Thursday, January 05, 2006

Squeamish Beware

Along with the books that I am reading, I keep several books next to the bed that I am not reading. These books are, theoretically, Up Next. But the Up Next books seldom are. They sit there for weeks or months as I pass them by for books I requested from the library or books just bought or a passing whim. I either eventually get to the Up Next books or I get so tired of looking at them I switch them out with other books from the TBR shelf. I decided last night that I really did need a break from the long books I am in the middle of and actually picked up and Up Next book. The Ghost Writer by John Harwood has been an Up Next book for about six months. It grabbed me from the first page. It has delightfully gothic undertones and some passages that gave me the creeps like this one:

Instead of mayflies we had Portuguese millipedes, uncountable armies of them, coming up out of the leaf litter when the autumn rain set in, armoured, segmented, swarming towards light. In winter, if my father forgot to spray the paths, the inside walls [of the house] would turn black overnight.
But that is just the start of the bugs, there's more:
In summer the millipedes went underground and the ants came in, an endless black column that no amount of poison would keep out of the food cupboard for more than a few hours. Kitchen ants were not supposed to bite but if you stood too long barefoot near one of their trails you would feel the nip nip nip of tiny jaws. Outside in the yard we had fierce orange bull ants whose bite was like a red-hot needle; and, for a season, two nests of the dreaded inchmen. Half a dozen of those could put you in hospital; if you slipped and fell against the mound you were as good as dead. Likewise if you were foolish enough to leave an open can of soft drink unguarded: a wasp would climb in through the hole, sting your throat as you swallowed and you would choke to death. Funnel-web and redback spiders lurked in the woodpile behind the shed; you had to wear heavy rubber gloves to gather firewood until we changed over to bottled gas, and stamp very loudly as you approached in case a deadly brown snake like the one that killed Mrs. Noonan's cat was sharing the woodpile with the spiders.
Had enough? No?
At Staplefield they did not need flywire and could leave their windows open on summer nights. We had fine mesh screen on all the doors and windows, to keep out the small black flies which rose in clouds around the back door when anyone approached, clogging your eyes and nostrils and crawling into your ears, and huge lumbering blowflies that according to my mother vomited whatever they had last eaten over your food as soon as your back was turned. But no wire, however fine, would keep out the flying ants that swarmed on the first hot night of spring, worming through the mesh to form a dense cloud around the light bulb. In the morning, feebly twitching bodies lay in a drift of severed wings.
Blech. The book is not about bugs, however. It is about Gerard who lives in Mawson, Australia and his penfriend Alice who lives somewhere in Sussex, England. The narrator is Gerard and in the beginning he is thirteen. His mother is possibly insane, at the least mentally ill. His father does not much of anything but go to work and come home and and play with his model trains in the garage. Gerard's mother is a little creepy. Gerard's penfriend is a little creepy. The bugs are a lot creepy. And the cover of the book is so creepy I cringe every time I look at it. It's the woman's face. It's on the spine too. I have to cover it up when I'm not reading it so I can't see it. I am a major chicken when it comes to horror. But this book isn't supposed to be a horror story, just gothic and creepy. We'll see if I can make it through. I wonder how long I will last before I have to put post-its over the woman's face?