Modern Gothics

Storm Damage, August, 2020

The Riders by Tim Winton

Scully, an Australian ex-pat has just purchased a ramshackle cottage that sits on a “bare scalp of hill” along the Slieve Bloom mountains of central Ireland. Intending to renovate the dwelling for his wife and young daughter, Scully tirelessly untangles the place from the creeping vegetation only to discover that his wife has disappeared without a trace. Left alone with his child and the gaping wound in his heart, Scully attempts to unravel the mystery that looms over the novel like the shadow of a moldering castle. Dark, damp, and mournful, The Riders reads like a haunting Irish lament.

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

Hundreds Hall, the sprawling Georgian house owned by the Ayers family, has been lodging ghostly secrets for centuries. Though it has seen better days, by the end of the second world war, as England’s landed estates begin to be dismantled, Hundreds’ secrets are still potent enough to send maids running scared into the night, requiring the ministrations of the local Dr. Faraday to set the house and its inhabitants to rights. Faraday soon learns that there is one member of the Ayers family who will not follow his recommendations. Waters employs the ghost-story trope brilliantly here as she examines the final demise of England’s landed gentry and the tenuous fate of an independent woman. 

Sisters by Daisy Johnson

Daisy Johnson has a penchant for personifying houses in a most disturbing way. The Settle House, the salt-scrubbed and splintered setting of her latest, Sisters, serves as a character in itself, with its sinking floors and throbbing walls. Beneath its sloped roof, reside Sheela and her two daughters, named September and July. The sisters, in their mid-teens, are only ten months apart in age, making them what is known as “Irish twins.” It quickly becomes clear, however, that the sisters are less two than they are one; July seems to dwell not only in the Settle House but also in the very body of her sister as if she is some sort of living and breathing fetus in fetu. Johnson’s sharp and vivid prose makes for an unsettling and delicious portrait of two girls who suffer from warped identities and unreliable memories. 

Canine Fiction

Border Collie at Rest in Iver, Buckinghamshire

Sirius by Olaf Stapledon

Deadly serious and heart-breaking, Stapledon’s work about a dog imbued with human-level intelligence while retaining his canine attributes and his deep bond with his human creator’s daughter is a landmark in science fiction’s reach to explain humanity through the possibilities of the future and its own persistent prejudices and fear.

Heart of a Dog by Mikhail Bulgakov

On the other hand, turning a dog into a human is a perfect vehicle for satire, and Bulgakov’s skill at critiquing the burgeoning Soviet state, its fascination with human improvement, total control, and junk science through our hero dog’s evolution is a laugh aloud pleasure.

Nop’s Trial by Donald McCaig

Real dogs with remarkable skills are not unusual, and border collie Nop, a working sheepdog, is among the best. But once stolen and abused, Nop reveals an inner strength and loyalty beyond his previous experience that pulls him through these trials, endurable only through the bond between him and his owner.

Military History

Fresco, Pompeii

Culture and Carnage by Victor David Hanson

Victor Hanson recreates nine battles fought by armies from the West against other cultures, from Salamis and Cannae to Midway and Tet, and ties them to a cultural superiority defined by freedom, citizen armies, group discipline combined with individual initiative, Capitalism, technology and ruthlessness. Lucid, controversial, unflinching in the telling of the true costs of war, a powerful argument that victory often stemmed from greater freedoms.

The Face of Battle by John Keegan

John Keegan’s landmark The Face of Battle brought warfare down from grand and sweeping portraits to the ground where the men, weapons, tactics and strategies determined the outcomes at Agincourt, Waterloo and the Somme , challenging assumptions, myths and stereotypes along the way in exacting and lively battlefield analyses.

The March of Folly by Barbara Tuchman

Opinionated, sometimes maddening but always as entertaining as a conversation with a brilliant and much-missed friend, Barbara Tuchman tries here to understand why the Trojans, Renaissance Popes, King George III and American presidents from Kennedy to Nixon and their wisemen committed to wars that were, as the title claims, follies.