The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (Books 2019, 13)

A genuinely chilling, even scary, ghost story, is not something you read that often. Or I don’t, these days, at least.

Combine that with compelling characters, comedy, and tragedy, and you’ve got kind of a small masterpiece.

I only say “small” because it’s quite short. I only know Jackson from a film version of “The Lottery” that they used to show us in school. I’m not sure why they showed us it, exactly, because we didn’t study it in English, and as far as I recall we didn’t discuss it. I think maybe it was a sort of treat, and the school only had a few films, that it showed repeatedly. These were actual films, I should add. Played on a projector, watched on a screen.

Anyway Jackson’s story always stuck with me, and now this one joins it.

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (Books 2019, 13)

The 392 by Ashley Hickson-Lovence (Books 3019, 12)

The 392, with a flat peach
The 392, with a flat peach

We went to WOMAD a couple of weekends ago, and in the literary tent we caught the end of a reading from, and an interview with, this young Hackney writer. It was an interesting talk and the book sounded compelling, so we bought a copy (and got it signed).

It’s set over 36 minutes on the inaugural journey of a new (nonexistent) London bus route, from Hoxton to Highbury. Told as the thoughts and conversations of various passengers (and the driver).

If you’re familiar with the area and the local slang (which may in fact be national or global slang in places), it’s particularly enjoyable. But the themes are universal, so don’t suppose it’s only for Hackney & Islington folk.

I have my problems with the ending, but it’s well worth checking out (and it’s very short, and in bite-sized pieces, if you’re looking for something easy).

The 392 by Ashley Hickson-Lovence (Books 3019, 12)

What Was Lost by Catherine O’Flynn (Books 2019, 11)

A Kindle showing the cover of Catherine O'Flynn's What Was Lost next to an origami bird
A Kindle showing Catherine O’Flynn’s What Was Lost next to an origami bird

This was recommended to me by an Open University tutor when I was doing the creative writing course a few years back. Which experience, I note, I barely wrote about here. I have a Diploma in Creative Writing, don’t you know?

Anyway, there was an exercise which included writing a plan for the next major piece we were going to write. I wanted to write something that was set in an exotic city, and I mentioned in my plan that I wanted the city to be a character in the story. I was thinking maybe of something like China Mièville’s Bas-Lag.

My tutor suggested that the shopping centre in this book might be a similar kind of thing. Such turns out not really to be accurate. It’s set largely in and around the mall, and some people say they have a sense of it watching them, but nothing is ever made of that.

It’s strange, in that it starts off apparently being a kids’ book, or at least YA; but after the first part it takes a turn, into something else entirely.

It’s not bad, but I wouldn’t particularly recommend it.

What Was Lost by Catherine O’Flynn (Books 2019, 11)

Milkman by Anna Burns (Books 2019, 10)

Anna Burns's Milkman alongside a lemon
Anna Burns’s Milkman alongside a lemon

This is not mainly a book about The Troubles; nor about religion or politics, though it is about all of those. It's a book, above all, about gossip and rumour and silence, and the harm that those can do to a person, to a society.

The unique approach — no-one is named, almost no proper names appear — I found quite endearing. And far from obfuscating things, it many ways it makes the story easier to follow. Instead of have to remember whether Mary, Margaret or Roisin is the oldest sister, it's “first sister.” “Oldest friend;” “maybe-boyfriend.” Honestly, all books should be like this. Relationships are important, after all.

Though you can also see it as a sly reference to the common complaint about living in small communities, that you're always someone's daughter, someone's brother — never yourself.

Anyway, Booker Prize winner, and all. Dead good.

Milkman by Anna Burns (Books 2019, 10)

Touch by Claire North (Books 2019, 8)

I enjoyed North's previous novel, with some reservations. This one was similar. I read it in a day — it's quite the page-turner — and it has a compelling plot trigger.

The first-person narrator is an entity who can jump into any human body from its current host, just by making skin-to-skin contact — the "touch" of the title. Male or female, young or old, it doesn't matter. The host doesn't know anything about it while they are possessed, and is left unharmed — unless, of course, something happens to their body while the possessor is in control.

Sounds pretty gruesome like that, so it's impressive that our sympathies are with the narrator throughout.

Good story, slightly flat ending. Hey-ho.

Touch by Claire North (Books 2019, 8)

In Dreams: A Unified Interpretation of Twin Peaks & Other Selected Works of David Lynch, by H Perry Horton (Books 2019, 7)


This is an incredible piece of work, about an incredible body of work.

I don’t recall how I heard about it. I think I saw a tweet, or something, thought it looked interesting, and instantly bought it because it was only a few quid on Kindle. It’s a huge book which tries — successfully, in my mind — to explain how the bulk of David Lynch’s creative works can be considered part of a single story, which Horton refers to as The Dream.

Now obviously Twin Peaks, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, and Twin Peaks: The Return are all part of the same story. As are the various spinoff books: Jennifer Lynch’s The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer and Scott Frost’s The Autobiography of FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper: My LIfe, My Tapes, from back around the time of the original broadcast; and Mark Frost’s more recent The Secret History of Twin Peaks and Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier, which I’ve written about here.

But Horton argues that the whole story gets kicked off in Eraserhead, and that Blue Velvet, Lost Highway, Mulholland Dr and Inland Empire are side stories related to the main branch. The overall story being about an eternal being, The Dreamer, who dreams reality into existence, and also creates another being, known as Jowday, or Judy, who becomes his adversary. BOB, the possessing spirit of the original Twin Peaks, is a creation of this entity, and the Black and White Lodges are the vanguards in the battle between the two beings.

Sure, on one level it’s just good vs evil, heaven & hell — “just,” I say, as if that wasn’t enough. But the sheer scope of it is astonishing. The eighteen hours of The Return has been hailed as an incredible masterpiece of visual storytelling. But when you include all that I’ve listed above, and three of Lynch’s paintings to boot — it must be one of the greatest — in terms of size, at least — creative works by a single visionary. True, it’s far from being by a single creator, but the vision behind it is solely or primarily Lynch’s, or that of Lynch and Mark Frost.

And even if the connections to the other films are just in Horton’s head (and, to be fair, those of others whose work he acknowledges): the obviously-connected stuff is still amazing, and the current work, Horton’s book that I’m writing about, is something a of a creative triumph itself.

One that is slightly marred by its self-published nature and obvious lack of an editor — there are a lot of typos — but a hugely impressive one nonetheless.

Though obviously it’s only for the very serious Twin Peaks fan.

In Dreams: A Unified Interpretation of Twin Peaks & Other Selected Works of David Lynch, by H Perry Horton (Books 2019, 7)