will find yourself bewildered so many times throughout the story. However, I can’t help but admire Turton’s intelligence and his ability to craft such an epic storyline, along with the many side plots.

I’ll admit that it did take me a while to get into this novel, I had to persevere through the first three hosts before everything became clear. And so, from that point, I was hooked.

One of my favourite things about this novel is the descriptions that are inserted throughout. While Turton focuses more on the action than setting the scene, there are a few lines in there that are beautifully written:

‘A draught greets me at the top of the staircase, twisting and curling in the air, sneaking through the cracked windows and beneath the doors to stir leaves littering the floor.’

The way he describes the wind as if it is as cautious as the characters themselves contributes to the foreboding atmosphere of the book, and it’s as tense as hell.

The way in which the protagonist switches between each host is undoubtedly one of the most memorable aspects of the plot, As he gradually adapts to each host’s abilities, he has to battle the darker side of the characters before they take over completely. For example, one of his hosts is a rapist, and he finds he has to resist the urge to attack. Trying not to lose himself adds another layer to the novel, and it is certainly one of my favourite subplots. Turton manages to overlap the hosts’ thoughts with the protagonist’s so well it’s almost as if you are also caught up in the battle, and you know a novel is good when you become that sucked in.

The variety of hosts is also notable. As well as a rapist, he lives as an intelligent but obese man, a drug dealer and a butler who is lying on his deathbed, to name a few.

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is a long book, but it is far from repetitive. The ending is dramatic and unexpected, I was thinking about it for days, even when I started my next book. The difficult start appears to be a popular criticism, but it is certainly made up for with the exciting plot and characters. A must-read.

#bedofbooks: That Annoying Instagram Trend

bed of books

I love books.

I love reading books. I love looking at books (as well as book blogs). I love just having them in the house. And I love taking pictures of books. Even if that means opening them up and placing them on the floor while I lie on top of them. I might even add a cup of tea as well.

That’s fine because they are my books. I’ll do what I want with them. I purchased them; therefore I can choose what happens to them.

However, according to Hillary Kelly at Vulture, this is nothing more than an annoying trend that is ‘anti-intellectual’ and ‘shorn of meaning.’

I am new to the Bookstagram community, but I was not aware that there are apparently rules to follow. I did not realise that I must only take photos that invite my followers to ‘enjoy or critique or loathe or interrogate the books’ (even though I have had many discussions in the comments of my photos, as well as the accounts that I follow). I certainly had no idea that there are guidelines when it comes to book art and photography. Forgive me for not thinking that creativity is locked in a prison where there is nothing but rules and restrictions. I thought that creativity is simultaneously fun and beautiful.

Usually, I’m not bothered by what people think about my photos. I post pictures that I like and about books that I want to talk about. And as far as I know, pretty much every bookstagrammer feels this way. So the fact someone can be so vexed over a photo of books is just completely beyond me.

Instagram is nothing more than a bit of fun, an outlet. For many, it is how they make their living. For others, it’s what helps keep them reading. But no matter why we do it, bookstagrammers have one thing in common: we love books. And we want to share that.

I haven’t been part of the bookstagram community for very long, but I can already say that every bookstagrammer that I have spoken to has been lovely, engaging and supportive.

So the fact that there are people out there who feel the need to tear us down does offend me, especially when they insult our intelligence.

I like books, others like books, and we want to take photos with them. Whether we have read them or not. And I don’t see anything wrong with that.