The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix
In this, his fifth novel, Hendrix promises blood. He delivers it, too.
Set in the American state of North Carolina in the early 90’s, the story centres around a group of housewives, their book club, and what happens when a good-looking stranger moves to the neighbourhood. It reminded me of the 80’s classic, Fright Night, interbred with the more sinister Stepford Wives.
A rollercoaster of a read. It’ll have your heart stopping one moment, then leaping into your throat the next; you’ll forget to breathe, and you’ll laugh out loud; you’ll be saddened by the unfairness of it all.
Hendrix spends plenty of pages developing the characters in an easy-to-read and humorous style that has the danger of misleading the reader, allowing them to feel safe.
But these women are angry, and there’s a lot to be angry about, including the vampire. The monster – and yes, there is one – highlights, rather than is, the actual horror.
The book, for example, shows how stark racial inequality can be. But the most chilling part in the whole book comes halfway in and has nothing to do with the supernatural or Good vs Evil, and everything to do with gender roles.
As well as angry, the characters are strong, they become heroes, and in 2020 that’s exactly what we need.
Oh, watch out for the cockroach scene. It’ll make you wince.
Order your copy here.
House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
The House of Leaves is a brick of a book. Inside is text within text, typed and printed, inverted or spiralling, upside down and downside up. With the initial flick through the many pages comes the knowledge that one has to be committed to read it (perhaps in both senses of the word).
The novel is about a house, or it’s about a movie, maybe it’s about the academic work documenting the movie about the house. Oh, and there are two narrators, Zampanò and Johnny Truant, who are mad as cheese.
Have I put you off yet? Don’t be. House of Leaves is a great read!
Peter Beaumont, of the Observer, sums HoL up when he says the book is “at once a genuinely scary chiller, a satire on the business of criticism and a meditation on the way we read.”
Danielewski’s use of footnotes, appendices, and citations from academic work already in existence, along with quotes from well-known people about the movie itself, reinforces the idea that both the movie and the house exist.
This of course then leads the reader to question whether what they have in their hands is just fiction; in this case particularly, it’s a disturbing notion.
In addition, the roles of the two narrators complement each other in a similar way as teacher and student.
Zampanò’s scholarly yet wholly readable approach, which slowly uncovers more and more about the house, contrasts with the initial light relief of Truant’s viewpoint.
For me, the novel is a modern-day haunted house story, though there are no ghosts between the pages. It opens with the line: ‘This is not for you.’ A warning, and of course, a lure.
Danielewski makes the impossible credible by diverting and exploring topics and details most novels would either ignore or lose in an edit. He drops in perfectly timed one-liners or even single words that are so exquisitely gut-twisting that all one can do is smile.
The word, house, appears differently to all the other text in the book, like it’s been written on an old typewriter that’s had the arms for those five letters damaged. The effect is a little cheesy at first, but over time it turns into something quite unsettling.
The combination of all this, and much more, makes Danielewski’s debut novel a skilful experiment in unease. But maybe, as the book says, ‘this is not for you.’
Order your copy here.