Halloween Bingo is merrily on the way and squares are coming together. No bingo yet but potential lines are starting to make an appearance. I have updated my bingo card here.

In line with my participation in the game, this week’s reading has again focused on books that responded to the tasks/categories set by the Halloween Bingo rules.

The first book I finished was Ron Rash’s Serena. I had high hopes. The book had been on my TBR for years (way before the film – and I haven’t watched the film (not a Bradley fan)) and came highly recommended by a friend with shared reading tastes. It looked promising. 

Shortly after starting Serena, I already learned something: male authors too can spend a whole lot of time describing what clothes everyone is wearing.
The book was filled with seemingly endless of descriptions of clothes. Ironically, the descriptions of clothes annoyed me more than the male gaze descriptions of Serena’s body. And we only get to know her body, even tho she is the only fascinating character in the book.

“The Plotts circled and leaped, holding onto the bear with teeth and claw a few moments before falling away only to circle and leap again, the Redbones yelping and darting in to snap at the legs. Then Pemberton felt the barrel of a rifle against his side, felt its reverberation as the weapon fired. The bear staggered two steps backward. As Pemberton fell, he turned and saw Serena place a second shot just above the bear’s eyes. The creature wavered a moment, then toppled to the ground and disappeared under a moiling quilt of dogs.”

Serena had more true grit than any of the characters in Charles Portis’ classic Western True Grit. I mean, she had to be pretty badass to shoot a bear right between the eyes.

The story was slow to take off, and for the most part I enjoyed this meandering development and setup of the books crisis. I didn’t enjoy the writing, but it was – apart from the male gaze issue and the endless descriptions of clothes – not horrible.
The issue I had with the book is that when we finally do reach the point where the plot of the story turns into a Jacobean revenge tragedy, we get to know even less about our main character than we did in the first half of the book. This made the plot rather ridiculous. I ended up feeling very underwhelmed by this book. There was so much potential, but it was so underdeveloped.
For a book that plays obvious tributes to Greek tragedy and even more pointedly Shakespeare’s Macbeth, we do not get to see the tragic elements of the story at all because we do not get to see Serena’s internal workings. We don’t get to know her at all. For all the allusions to Macbeth (there are knives and bloodied hands etc.) Serena is missing the same internal conflict of the main character that Jo Nesbo skipped in his re-telling of Macbeth (which I whined about here).
I’m really peeved by this, because much like Nesbo’s Macbeth it reduces the story to a quasi “Western” (except set in the late 1920s Smoky Mountains). It certainly has the feel of True Grit – and about the same number of snakes.
It didn’t work for me as well as the book should have. (2.5* out of 5*)

The second book I finished was Death Walks the Woods by Cyril Hare. I like Cyril Hare’s books. They are extremely cozy mystery fun that usually involves a small legal puzzle. As with Hare’s other books – Hare is one of the best finds for me to have come out of the rediscovery of Golden Age mysteries in recent years – I got sucked right into the story that centred on a small community. The story drags a little in the third quarter, but I liked the ending, which is similar in structure to another book by Hare – to say more might be too much, but let me say that Hare’s reference to famous English court cases again plays a part. (3* out of 5*)

The third and last book I finished this week was Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories. I’ve started it and am looking to use it for the Classic Horror square of Halloween Bingo. First published in 1979, this just squeezed into the task’s requirements.

What an interesting book! It was not exactly my bag but I have to admire what Carter did here. I’ve come across re-tellings of fairy tales before that focused on a sexualised interpretation of fairy tales, but Carter’s work was the first that made this work for me. It certainly worked much better than one other retelling of fairy tales that I was particular reminded of (Kissing the Witch by Emma Donoghue). (I also thought it worked better than Highsmith’s Little Tales of Misogyny, which I found intriguing for different reasons.)
I think Carter succeeded where Donoghue didn’t because Carter’s use of language is gorgeous. (3.5* out of 5*)

Other reviews posted this week: