(Sort of) RIP Challenge Post


Here's the deal: I am doing abysmally at challenges this year; for one thing, I can't believe it's already September; for another, I seem to have lost my challenge mojo somewhere around January 15; and for yet another, I am in the middle of a 500-page French language book that I'll probably be finishing around the beginning of October, when I'm scheduled to read Madame Bovary for Frances's readalong. So, I won't actually be joining Carl's RIP Challenge.

BUT, seeing everyone's lists going up around the blogosphere has whetted my appetite for some mysterious, Gothic reading. And although I'm currently on a book-buying ban, I looked over my to-be-read shelves and found some unusual, but I think still relevant, choices. (OK, some of them are a big stretch. Bear with me.) Maybe I'll even find time to squeeze one in. And if not, since lots of these are a bit off the beaten path, maybe some other RIP participants will find the list useful? In any case, here's what I've got that might qualify as spooky, scary, mysterious, or otherwise Halloween-appropriate:

  • That Awful Mess on the Via Merulana, by Carlo Emilio Gadda. A Joycean meta-crime novel in which the central "mystery" may end up being the depths of human folly, this Italian novel was pointed out to me by Richard and I picked it up shortly afterward.

  • The Real Life of Sebastian Knight and/or Invitation to a Beheading, by Vladimir Nabokov. After Frances pointed out the delicious new cover redesigns on Nabokov's catalog, I fell in love and bought myself these two lesser-known items from his back-list: a literary mystery of identity, and a Kafka-esque (VERY Kafka-esque, given Nabokov's defensive denial of having read The Trial before writing it) examination of a man put on trial for an unspecified crime.

  • The Twin, by Gerbrand Bakker. OK, I know this is a quiet realist novel about a Dutch farmer coming to terms with the death of his twin and the decay of his aging father, but I would argue it could still be considered "Gothic" in that a) it takes place in a secluded rural setting, and b) the main character is forced into an unwanted stagnation by a kind of familial curse, continually haunted by past events. Also, in the opening scene he "moves his father upstairs" against the father's will. That's creepy, right? It's a stretch but I think it could count.

  • The Anatomy of Disgust, by William Ian Miller. Given that I am currently in a nonfiction phase, this might be a good option: a psychological/sociological examination of the role of disgust across cultures. A good gross-out is key at Halloween.

  • Wise Blood, by Flannery O'Connor. I'm not sure to what extent O'Connor intends her darkly poetic, religious tales to come off as intensely creepy, but I certainly think they are. There's a reason it's called "Southern Gothic."

  • Desperate Remedies and/or Return of the Native, by Thomas Hardy. Probably anything by Hardy would qualify here, but these two are waiting on my shelf and seem particularly apropos. Desperate Remedies was his first novel, and by all accounts more of a pot-boiler than his later stuff. Highlights include possibly-faked murders, blackmail/extortion, and questionable suicide. Return of the Native is (I've heard) classic Hardy, and in my opinion would qualify solely on the basis of featuring a HEATH as (arguably) the primary character.

So there you go! Thanks for indulging my little fake-challenge-sign-up, and maybe my list will come in useful if anyone's beating themselves up because they desperately want to join but have already read the entire Wilkie Collins/Bram Stoker/Sarah Waters/Mary Shelley back-list.

Oh also: A.S. Byatt's Possession would probably count, as it's a literary mystery that features crumbling country homes and Victorian séances. I swear I'll finish it up soon and write about it here. Then I will have already completed the first level of the challenge, anyway!


  • I am still holding firm on staying challenge-free, but I and will probably end up joining in spirit and reading at least one book that fits. I have some older Stephen King near the top of my stack now, as a matter of fact. Maybe I'll start Misery tonight. I'm in the mood for comfort reading. (And yes, King is comfort reading for me. I am an odd duck.)

    I never would have thought to include Hardy for RIP, and I didn't even realize Desperate Remedies was a pot-boiler. That's actually one of only two or three Hardy novels that I don't own. And Return of the Native is absolutely quintessential Hardy. I've read it at least three times and frequently recommend it, so I'll be eager to see what you think if you do read it!

  • Creeptacular list, Emily! I'm prob. saving Le Fanu's novella/long short story Carmilla for Rocktober b/c nothing quite says Halloween like a 19th century lesbian vampire story. Other than that, I've got no good ideas and you've got tons. Will be very interested in what you make of the Gadda novel if you get around to it soon. Cheers! P.S. Does the 500-page French tome have a name or is it a big secret? P.S. These reCAPTCHAS are getting harder and harder (or impossible sometimes) to read, young lady! What's the deal with all the scrambled letters?

  • Intentionally or not, O'Connor is certainly creepy (and I love her for it). I love how original your choices are! Also, I agree that Possession would count (and I'm dying to read your thoughts on it!).

  • Ooo, The Return of the Native...! I watched a movie version of that as a kid (my Dad was screening it for use in his English class I think) and I remember it being excessively Gothic. I agree that any book set in the heaths is automatically chock full of shivery delights.

  • Oh I'm very interested in Nabokov's Invitation to a Beheading. Do you have one of the new covers already? I still don't see them in stores :(

    I'm also currently in a book-buying ban, but managed to cheat with The History of Love yesterday when my friend asked me to find her another book in my regular bookstores :)

  • Love your list! I won't be reading any of them this year but I will certainly put them on my list for consideration in future RIP challenges. And yeah, O'Connor is definitely creepy.

  • Possession is a bit of a stretch, I think -- not one creepy, scary or ghosty thing about it, oh except the seance, and maybe a storm or two. I can't deny it's a mystery though. :) Good luck with the reading plans!

  • Teresa: Odd ducks unite! Yes, I've been meaning to get around to Return of the Native for years - love Tess, love Mayor of Casterbridge and Far from the Madding Crowd, so will probably very much enjoy it. :-)

    Richard: I no longer control the reCAPTCHAs; the reCAPTCHAs control MEEEEEEEEE (Mwahahaha!). French book is the first volume of Simone de Beauvoir's memoires, and I'm LOVING it. Totally loving it.

  • Nymeth: I returned to Possession last night & gobbled up all but the last 30 pages, so my post should be appearing shortly. Really need to re-read for various reasons, including my weird aversion to fiction right now, but still loved it. :-)

    Sarah: A good heath is pretty much all you need for Gothic status, right? :-) My edition is actually from the Victorian era, as well, which will only add to the atmosphere.

  • Mark David: Yes, the key to a good book-buying ban is cheating just enough that it gives you a thrill, but not so much that you just feel like a failure. I broke mine to buy Madame Bovary in French, but otherwise am holding strong. And yep, the new Nabokov covers are in stores here - at least their absence there means less of a temptation for you! :-)

    Stefanie: Glad to have your agreement on O'Connor. :-) I'm hoping to sneak at least one in during the next month and a half...

  • Marieke: Wellll, but detective fiction counts, and it's not really ghouly or ghosty. I'd include it just based on the mystery, the Victorian ambiance, and the fact that certain plot developments involving the results of illicit love recall so strongly classic sensation novels. But I agree it's a bit of a stretch. ;-)

  • Interesting list, Emily. I can't wait to hear what you think of The Return of the Native. Such a powerful novel! You might enjoy a few of Hardy's short-stories that are truly creepy and macabre-- The Fiddler of the Reels, The Withered Arm, An Imaginative Woman, and Barbara of the House of Grebe. Have fun!

    Oh, by the way, I do urge you to finish Possession. It is positively brilliant! Cheers! Chris

  • I know what you mean by losing "challenge mojo" -- I'm not one to do them -- but RIP is so hard to resist and so much fun!

    I have to say that your list is one of the most originial -- I don't think I've seen any of your possible reads on anyone else's so far! "The Twin" seems especially interesting.

  • Nice list! You make me want to read further in Nabokov's work. I've read Pale Fire, Lolita, and an early novel, Glory. But that's it, and I know there's much more good stuff to read.

  • Oh the absence of "temptation" is bad! Because it means I don't get to practice my newfound strong will that much!

    And yes, a French copy of Madame Bovary is cheat-worthy. I forgive you my child ;)

  • Great list, you big cheater! Not going to play but stole that moment of list-making joy. Just doesn't seem right.

    Love Wise Blood especially but would skip the Hardy as he sucks the joy out of life for me. Can't read Hardy (and I have read it all) without feeling like a dark cloud follows me wherever I go. Not to say that he isn't masterful. He is. But not my first choice read. Ever.

  • Christopher: Finished and waiting to be blogged! I did wholeheartedly love the last 150 pages; I think my lack of enthusiasm for the rest truly was just down to an odd mood. And thanks for the tip on the Hardy stories!

    Valerie: RIP IS hard to resist, isn't it? And I think The Twin might also be the farthest stretch to include for this challenge, but hey, that's what reading creativity is about. :-)

  • Dorothy: Oh, you haven't read my personal favorite yet - Ada, or Ardour! It's one of my favorite novels of all time, although I'm definitely due for a re-read. I'm looking forward to experiencing some of his lesser-known stuff...

    Mark David: Ha, what a glutton for punishment! ;-)

    Frances: Yeah, I'm a cheater, what can I say. :-) And your feelings about Hardy eerily mimic how I feel about Henry James! Yes he's a master but kill me now.

  • The Disgust book looks cool. Good list!

  • I look forward to your reading Invitation to a Beheading; it was the first Nabokov I read and I remember it fondly, if imprecisely.

    Ada is my favorite too, by the way, and there have been thoughts of a (presumably small) group read...to hopefully whet your appetite :)

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    link to Wolves 2011 reading list
    link to more disgust bibliography