Tag Archives: Supernatural Elements

The Meowmorphosis, by Franz Kafka and Coleridge Cook

via quirkbooks.com

Before I picked up The Meowmorphosis (Quirk Books, 2011), the newest mash-up from Quirk Books, I wanted to get to know Kafka a little better. He’d been on my “to-read-someday” list just about forever, so I dove straight into The Metamorphosis. The story—too short to be a novella, too long to be a short story—starts out well enough, with poor Gregor Samsa waking up one rainy day to find he’d turned into a giant beetle during a night of fitful dreams. After that, the story goes downhill. Slowly. With a little more talking and a lot less action. Kafka also relies heavily on long, unending, rambling sentences. For example:

“Hardly had his sister noticed the changed aspect of his room that evening than she rushed in high dudgeon into the living room and, despite the imploringly raised hands of her mother, burst into a storm of weeping, while her parents—her father had of course been startled out of his chair—looked on at first in helpless amazement; then they too began to go into action; the father reproached the mother on his right for not having left the cleaning of Gregor’s room to his sister; shrieked at the sister on his left that never again was she to be allowed to clean gregor’s room; while the mother tried to pull the father into his bedroom, since he was beyond himself with agitation; the sister, shaken with sobs, then beat upon the table with her small fists; and Gregor hissed loudly with rage because not one of them thought of shutting the door to spare him such a spectacle and so much noise.” 

And that was one of the exciting scenes… So finally having finished the entire Metamorphosis, I picked up The Meowmorphosis with some trepidation. I’d been impressed with how closely Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (also a Quirk book) had stuck to Jane Austen’s style, and I had no reason to think Meowmorphosis would be any different.

I am happy to report that Meowmorphosis is about a million times more adorable than the original, and I had a much easier time sympathizing with the thoughts and emotions of a giant kitty than I did a giant insect. It is still the same basic plot: unexplainable change after a night of fitful dreams, alienation and resentment from his family, and the same final conclusion, which I won’t give away if you haven’t read Kafka. To make Meowmorphosis novel length, Coleridge Cook took the liberty to add an escape scene where Gregor actually roams the streets of Prague and comes into contact with some very long-winded kitties indeed. (One paragraph carries on for five entire pages!)

Cook plucked characters from other Kafka works and kitty-fied them, weaving them into the streets of Prague. Josef K., the protagonist of The Trial, morphs into the aforementioned longwinded tabby and, ironically, arrests Gregor and holds him on trial for a crime that we never fully understand. Kafka’s A Little Woman begins with a description of a woman who is “quite ill-pleased” with the narrator; Cook crafts the excerpt into a description of Gregor’s sister upon his return home. Even Gregor’s dream, the night of his meowmorphosis, is part of another Kafka short story, Investigations of a Dog.

Bottom line: Much as I expected, The Meowmorphosis stuck fast to Kafka’s own literary style and favorite themes. This patchwork of Kafka was interesting on the grounds of its unusual nature and much more fun to struggle through than the original, but I have a feeling that if I’d been better-versed in Kafka, I would have enjoyed it much more.

Check out the trailer for The Meowmorphosis:


Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Dreadfully Ever After, by Steve Hockensmith

photo via Quirk Books

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, the monster mash-up that started it all back in 2009, has inspired an entire sub-genre of literary classics (and the lives of the writers who penned them) that have been infiltrated by the dark side. Now, after a New York Times Best Seller prequel (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Dawn of the Dreadfuls), Quirk Books delivers the actual chronological sequel to the original mash-up, in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Dreadfully Ever After.

The beginning of Dreadfully Ever After picks up the story of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy four years after the original mash-up ends. The zombies (or as they’re referred to in polite Regency society: the dreadfuls, the unmentionables, the sorry stricken, or the zed words) are still terrorizing the country, but finding herself now the wife of a respectable gentleman, Elizabeth has hung up her katana and throwing stars to lead a life of quiet wedded bliss. It would seem, however, that our favorite kung fu couple are experiencing a problem of their own in the form of Elizabeth’s unshakeable, unplaceable discontent. Deep into a long walk and serious discussion, the pair run into a boy from the estate and fail to notice the “odd tilt to the boy’s head and the gray palor of his skin and the smell of death and feculence that drifted with him onto the road.” Consequently, Mr. Darcy is bitten and infected.

The warrior within dictates that Elizabeth should promptly behead her beloved and burn the remains. Instead she turns to her nemesis and Darcy’s aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, one of the most renowned zombie slayers in the country. We learned in the first book that Lady Catherine was working on developing an antidote to the evil plague. To help save her nephew (in spite of the fact that he once spurned her strange, sickly daughter), she sends grief-stricken Elizabeth, still-silly Kitty Bennet and a happily wife-free Mr. Bennet to a dreadful-infested London and the source of the fabled cure. Mary Bennet, unwilling to be left out of the excitement, shows up in London to join in the fray.

Add an eccentric, fiery tempered Scotsman with access to the cure and his handsome, idiotic dandy son to the cast, along with a mysterious Man in a Box, a couple of mangy dogs, a sneaky ninja with an eye for Kitty and a very important bunny, and you’ve got Dreadfully Ever After.

The story lines—both the Bennet family’s quest for the cure and the intrigue abounding back at the residence of Lady Catherine, where Darcy is being held, er, healed by his aunt and creepy cousin—moved at a clipping pace. Dreadfully Ever After spotlights characters who were previously thrust into the shadows, as Anne de Bourgh has a pivotal role in the book. I also really enjoyed the development of Mary and Kitty as they each broke from the static, typecast roles thrust upon them in the original, the mash-up and its prequel. I was impressed with how author Steve Hockensmith went beyond simply writing a goofy, fun monster mash-up to including actual character development and ending the book on, dare I say, a didactic note? I won’t give away the ending, but I will say it was one with an unmistakable moral lesson.

The creativity with which Hockensmith built up a Regency London society plagued with dreadfuls had me giggling, snorting and oversharing with my poor mother, who has absolutely no interest in anything dark or, well, dreadful. But as a die-hard snobby Brit-lit enthusiast, even she was chuckling at some of the excerpts I read aloud. For example, the book opens with Mr. and Mrs. Darcy, back-to-back, surrounded by a herd of recently unearthed unmentionables. “As his beloved Elizabeth shattered the nearest zombie’s skull with a perfectly placed axe kick, Fitzwilliam Darcy saw in her eyes something that had been missing for a long, long time: joie de vivre… Although one couldn’t say the creatures had joie de vivre, both joie and vivre being long beyond them, they were undeniably enthusiastic in their quest for succulent flesh.” Such little quips are sprinkled heavily throughout the narrative, making the book much more light-hearted than your average zombie infestation.

Bottom line: The newest book in a well-established series, Dreadfully Ever After, is undeniably fun, well-written and engaging. I definitely recommend it, even if you’re not typically a reader of zombie lore.


One City, One Book Spring 2011: Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman

Hey fellow Chicagoans! Listen up, yous guys.

You may or may not know of the Chicago Public Library’s One City, One Book initiative, which  “seeks to cultivate a culture of reading in our city by reinforcing the importance and fun of reading and highlighting the benefits of reading together as a community,” but the program is one pick short of celebrating 10 years in action.

This spring, the One City, One Book pick is Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. In addition to recommending a book each spring and fall, the CPL provides resources, such as author bios, discussion groups, discussion questions (if you want to lead your own group), further reading suggestions and more on its website. There are also planned events related to the book, including a talk with Gaiman and Audrey Niffenegger (who wrote one of my favorite Chicago-centric novels, Time Traveler’s Wife) .

Gaiman himself is the creative force that brought us the fabulously creepy novel-turned-graphic-novel-turned movie Coraline and other works including American GodsAnansi Boys and  Good Omens.

Read about how Chicago played a part in inspiring Gaiman to write Neverwhere here, pick up a copy (you can reserve a Chicago Public Library branch copy here), and get out there and attend some events!

 


Literary Monsters: Shakespeare Undead vs. Jane and the Damned

I was in the library the other day, picking something up for my mom and trying to keep my itchy fingers from grabbing yet another book to read (after all, I’m still trying to finish Jane Eyre and Red Riding Hood before their March 11 movie release date! Not to mention the 20 other books on my goodreads.com to-read shelf…), but I couldn’t help myself when I came across Shakespeare Undead, by Lori Handeland (St. Martin’s Griffin) and then Jane and the Damned, by Janet Mullany (Avon, HarperCollins). Is this a new genre emerging? Literature legends meet the undead? I had to check them out. Sorry Jane Eyre.

Shakespeare Undead

photo via amazon.com

The story opens in London, 1592, with an unknown narrator stalking and killing a zombie in the dark streets, then mistakenly slicing the neck of a man who’d startled the narrator by coming to his/her aid. The playful, humorous writing style hooked me from the beginning. (“I call them the tibonage. You’d call them zombies. Yes, they exist. All over the damn place.”) I want to be fair in this review because there were some great things about the book. Handeland has a great voice to her writing, which she carries consistently throughout the story. It’s a fast-paced book and it was fun to read. But it did have some “oh come on… really?” moments that I’m going to do my best to explain below.

At some points in the book, I felt like I was reading a story in which zombies and vampires and ghosts had invaded the movie Shakespeare in Love, and it bothered me because I wanted Handeland’s fun story and vivid characters to stand on their own. The love of Shakespeare’s post-life (oh btw, Shakespeare is a vampire who sees dead people) turns out to be a married woman, bound to a husband she doesn’t love who has a plantation in Virginia. She disguises herself as a boy to moonlight as a zombie hunter and that’s how she first meets Shakespeare (who I couldn’t help but picture as Joseph Fiennes, yum). And even the Queen herself (featured in a climactic scene at the end) seems to have stepped straight from the silver screen.

Joseph Fiennes made an appearance in my mind's eye for this Shakespearean mash-up. (photo via http://www.imdb.com)

Another thing that interrupted the fun, fast-paced action takes a little explaining. Shakespeare, as an immortal vampire, is supposed to have written many great works from various personas over the course of history. The narrative, then, is interrupted here and there by moments of distraction, in the form of ideas for future works. Alluding to other future works of this undead person (for example, “Will’s brain tingled. I see dead people. The voice of a child. Where had that come from? The usual place, Will’s overactive imagination. But what if there were a child who saw dead people, as Will had?…”) is kind of fun at some points, but at other times trips the flow of the narrative and is more distracting and corny than cute.

Bottom line: Shakespeare Undead was a fun, witty story about love and zombies that reminded me a lot of a movie I like. It had its corny moments that took away from the story, but I still somehow managed to make it through the book in record time.

Jane and the Damned

photo via tlcbooktours.com

What I thought would be the sillier of the two books was actually the one I enjoyed more. When reading Jane and the Damned, I felt much more in-tune with the main character’s setting than I had with Shakespeare Undead, and it had a much stronger plotline.

The story opens with the rejection of a manuscript and our as-yet-unpublished heroine, Jane Austen, attending a country dance with her sister and a friend. To the horror and delight of the girls, the dance is attended by some of London’s illustrious Damned. (“…in London the Damned of the ton gambled and whored and scandalized decent folk…”) Jane catches the eye of one of the svelte creatures and her witty banter leaves him wanting more. So much more that he drains her and, feeling slightly guilty, gives her the gift of rebirth… as a vampire.

So the story begins. Jane, horrified to discover what she has become, confides in her father, who takes the whole family to Bath, as the waters of Bath are said to be the only thing that can cure Jane’s new affliction. While she is there, she meets a vampire who, intent on changing her mind about her condition, does his best to talk her out of it. He almost fails when French forces attack the small city.

Events unfold and Jane is drawn deeper into the world of the vampires as they try to drive the French from the city. Underneath that plot arc is Jane’s desire for Luke, the vampire who takes her under his wing, versus her ache to go back to her family and her life of writing, which she just can’t seem to get interested in as a fanged fiend.

I won’t tell you how it ends (I suggest you read it for yourself to find out), but I will tell you this much, I was glad to find that this was only the first book of a series because business, my friends, was not finished.

While Jane and the Damned was not as lighthearted as I thought it would be, it was also a fun read. The only thing I found frustrating was one particularly confusing battle scene. It felt as if parts were left out and jarred me out of the otherwise well-written storyline.

Bottom line: Jane and the Damned had all the things I like: believable historical context, likable characters, a plotline that kept my attention and was written in a style that allowed me to feel sympathetic of the characters when it was appropriate. I am looking forward to the next one!


The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger

The Time Traveler's WifeThe Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I LOVED this book.

I loved everything about it — the Chicago setting, the characters I couldn’t stop thinking about even once I’d finished the book, the clever way the story is laid out. Niffenegger managed to take what could have been an average run-of-the-mill love story and turned it into a story that keeps you thinking “ok, just one more section,” way after your bedtime.

The book made me laugh (both through situational humor and charming writing style) and cry (I’m not going to spoil anything here). Niffenegger’s characters are so real that they feel like family. Throughout the book, you will share in their triumphs and your heart will break at their tragedies. While the book contains an element of the supernatural (there really is literal time travel. It’s not just a figurative element), it is written like any good true-to-life story, and Niffenegger does a good job making that supernatural element believable in her real-world setting. She approaches real-world problems associated with the brand of time travel from which the main character suffers and offers real-world solutions, some of them unhappy, to her readers.

This book is a must-read before you see the movie. It’s a must-read if you’ve already seen the movie. If you like a good story that sticks with you long after the last page, then definitely pick up Time Traveler’s Wife.

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The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova

The HistorianThe Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was incredible. As soon as I finished it, I couldn’t wait to read it again (the only thing stopping me was the promise I made to a friend to lend it to her as soon as I was finished). The story reads like a historical travelogue and has a little bit of supernatural edged in, sewn together with suspense and skillful storytelling.

I almost hate to mention the fact that the story centers around vampire lore and the existence of a real vampire because the book is so well-written that it carries its own regardless of whether you are into supernatural books or not. The bottom line is that Elizabeth Kostova made the ten years she spent researching and writing this book worth every day. It’s a beautiful story that includes themes of family and love, journeys through Europe and Eastern Europe spanning the 1900s…

The one word that comes to mind when I think of this book is beautiful. In fact, after writing this, I think I will read it again.

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