Posted by: billpurdue | December 23, 2011

Haunting and Gripping – two very different novels

A month or two ago I was invited to a book launch at The Bookcase in Lowdham, near Nottingham. The subject of the launch was Niki Valentine‘s The Haunted [Sphere £6.99 9780751545081]and of course I bought a copy.

I was expecting a few spine chilling moments, but in the end I only got one (I don’t thrive on that sort of thing anyway), so I can safely say that this is bed-time reading, unless you are of an exceptionallynervous disposition.

Sue and Martin have been married ten years, but are still childless, Martin wanting nothing to do with Sue’s desire to have children. They embark on a holiday in Scotland in a comfortable hotel at Fort William, but for a change,Martin decides he would like them both to spend a night at a remote bothy, where he and his parents once stayed many years before. Apparently the relationship between his parents was never the same afterwards as his father became convinced thathis wife was having an affair. Sue and Martin set off from the hotel on foot in wet weather, not letting the hotel reception know where they are going. Just before they reach the bothy, they have to cross a wide stream on stepping stones. In spite of rising waters, they manage it,but are then marooned at the bothy for more than a week before the water levels recede. As the days pass, Sue soon begins to feel uncomfortable, thinking that she sees another man in the area and later hearing voices, or even feeling someone touching her,who could not possibly be Martin . Her husband seems to notice nothing out of the ordinary and even begins to mock her if she talks about her unease.

Their stay at the bothy seems to be a little drawn out and at times can get a bit tedious for the reader. I felt in a way a little claustrophobic as the novel has just these two characters. Ultimately this is not really a ghost story, but a novel about the relationship between Sue and Martin as Sue begins to realise that the man she thought she knew begins to show some disturbing characteristics. Sue gradually comes to the conclusion that perhaps it would have been better if they had not met in the first place. This realisation has devastating consequences.

Tedium is certainly not a word you could use to describe the next book, but “gripping” is. Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller [Bloomsbury £18.99 9781408816035] is a first novel by a graduate in Latin and Ancient Greek, but don’t let that put you off. Prince Patroclus has been exiled from his father’s kingdom forkilling another boy and finds himself a loner amongst many exiled boys cared for by King Peleus. The King’s son, Achilles, whose mother is Thetis a sea goddess, takes a liking to Patroclus and they become firm friends and before long the friendship becomes an unbreakable bond.

They are both trained in the arts of war, but whilst Patroclus is an average sort of lad, Achilles becomes ever more skilful as he grows up and eventually his reputation of invincibility spreads far and wide. One day news comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped. The Greek nations decide to unite to conquer Troy and rescue Helen, thus ensuring honour and glory for all who take part in the battle. In fact the main reason for gathering the various armies together for the war against Troy, which lasts for months and even years, seems to be for honour and glory, the rescue of Helen being almost forgotten. At first Achilles refuses to join the armies, fearing for what might happen to his friend Patroclus, but eventually, given his supreme fighting skills, he has no alternative, but to join the rest in the battle.

In Greek mythology, the gods being gods of course like to prophesy who will die and in what order and it is prophesied that Achilles will die, but not before the death of Hector on the opposing side. If the phrase “Achilles’ heel” comes to mind, then it has nothing to do with this story. As you can discover on Madeline Miller’s website, this legend off the heel is a very late story and Ms Miller chose not to include anything about that in this novel. There’s lots more background information on the website.

This is a story where gods and mortals mix together and readily communicate with each other and where destiny plays a dominant role. It is also, as the blurb correctly states a moving love story. This is one book where the blurb does not exaggerate and which is my “recommended read” for the start of 2012. If you agree or disagree with me, then I’d be interested to know.

This will be the last posting for 2011 – it just remains for me to thank all those who have read my blog in 2011 and to wish you all a Happy Christmas and all the best for the New Year

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