Nut Ink. Mini reviews of texts old and new. No fuss. No plot spoilers. No adverts. Occasional competency.

Friday, August 21, 2015

The Yellow Wall-Paper (1892)

Author: Charlotte Perkins Gilman  |  Page Count: 55  |  Publisher: Penguin

It is dull enough to confuse the eye in following, pronounced enough to constantly irritate and provoke study, and when you follow the lame uncertain curves for a little distance they suddenly commit suicide—plunge off at outrageous angles, destroy themselves in unheard of contradictions.

If you hear the name Charlotte Perkins Gilman spoken outside of critical circles then it'll more than likely be in reference to The Yellow Wall-Paper. Her most famous work, it constantly overshadows all the others. It's a short but deeply engaging first person narrative from a woman who—in the eyes of her physician husband—has fulfilled her main role as wife. Being of the weaker sex means she should quietly do as she's told for her own well-being. Confined to an attic room, with nothing to occupy her sharp intellect, her state of mind deteriorates.

Her husband’s cure for her sickness, one that he believes is of her own making, does more harm than good. Left alone she reads, writes and draws comparisons that wouldn't have existed had she been allowed to walk free. The patterned wallpaper is ever-present; its influence is inescapable.

Gilman’s unnamed protagonist is a sympathetic character whose journal entries get more hurried and feverish as subsequent days pass, a written account of the truth she hides from her husband. Her silence speaks of a strength that the model, meek wife ought not to have. Gilman had a very real insight into the workings of her character’s mind, having suffered from postpartum psychosis herself. Making such thoughts public, in a fictional but undeniably semi-autobiographical manner, shook the restrained sensibilities of nineteenth-century readers.

The pictured edition includes two additional short stories. The first of them, Rocking Chair, was published just one year after TYW. It's a creepy tale, also a first person narrative, about two friends that together find lodgings in the same house. The text explores the tensile nature of the bond they share, and how it's affected by the introduction of a female presence. It reminded me of Poe's work at times, being concerned with an impulse that partially conceals itself from the person it moves. Again, it's an excellent short, proving Charlotte's mastery a second time.

The final story, Old War, first published in 1911, is the weakest of the three but still superbly written. Both it and Rocking Chair illustrate how well Gilman was able to write both sexes. A mother who wants for her daughter the romanticised love that she never had, a practical young woman who wants none of it, and a poet suitor representing everything that's false about the poetic method all dance around each other, neither one prepared to admit failure.

5 provoking forms out of 5

Friday, August 14, 2015

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Nemo: River Of Ghosts (2015)

Author: Alan Moore | Illustrator: Kevin O'Neill | Page Count: 56

"It was the piranhas mostly. They can be spiteful if they're in yer trousers..."

Eighty-year-old Janni gathers together a crew (one of whom would've certainly been worthy of League membership in an earlier time) for one last sailing of the Nautilus into the heart of darkness; i.e. up the Amazon. Her ultimate goal is to put to rest someone who ought to have been dead years before, someone we've met before and for whom death was initially a long time coming.

She’s wizened and determined, with a face that looks like it’s been carved out of wood. Many of the crew think her mad, but she’s knows the truth.

It’s not usually until my second read-through that I'm able to appreciate the intricacies of the League books. I'm too busy trying to spot extraneous references and getting lost in the backgrounds during the first read. But I enjoyed River of Ghosts on the first pass. Either Moore has finally found a suitable level of outside influences being pitched inside, or I simply overlooked a ton of them. Either way, it was a more fluid experience, enabling me to get caught up in the yarn easily.

The aforementioned crew member is Janni’s bodyguard. He's an amalgamation of more than one fictional/legendary character, and more than once he steals the show with his actions; at one point he even does it while having lunch.

The ending is abrupt, but the entire thing had been leading organically up to it, so in the overall scheme it’s simply punctuation that serves a dual purpose. If you've followed the journey up until now then there’s no reason not to step aboard for the conclusion to the trilogy. If you've been hesitant because of how it was split over time, as was the case with Century it'll likely get a collected edition sometime in the future with new O'Neill cover art; an option is to wait for that.

3 broken lady parts out of 5

Friday, August 7, 2015

George's Marvellous Medicine (1981)

Author: Roald Dahl  |  Illustrator: Quentin Blake  |  Page Count: 96

'She had pale brown teeth and a small puckered-up mouth like a dog's bottom.'

I can barely remember what I did yesterday afternoon, but I can recall easily the first time I read about George Kranky's Marvellous Medicine. I was aged ten. It was a long time ago. Four separate classes in the school I attended (and loved) were gathered together in one room for an important presentation. I never did find out what was so important because soon after arrival I shuffled my way to the back left corner of a sea of cross-legged children on the floor, hid myself within the maelstrom as best I could, opened up the book and started to read. None of the teachers noticed and after a few minutes I forgot they even existed.

It's a short book with a simple plot. George's mother goes to town, leaving the eight-year-old at home with his grandmother. George hates his gran, but being the only one other than her in the house means he's now responsible for administering the old girl's daily dose of medicine. Instead of her regular brown medicine in a boring bottle, George decides to make his own concoction.

The adult part of me was screaming about how irresponsible it all was, especially when he reached the garden shed, but the part of me that still enjoys that kind of freedom was rubbing his hands together wickedly and sniggering way too much.

If you've ever wanted to write for children then there’s no better teacher than Dahl. Marvellous Medicine certainly isn't his best work, but he doesn't waste a single word and once the story really kicks off it doesn't stop, so there's still something to be learned from it.

George's father is a fun character. I'd never really considered his point of view before. Nor that of the chickens. I felt sorry for them. They get a bad enough deal as it is having a tiny brain, not being able to fly and being tasty when cooked.

Young children will have a blast picturing all the weird ingredients, while adults will recognise how significant events change everyone who partakes or witnesses them, even the people that don't take the medicine.

3 spoonfuls of alternative sugar out of 5

Saturday, August 1, 2015

WitchCraft: La Terreur (1998)

Author: James Robinson  |  Illustrator: Michael Zulli  |  Page Count: 72 (24 x 3)

“…nothing is for nothing.”

La Terreur translates to The Terror, referencing a period in France’s past (also known as The Reign of Terror) in which a bloody revolution took place as people tried to turn the political climate from a Monarchy into a Republic. Wikipedia has more details if you want to brush up on the cultural and political happenings around which the story is set (HERE).

It’s the second series of three, being a sequel to WitchCraft (1994), but you don’t need to have read the previous books because the only returning characters are The Hecate, three witches previously seen in the Sandman universe, and it doesn't continue the same story. It’s a new adventure with them taking less of an active role. Instead, they're more of a catalyst. It's also a lot less enjoyable.

The main protagonist is Isadore Hibbert, aged seventeen. Circumstances leave Isadore with a problem and a limited time in which to deal with it. If she isn't able to increase her intellectual, spiritual and magical growth before it's too late then there'll be additional blood spilled on the cobbles. She’s a likable lass, but her story lacks flourish or any kind of identifiable uniqueness; it feels rushed, and any depth that might have been is a casualty of the short page count.

Zulli’s sketchy lines suit the mood and he gets creative with panel borders once or twice. The finery of the nobles gives him an opportunity to add some colour.

2½ unfettered times out of 5

NOTE: The picture at the top of this post is an amalgamation of Michael Kaluta's cover art of all three issues. You can see a much larger version by clicking HERE, or if you prefer to see each individual cover: ONE // TWO // THREE.