Categories
Book Reviews

Neil Olson-The Black Painting Book Review

“A riveting psychological thriller, a serious dissection of a dysfunctional family and an exploration of the power of art to change lives.” —Associated Press
“A fast-paced psychological thriller with a fascinating set of characters. … A real page-turner.” -B.A. Shapiro, author of The Art Forger


An atmospheric literary mystery about an infamous painting rumored to be cursed—and the family torn apart by its disappearance.
There are four cousins in the Morse family: perfect Kenny, the preppy West Coast lawyer; James, the shy but brilliant medical student; his seductive, hard-drinking sister Audrey; and Teresa, youngest and most fragile, haunted by the fear that she has inherited the madness that possessed her father.


I love books dealing with art and I have to say, books dealing with art collectors are a strange lot. New York writer Neil Olson’s The Black Painting discusses a very spooky work by Francisco Goya that supposedly exerts powers that drive viewers bonkers — in this instance, various members of a wealthy East Coast family. “Black Painting” purportedly belongs to a series of gruesome works created by the Spanish genius near the end of his life.

  • The Black Paintings stand out in art history for their dark composition and themes.
  • The biggest mystery, though, is that Goya painted them directly onto the walls of his home and never told anybody about them.
  • By 1819, the painter Francisco Goya had been through quite a bit. He had witnessed the chaos of war when Napoleon invaded Spain and the chaos in Spain as its government bounced back and forth between a constitutional monarchy and an absolute monarchy. He had become deathly ill a number of times, occasionally fearing he was going mad. One of these illnesses had left him deaf. Increasingly bitter about humanity, afraid of death and madness, Goya withdrew into a villa outside of Madrid called la Quinta del Sordo, or the Deaf Man’s House.

Back to the book. Before its theft years earlier, the Goya painting had hung, shrouded, behind the desk of elderly collector Alfred Arthur Morse. When the four Morse cousins are unexpectedly summoned by their grandfather, they all show up: Kenny, the successful lawyer; James, the psychologically fragile medical student; Audrey, the wild divorcée; and Teresa, the shy art student subject to seizures. Complementing the cast are foggy pines, rocky cliffs, a crumbling estate and the ghost of a vanished painting.

 “Last night she dreamed of the house on Owl’s Point,” reads the first line, echoing Daphne du Maurier’s timeless thriller, Rebecca. “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” Make way for strange happenings in a mansion on the sea, managed by a cold housekeeper with an agenda of her own.

Kenny tells Teresa about his meeting with their grandfather: “Go to the place that’s most private to you. Most humiliating. You know what I mean? That tender spot. That’s right where he would have put his finger.” Only Grandpa didn’t have the chance, since Teresa discovered his corpse when she arrived at Owl’s Point.

So, we have grandfather in the study, but who did it and why? If death came naturally, how to explain his horrified expression? Motives abound: money, family secrets, simmering hatreds. Luckily gloom takes a lighter turn with the arrival of P.I. Dave Webster, a latter-day Philip Marlowe. Hints that all will be resolved appear when Dave is hired to resume the poking around he began years before with the original theft. Get ready for a thrilling ride through the worlds of the unhappy rich, whose acquisitions can prove very dangerous indeed.

3/5

Categories
Book Reviews

Drood by Dan Simmons

I don’t think I like Dan Simmons very much right now. I’ve wasted 6 months+ trying to read this mega novel and while I could see its attraction – the last days of Charles Dickens and his obsession with a character named Drood, narrated from the perspective of his laudanum-ridden friend and enemy Wilkie Collins, I felt no love for any of the characters or felt any plot lines developing to a satisfying end.

THIS BOOK IS A WASTE OF TIME

Categories
Book Reviews Stephen King

The End of the Whole Mess * Stephen King

The Story

In a little town there were two brothers. One was bright, one was a genius. Howard and Bobby got along like the house on fire and the older brother could feel only awe and amazement when looking at the stuff his little brother invented.

Ep4d.JPG
When he was small he came up with an airplane design that had the wings backwards saying that’s how all airplanes should be as that’s how hawks take off after catching their prey. He blanked out the TV channels and put in his own show featuring the effects of beans on their father and other jokes.

As he grows older, he grows quieter – much like the younger sister in the Secret life of Bees. He realizes that the world is a scary place, filled with bad people and starts feeling the need to change it.
Much like Crake he has a solution for human violence.
While doing sociological research in Texas, Bobby used crime statistics to create a sort of topographic map which displayed a geographical pattern of violent crime. Examining the map, Robert noted diminishing levels of crime centered on the town of La Plata. When he arrives to investigate, he finds that this town has never had any violent crime. Bobby is ultimately able to determine that the cause of the non-aggression is the presence of a chemical unique to the town’s water supply, a phenomenon that is mentioned in (but had nothing to do with the causations of) King’s earlier novel It. Even minimal exposure to the chemical will calm down an angry person or animal, and Bobby has been able to isolate the chemical and reduce it to concentrated form.

keb6fnvigsjmx7yrybcl.jpg

Several months later it is discovered that, to the Fornoys’ horror, there was another constant about La Plata that was not studied until after the substance was released. It does eliminate aggression, and increases calm, but it does the job too well. It builds up, out of control, in a subject’s system, ultimately giving them symptoms resembling dementia or Alzheimer’s disease and eventually resulting in death. Howard’s journal entries after this point begin to include increasing amounts of grammar, spelling, and other mistakes, eventually devolving into incoherence as Howard succumbs to the effects of the chemical. It is implied the human race will also eventually die out as adults start to forget how to care for newborn children.

the-end-of-whole-mess.jpg

Connections

the-end-of-the-whole-mess.jpgThe premise of the story was also part of the plot of the 2005 film, Serenity. The colonists of the planet Miranda released a chemical into the atmosphere that suppressed all aggression, causing the population to become placid to the point of not performing any tasks at all and peacefully dying where they were. An additional twist came in that the chemical affected a portion of the population in the complete opposite way, driving them mad, and creating the Reavers.

Categories
Book Reviews

The Book of Madness and Cures by Regina O’Melveny * Review

This book was not great but it was not bad either. So a solid 3.22 out of 5. The premise was wonderful, everything was ticking my biblio boxes – the gorgeous cover, the Renaissance setting, a strong female character in a man’s world, comparisons with Sarah Dunant and Tracy Chevalier – so where did it all go wrong? Well, the main problem for me was the extremely stilted prose.

“I’ve since come to believe that the world is populated by multitudes of women sitting at windows, inseparable from their surroundings. I myself spent many hours at a window on the Zattere, waiting for my father’s return, waiting for my life to appear like one of those great ships that came into the harbor, broad sails filled with the wind of providence…I’d grown transparent as the glass through which I peered, dangerously invisible even to myself. It was then I knew I must set my life in motion or I would disappear.”

I love historical novels and, if you toss in a bit of medicinal lore sprinkled with early treatments for madness, you’ve got this clinician drooling! I couldn’t wait to read about the adventures of Gabriella Mondini: a 16th century Venetian physician determined to practice medicine during the Renaissance, when doing so could be construed as heretical.

Categories
Poetry

Much Madness * Emily Dickinson

As we are still raising awareness for the Mental Health month, we’ll have a look at a sweet poem by Emily Dickinson. The message itself is, while powerful, fairly simple to understand—what is called madness is often actually the truest sanity, but as long as it differs from the perspective of the majority who defines what is right and wrong, it will be called madness.

Much madness is divinest sense
To a discerning eye;
Much sense the starkest madness.
’T is the majority
In this, as all, prevails.
Assent, and you are sane;
Demur,—you ’re straightway dangerous,
And handled with a chain.

This poem states that what is often declared madness is actually the most profound kind of sanity (“Much Madness is divinest Sense –“), when viewed by someone with “a discerning Eye.” What is often called sense or sanity is in fact not just “Madness,” but profound madness (“the starkest Madness”). It is only called “Sense” because it is not defined by reason, but by what the majority thinks (“’Tis the Majority / In this, as All, prevail –“).

Since the majority rules, the act of agreeing, no matter to what, means that you are, in the public mind, sane (“Assent – and you are sane –“). If you disagree, or even hesitate in your assent, you are not only declared crazy, but dangerously so (“Demur – you’re straightway dangerous –“). The act of disagreeing with the majority leads to a loss of freedom (“And handled with a Chain –“), thus one can either be physically free, but ruled by the majority, or imprisoned with their own beliefs.

sanity-is-very-rare-every-man-almost-and-every-woman-has-a-dash-of-madness-quote-1