Haunting, as in lingering like shadows when you’ve finished the book entirely, The Mistletoe Bride and Other Haunting Tales by Kate Mosse is a lovely read. Nothing gorey or horrific, the book is filled with winsome characters and haunted houses…buildings that hold secrets, and spirits that connect with the living. The author, who takes her inspiration for these stories from English and French legend and folklore, has also included notes on each story, and one play, which gives the reader some insight. A delightful collection to dip in and out of, especially on a winter night, with candles casting shadows and the wind tapping at your window…
As controversial and challenging as ever, Dave Allen is back. He’s still dead though! Up there, down there, somewhere. Written by Brian McAvera and co-directed by the writer and Joe Devlin, the play is produced by Directions Out Theatre Company.
The essence of the man, the comedian, the commentator, is portrayed by not one, but three exceptionally talented actors, Bryan Murray, Michael Bates and Tara Breathnach, each one encompassing traits of Allen’s personality and unique performance style.
This is a must-see show, packed with satire, comedy, memoir. In a haze of nostalgia, whiskey and cigarettes, no topic is safe, politics, religion, sex, family, death ( and classic literature!) and all interpreted from the irreverent mind of a man born way ahead of his time. A magnificent tribute to an iconic Irish comedian, the play is now on tour and hitting the following venues. Go see it!
Civic Theatre, Tallaght: 13-18 March
Town Hall, Galway: 21st March
An Grianan, Letterkenny: 22nd March
Theatre Royal, Waterford: 24th March
Wexford Arts Centre: 25th March
Viking Theatre, Clontarf: 27th March – 8th April.
Merriment O’Grady works hard to keep her apothecary business going, concocting potions for her customers’ ills, and keeping her very colourful personal history to herself – as best she can.
When a down-at-heel writer, Solomon Fish, becomes her tenant, life for Merriment and for Janey Mack, the child she has rescued from the slums, becomes very complicated. Solomon has stumbled on a gruesome story: The Dolocher, half-man, half-pig, now stalking the alleyways of Dublin. Can it really be the evil spirit of a murderer who has cheated the hangman’s noose by taking his own life in his prison cell? Or is it something even more sinister?
If you enjoy a gothic thriller, you will love The Dolocher. Based on legend, and set in Georgian Dublin, this atmospheric tale is rich in suspense, grisly in tone and filled with engaging characters. Barry’s writing is lyrical, and filled with authenticity in her vivid descriptions of the period. And it is dark, so deliciously dark!
The Dolocher: Black and White Publishing. 2016
Set aside a couple of hours in a quiet corner and lose yourself in this tense, gothic classic from Shirley Jackson, We Have Always Lived in The Castle, a gem of a read for fans of psychological horror. Set in Vermont, New England, eighteen year-old Merricat Blackwood lives in virtual isolation with her sister Constance and Uncle Julien, secluded in their secrets and their strangeness – no spoilers here though!
Practicing her own personal brand of witchcraft, Merricat is a strange, feral young woman, with a strong will and a powerful narrative to match. Content to be with nature, running wild and unwashed, she shares a deep love for Constance, but hates people in general. So when her cousin Charles appears out of the blue, turning her devoted older sister’s head, trouble comes…
Engrossing, this was Jackson’s final novel, first published in 1962, only three years before her untimely death at just 48. It is a short, wonderful book. The kind of book you can barely tear yourself away from to make a cup of tea or lift your glass of wine. Explaining nothing, yet expertly unfolding a complex and horrifying tale, love her or hate her, the character of Merricat Blackwood will linger with you long after you’ve finished reading.
I’m holding my breath with anticipation for the movie version, coming soon, produced by Michael Douglas and filmed in Ireland with several Irish names featured in the cast and crew.
Shirley Jackson wrote some incredible short stories, including The Lottery, and was also the author of the classic gothic horror, The Haunting of Hill House.
The Lady in the Van is based on a true story of the relationship between Alan Bennett and the mysterious homeless woman, Mary Shepherd, who ‘temporarily’ parked her van in Bennett’s London driveway and ended up staying there for 15 years.
This is a wondrous film, not alone for Bennett’s brilliant comic/drama screenplay, but also for the lead roles played so engagingly by Maggie Smith (Miss Shepherd) and Alex Jennings (Bennett – complete with dual voices of self and writer self). It is also a gently portrayed mystery – who is Mary Shepherd? What is her story, her past, and how did she become this eccentric old bag lady? And why can’t she bear to hear music? Beneath the frail, defiant skin and nervous energy, her fate is mastered by the act of parking her stinky, battered van outside a stranger’s house in Camden. A stranger who just happens to be Alan Bennett, a sensitive, compassionate, imaginative type (with biting wit!) who also just happens to be a brilliant playwright.
There is a poignant subtext to the film in the relationship between Bennett and his own elderly mother, mental illness being a tenuous ribbon of connection to his uneasy friendship with Miss Shepherd, fear, sadness and life lessons reflected through her contrariness. The frailty of aging and how it strips away dignity is dealt with unflinchingly, though in that most humanistic perspective of finding humour in the idiosyncrasies. Even with that most defiant trait of human nature, in the end, how helpless we become.
I must admit, I’ve always loved the chillier side of the Christmas madness. Not just the ‘wrap me up in a big auld cardigan’ type of chill, but the atmospheric quietness of those ‘in-between’ days, when you just can’t take any more tinsel television or jolly fa la la la la malarkey! What better time then to curl up in your armchair, shins roasting by the heat source of your choice – with a bit of candlelight for effect if your eyesight can take it! Simply add a glass, or mug, of your favourite tipple and lose yourself in a good spine-tingling read. And if you are short on reading material, here are five of my suggestions:
SLADE HOUSE by David Mitchell
Every nine years, a guest is summoned to Slade House, behind the small black iron door, with no handle and no key – and every nine years, that guest narrates their experience as they enter into the strange and bewitching world of a house that isn’t really there, or is it? Where shape and time shift, and no-one is who they seem to be. Or are they? A quick and entertaining read, filled with a delicious mix of horror, suspense, a little of the science bit and some good old-fashioned ghostly goings on in a creepy mansion where twins, Jonah and Norah Grayer, ravenous for immortality at any cost, dwell in the twilight …
HEART-SHAPED BOX by Joe Hill
Atmospheric, creepy and entertaining, this accomplished author’s debut novel tells the story of Jude Coyne, a cynical, aging rock star with a penchant for collecting all things macabre, who goes online to purchase the suit of a deceased man – a suit that he has been assured, is haunted. Delivered in a black, heart-shaped box, little does Jude know that he is buying the ghost of an angry, vengeful old man…with a very personal – and profound – vendetta. A quick read that does exactly as you might expect, thrills and chills to the bone!
THE WINTER PEOPLE by Jennifer McMahon
In 1908, Sara Harrison Shea was found dead in a field behind her farmhouse just months after the horrific death of her little girl, Gertie. In present day, living off the grid in the same farmhouse, nineteen-year-old Ruthie’s mother has gone missing, and under the floorboards, Ruthie has just discovered a diary belonging to Sara. There are elements of psychological thriller and folk horror to this story as it moves from past to present via Sara’s diary and Ruthie’s investigations. The Winter People is also hauntingly heart-breaking…
LITTLE SISTER DEATH by William Gay
To find his muse, writer David Binder, under pressure to produce another successful novel, moves his pregnant wife and daughter to a renowned haunted farmhouse, where the legend of the Bell Witch still rankles with the locals. Set amongst the landscape of a rural farm in Tennessee, the house is filled with secrets that Binder envelopes in his quest for research and the spark of a bestseller. Cut between the horror of experience of the previous inhabitants of the house and Binder’s unravelling, the novel has been described as Southern Gothic, as was the style of the deceased author. The descriptions of the landscape, the isolation, the people and the hauntings are vivid and mystical. I found Gay’s novel to be themed as much about mental health as it is about hauntings – and that’s cool too as the two go hand-in-hand anyway, especially in gothic fiction.
THE PALE BROWN THING by Fritz Leiber
A collector’s item, in my opinion, the shorter version of Leiber’s work, Our Lady of Darkness (which I have not read) this novella is a gothic, atmospheric chiller. Set in San Francisco in the 1970’s, the Hippie culture and architecture layering in the city’s character, the narrative is a classic, old-school horror. Franz Westen, a widowed writer of supernatural stories, purchases a second-hand book by occultist, Thibaut de Castries, and bound to that book is a mysterious journal…with the ghostliest of cracklings the page came apart into two, revealing writing hidden between…and just where is the mysterious place, 607 Rhodes as referenced in the writings of de Castries? A beautiful hardback edition, this would make a wonderful gift for a diehard horror fan.
Well deserved accolades continue to zap towards Mike McCormack’s Solar Bones, a novel that I struggled with at first, but persevered with, and gladly so. Deservedly, it has gone on to win The 2016 Goldsmith Prize and The Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards Novel of the Year, 2016.
The book I’m featuring here though is McCormack’s Crowe’s Requiem, first published in 1999, a dark and gothic story of a young man with a devastating disease. A brave, imaginative tale that leans into the macabre and features this strange protagonist, the self-named Crowe, raised in bleakness by his grandfather in the remote place of Furnace. Crowe is a friendless loner until he ventures out from the isolation of the west of Ireland to the alien world of university, where he meets Maria…and the respite of the honeymoon period takes a cruel turn as Crowe seals his fatalistic denouement.
I do recall shedding a few tears when I read this book, perhaps fifteen years ago, and also remember being impressed by the uniqueness of both the writing and the narrative. Definitely worth a second look!