From “The Turn of the Screw” by Henry James to “The Room” by Jonas Karlsson.
This is a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain. The rules are:
- Link the books together in any way you like.
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- Paste the link to your post in the comments on Kate’s post and/or the Linky Tool on that post.
- Invite your blog readers to join in and paste their links in the comments and/or the Linky Tool.
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THANKS FOR PLAYING!
This month we start with “The Turn of the Screw” by Henry James!
This month (October 3, 2020), the chain begins with the haunting novella “The Turn of the Screw” by Henry James. Now, I haven’t actually read this in print, but… I sort of did, in a way. See, many years ago, the actress Claire Blume came to Jerusalem and she did a reading of this story which we went to see. So, in a way, I actually “read” a live audio version of this story, long before there ever were any audiobooks! And I remember it so vividly, the nice innocent way the story starts out, and how it gets darker and darker as those two children get more and more spooky. It brings chills up my spine just thinking about it. By the way, (and apropos of nothing) this story was made into an opera by the composer Benjamin Britain, which I haven’t seen, and I’m not going to use that fact for any link, since I believe I’ve exhausted all of my books with opera connections (which are far fewer than they probably should be, all things considered).
I really wish I had reviewed “Flowers in the Attic” because that book came to mind as a great first link to this chain (but I’m sure someone will come up with it). However, with that not possible, I then thought about children and creepy things and I remembered the novel “A Reunion of Ghosts” by Judith Claire Mitchell, which despite the title, isn’t a paranormal or horror novel at all. It is actually a fictional story about the descendants of the man who developed a Nobel Prize winning fertilizer that became the essential ingredient for the toxic gasses that the Germans used in both world wars – first against the allies in WWI, and then to kill millions of Jews in WWII. It is pretty creepy to have that dark legacy in your family tree, and these three girls decide that they will end their lives rather than let another generation of their family to spring up. As harrowing as this sounds, you’d be surprised at how lightly Mitchell approaches this subject. Okay, a bit tenuous of a link but still… that’s the link, and it is one of those outlier books that people might never have heard about before.
While the three Adler girls in the above novel were innocent offspring carrying the sins of their ancestor, one child who wasn’t so innocent was the infamous Lizzie Borden. Although never convicted of killing her father and step-mother, public opinion found her guilty. Sarah Schmidt delves into the mind of Lizzie in her novel “See What I Have Done,” the title of which comes from the rhyme made up about Lizzie after the murders. Schmidt’s book also brings her partially estranged sister into the story, in order to attempt to counterbalance Lizzie’s inconsistent story, and with the inclusion of some of the detective work on the crime, we can draw our own conclusions regarding both Lizzie’s sanity and her culpability. This is a fascinating novel was long-listed for the Women’s Fiction Prize for 2018, but… no, I’m not going to go that route for the next link in my chain… this time!
If we’re going to talk about murder, what about a woman who was convicted of taking part in a double homicide, but whose sentence was commuted because no one was really sure if she was an active participant or an unwitting accomplice. I’m talking about the novel “Alias Grace” by Margaret Atwood, which is also based on the life of a real woman Grace Marks. Atwood lets Grace give her own account of what happened to her, to a doctor investigating her, in what seems like an absolutely meticulous recounting of the events, in precise chronological order. Obviously, the precision she uses makes her seem less sane and more unreliable as the tale unfolds. I found this book to be utterly stunning (but I never watched the TV series based on the book, although I did intend to do so).
With this link, I’m going with the sanity/insanity connection. The historical figure who comes to mind is obviously Nellie Bly, and while I’ve already used one novel about her in these chains (“What Girls are Good For” by David Blixt), there is another book that I can use here. That being, “The Girl Puzzle” by Kate Braithwaite. In this novel, Nellie’s time under cover investigating the insane asylum is combined with Nellie’s later life and her charitable work. Braithwaite achieves this by having one of Nellie’s secretaries type up her personal notes, including the things that never got into the book she wrote about her investigations. What I liked about this book was that we got to see some of Nellie as an older woman, which was a time where she was out of the limelight, but still very active. It also impressed upon me that what she saw at the asylum probably affected her very deeply, and had some influence over the whole rest of her life.
Mental health has to do with the proper functioning of your brain, so I’m going with that for my next link, which is about a boy who has a brain tumor removed. The novel is called “Ostrich” by Matt Greene. This is one of those very rare YA books I’ve read, but I found it to be very good (but not perfect, to be honest). In this book, we follow Alex, and how his world changes because of his condition (not the least of which is that he’s the only student allowed to wear non-religious headgear, because of his shaved head). What I found special about this novel is that Matt Greene gave us a unique story with a lovable protagonist who takes you on a weird and wonderful ride with his life, along with both the unhappy and beautiful things that Alex experiences because of his medical condition.
Children can be very cruel to someone who is different, like Alex, and that means he doesn’t always fit in, and that causes stress, which could account for some of the stranger things Alex is experiencing since his surgery. Stress can manifest itself in many different ways. In “The Room” by Jonas Karlsson, the main protagonist Björn, has just been promoted, and the stress he experiences does two things. First, he sets himself apart from his new colleagues, not letting them get close to him, and then he finds an empty office room, located between the elevator and the toilets. It is in this room where he finds solace. As I noted in my review Karlsson seems to be making a statement about conformity vs. individuality. If you read this novel, you’ll understand better how this book links to the previous one more fully (about which I can’t elaborate because… spoilers); you’re just going to have to trust me on this one.