The Lantern Read-Along: Parts III-IV

Augh! Why am I stopping here?? I need to get back to the book and see what happens oh my goodness.

Ahem. No, no, I’ll be good and stop and answer these here questions without foreknowledge, and then I’m going to go snuggle with The Lantern some more. Well, probably not, I’m probably going to go watch some television. But the sentiment is there! This book is good!


1. The title of this book is The Lantern, and a lantern makes an appearance in both of the stories. In Benedicte’s past, it had a meaning, but what do you think the lantern signifies in her future and in Eve’s story? What is this hard question? Am I back in Marling’s class? Is this a terrible dream? Okay. Think. Lantern. Well, so, in Bénédicte’s story the lantern is a sign of love between Bénédicte and her man-friend except then that love goes all to hell, so I’m guessing that might play a part in Our Narrator’s story. Other than that, I have to admit I wasn’t paying as much attention to the lantern as to the insanity of Bénédicte and Our Narrator’s lives.

2. Carl mentioned scents in last weeks questions, but they have been addressed even more in these sections. What significance do you think scents have in this story overall? I’m really intrigued by the scents here, as they are more obviously signifying the presence of certain people (or at least their imagined presence), though I’m not keeping careful track. I also like watching the characters try to explain away the scents, unsuccessfully.

3. What do you think of the combining storyline of Marthe? She connects Benedicte, Eve, and Rachel. What do you think will be revealed about this connection in the next sections? Um. Well. It piqued my interest when it turned out that Rachel was also interested in this Marthe person, and that Sabine had had ulterior motives in saying, “Hey, maybe you should look into this.” And I like that there is now a second connection (besides place) between the two narratives. But I’m content to leave the connection at that for now.

4. Now that things are beginning to move along, what do you think of the characters? Are any standing out for you? Do you particularly like any? Dislike any? Well, I’m going to go punch Sabine in the face for being completely indirect about everything, and then I’m going to have to go punch… well, every other character for the same reason. I am not a big fan of this lack of honesty and openness here. In fact, I think I’d have to say that I don’t particularly like any character in this book.

5. What do you think really happened to Marthe and Annette? What do you think the significance of the bones in the pool are to the story? Especially now that it has been revealed that Rachel is also dead. First, I’m going with it’s been “revealed” that Rachel is dead. I’m not trusting anyone at this point. Though dead makes perfect sense. And I definitely think that Pierre managed to bury Marthe and Annette under the pool, considering Pierre and the description of the bones, though I suppose that those fancy forensics people probably should have figured out if the bones were thirty years in the ground by now, so maybe that’s just a red herring? It could be that Rachel’s under there, too, after poking around too much into Marthe’s story. Conspiracies!

6. Do you have any other things you think are significant to talk about? Are there any other predictions to be made for the last two sections of the book? I really want to know who this mystery woman wandering around the grounds is — is she Bénédicte’s ghost? Rachel? A figment of everyone’s imagination? I’m also a bit disappointed that Papa was dispensed with so easily, as I really wanted to know more about his particular brand of parenting. And, of course, I’d like to know just how large the stick up Severan’s ahem is. I don’t want to make any predictions for the rest of the book, but let’s just say that I will find it very interesting if Rachel ends up under that pool and if mystery woman happens not to be a figment.

7. Lastly, what do you think of this book overall? Other than for the read-along, why are you reading it? Is it meeting your expectations? Oh, I am all about this book. If I didn’t want to at least attempt to savor it, it would be read already. And I’ve already recommended it to my book club in the hopes of reading it again! So… yeah. Excellent. I wouldn’t have picked it up but for the read-along, but now that I’ve started you couldn’t make me stop.

Fragile Things Read-Along, Part the Sixth

Wait, the Sixth? There are only two more weeks after this? How did that happen?

Well, it happened happily this week, as I enjoyed every story that I read. Huzzah! We’ve got a sock monkey with an odd life, vampires, a creepy old lady, and a dude who can’t write good, and as far as I can tell nothing that requires any homework on my part, which is probably why I found this set so enjoyable. Let me tell you more…

“My Life”
I only know that this story is meant to go with a sock monkey because the introduction tells me so, and I actually listened to it the first time without remembering that fact. So I can tell you that it is highly amusing whether you’re imagining monkeys or a drunk old man. This is probably because whoever it is, his life is awesome. He’s got a mum who’s his dad (a dad who’s his mum? However you want to put that, I guess) and who does underwater tango, and he’s got a dissolved wife who was once in a coma for 70 years, but he’ll tell you his life’s not been very interesting and so I would like to know what else he considers normal! Even if he’s making it all up, I’d buy him a drink to hear another story.

“Fifteen Painted Cards From a Vampire Tarot”
This was another one that didn’t quite come across in audio because it’s a set of very short stories, but it was certainly excellent in print, if hard to describe! Basically you’ve got a series of vignettes that get at the “truth” of vampires — talking about classic vampire mythology, writing new mythology, looking at how we regular humans react to vampires when we meet them (or “meet them”). I think my favorites are “The Magician”, which is just a joke, really; “The Chariot”, which imagines vampires as space colonists; and “The Wheel of Fortune”, in which my favorite response to missing items — “I got hungry and ate it” — becomes a little more sinister.

“Feeders and Eaters”
Oh. Em. Gee. This is definitely my favorite story of the week, and is at least edging in on “A Study in Emerald” and “October in the Chair”. It imagines a man meeting an old acquaintance in a bar, and that acquaintance going on about how he’s been these past ten years, doing some work in the area, boarding with a nice family, meeting his fellow boarder and rescuing her from her sick bed with some raw meat that she ate right out of the container, blood dripping on the sheets… you know, the usual story. And then it gets a lot grosser, really, so if you’re not of a strong stomach I recommend against this one! I think what’s really interesting is that at one point The Acquaintance talks about having done something that anyone would do, and then later all but asks Our Narrator to do that same thing and Our Narrator has no idea what he’s on about. And I can’t decide whether Our Narrator is meant to be a big old jerk, or if I can rest assured that this is not something that anyone would do, because I probably couldn’t do it.

“Diseasemaker’s Croup”
This was a tough one — I haven’t yet listened to it, but it’s darn confusing in print so I may not even try. Basically, it’s a story about a disease, as written by a person with said disease, and one of the symptoms is a complete lack of making sense in writing. Which, oh dear. I spent too much time confused by the first bad sentence before I got to the explain-y part, and then I was still baffled by most of the rest of the story, but by the time I got to the end I realized that the sentences weren’t so much bad as out of order and I was having fun trying to figure out how the story would otherwise go. I still haven’t got it fully pieced together, but I’m much more appreciative of it now than when I started!

The Lantern Read-Along: Parts I-II

This is my second attempt at a read-along, occuring conveniently within the same time frame as my first attempt! This one is a bit different, though, as here I’m reading a whole novel rather than short stories, and there are set questions to answer rather than me just going on about things. So if you’re not reading along with me, this might not make a lot of sense. I promise I’ll do a regular review post after I’m done with the whole thing!

1. This may seem like an obvious opening question, but what do you think of The Lantern thus far? Oh, hey, just kidding about not going on about things. 🙂 I was iffy at first, with the odd prologue and the boring girl-meets-boy bits in the early chapters, but once Our Narrator and Dom get out to the house, and once Our Other Narrator starts talking about her creep-tastic brother, I was like, please, tell me more! I’m glad this book is broken up into parts, because without the sort-of denoument of the second part, I might still be reading the book instead of answering these questions!

2. The book appears to be following the experiences of two different women, alternating back and forth between their stories. Are you more fond of our main protagonist’s story or of Benedicte’s or are you enjoying them both equally? Which do I like more? Hmmmmmmmmmmmm… I’m not terribly interested in Our Narrator, though I am intrigued by her investigation into Dom’s ex and am hoping to hear more of those fairy tales she found soon. I’m also not terribly interested in Our Other Narrator, Bénédicte, as much as I am interested in her brother Pierre and his interests, namely his homicidal tendencies. I’m sensing that they will come into play later. I suppose if I had to pick one narrator for the rest of the novel, I would at this point choose to stay with Our Narrator, because I like investigation more than dead cats.

3. The Lantern is a book filled with descriptions of scents. How are you liking (or disliking) that aspect of the book? How do you feel about the lavish description of scents? How are the short chapters working for you? I’m not really noticing the scent descriptions as being overly lavish, but I suppose that after the sensory love-fest of The Night Circus I’m almost expecting it! As for the short chapters, I was put off by them at first but now I really think they work well to keep up the suspense of both narratives and allow Lawrenson to easily skip around in time.

4. How would you describe the atmosphere of Parts 1 and 2 of The Lantern? Um, mildly spooky? It’s all about that decrepit house, isn’t it? Even the things that would normally be completely innocuous are coming across as tinged with spookiness if they happened anywhere near that house. And all the secret-keeping helps, too!

5. Has anything surprised you to this point? Anything stand out? I was rather surprised by Bénédicte’s father bricking Bénédicte and her brother into that room. That is a parenting technique I’ve never heard of before. And the fact that Pierre knew what was happening… I think there’s plenty more to come from Bénédicte’s narrative. I also want to know more about this pineapple.

6. What are your feelings about Dom in these first two sections of the story? I really don’t know how to feel about him. Sure, he’s being intensely secretive, but only being able to see it from Our Narrator’s point of view, I wonder if he’s really being that terrible. Certainly Our Narrator recognizes that she’s gone a bit off the deep end in mistrusting him. I think that perhaps he is fueling her neurosis a bit by not even throwing her a scrap of information, but considering my fears that there’s only bad information there, I can’t yet blame him.

Bonus question: Did anyone else hear “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again” ringing in their ears through the first sections of the book? Okay, I get it, I’ll get around to reading Rebecca. Someday. Maybe.

Fragile Things Read-Along, Part the Fifth

Man. I think what I’m discovering more than anything while reading through this collection is that I know very little about fantasy. I’ve mentioned before and I’ll mention again this week that I’m sure I would like more than a few of these stories better if I just had any idea what Gaiman was talking about. And that’s good, on the one hand, because it inspires me to go learn new things, but bad, on the other, because that doesn’t help me understand or appreciate the stories now! Alas.

I get this one! I totally know what’s going on here! This is a cute little poem-y story about stories, “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” specifically, and the telling of them. Gaiman writes as himself, talking to his daughter about reading “Goldilocks” to her and how she would take part in the telling of the story and sometimes re-write the story, and that’s all cute and adorable. But then Gaiman also takes into account how it feels to be a parent reading the stories, and how there are always parts that read differently for adults (see: my reaction to Peter Pan earlier this year) and how it’s a bit sad to know that the adorable child will grow into a cynical adult who locks his doors to keep out strangers who might eat his porridge. This is definitely my favorite story of the week.

“The Problem of Susan”
And here is where I admit that my knowledge of the Narnia books comes mostly from the 2005 movie, which I didn’t pay terribly much attention to, and various references to the series in other things I’ve read. Which is to say that I don’t have any attachment toward Susan and so this story is entirely lost on me. What I gather is that Susan, who didn’t die in some train crash, has grown up to be a professor of literature, since retired. And she’s being interviewed about children’s literature by some young thing and Narnia comes up and that’s when I learned all that stuff about Susan, and then Susan gets sad or something and goes and has a nap forever. And the young thing has a dream about Aslan and the White Witch having the sexytimes and, um, okay. Ew. I’m not sure I want this one explained to me.

Props to the awesome poetry this week. I liked “Instructions” a lot because while I may not know a lot about fantasy stories past and present, I am certainly well-versed in fantasy conventions, and that’s what this poem is about. It is, as the title suggests, a set of instructions for what to do if you find yourself stuck in a fairy tale. Basically, don’t do anything stupid and be nice to everyone, which are not bad instructions in general. Also, there’s a cameo from my friends the months of the year, which is delightful.

“How Do You Think It Feels”
Um, yes. Least favorite story. Gargoyles. LOTS of sexytimes, including sort of with a plasticine gargoyle. Extra-marital affair(s?). Not my cup of tea. Things I did like: the reference to the narrator being “by far the older man” at 27 to his lady’s 20. The narrator getting totally shut down by his lady when he offers to actually finally leave his family for her. The lady getting eaten by the gargoyle. Can’t go wrong with people getting eaten, I say.

Fragile Things Read-Along, Part the Fourth

What an odd week of stories. We’ve got two ostensibly true stories, one story broken up into several even smaller stories, and another one of those stories that seems to require a little bit of homework to understand. Also, the return of the sodium yellow light, which really needs to be retired. On the plus side, I’m pretty sure I liked all of the stories this week, though I have yet to match my love for the first week’s. A girl can dream…

“Good Boys Deserve Favors”
I can totally get behind this story, about Gaiman as a double-bass-playing tiny person who didn’t like to practice. I never liked to practice my instrument as a kid, either, although I never had the opportunity to sneak a book into my “practice sessions” and I feel a little gypped. (I probably shouldn’t say that.) The climax of this story is interesting — the young Gaiman finds himself chosen to play his double bass in front of a potential school donor, and he just makes something up and manages to please most of the listeners, though it’s not clear just how good this made-up piece is. The fact that his headmaster described it as “modern, yet classical,” leads me to believe that it was probably very very weird, and that possibly the story is really about how Potential School Donors are not terribly discerning in their music.

“The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch”
Okay, this is another ostensibly true story, though in this one I think that “ostensibly” is the key word here. Ostensibly. Because what we have is the story of Ostensible Neil Gaiman getting dragged to the circus with some Ostensible Friends and an Ostensibly Crazy Person called Miss Finch, and then ending up (beginning up? Gaiman starts the story with the ending) without Miss Finch but with some delicious sushi. The circus is no regular circus, and no Night Circus either, but some odd conglomeration of things like knife-throwers and trick motorcyclists and fake hand-losers who take their guillotined fake hands and chase people around with them to the Benny Hill theme, apparently. But the real story part of the story is that geobiologist Miss Finch, who has all night been bitching about the circus and also the dangers of sushi, gets picked to have her wishes come true and suddenly saber-toothed tigers exist and the circus disappears. And even in the story, it’s not clear exactly why this happens… did Miss Finch really get her wishes? Was she a well-done audience plant? Was the whole circus some sort of elaborate joke on the Ostensibles? At first listen, I was a bit annoyed with the story for not giving me any useful exposition, but after reading it again I’m content to come up with elaborate exposition of my own and call it canon.

“Strange Little Girls”
This story did not come across at all in audio, so I just skipped it and read through it later. The reason it fails in audio is that all of the pieces in it are just paragraphs, and you don’t get the print formatting that tells you, hey, these are all separate little stories and not actually about the same person. So it’s a bunch of little stories about different people, and actually they’re less “stories” than “snapshots” or whatever the print equivalent is. So, difficult to describe. I’ll just stick with saying that my favorites are “Love” (in which a woman totally gets a man in trouble with his wife) and “Heart of Gold” (whose structure just amuses me).

“Harlequin Valentine”
I liked this story a lot, even though I know nothing about harlequins outside of Harley Quinn and it is obvious that I am missing a lot of the subtler points. But with my second small-but-literal spit take of the book, at the point when I realized that was no paper heart pinned to Missy’s door, I couldn’t say no to the rest of the story. I really liked the Harlequin character, who is completely ridiculous and well-rendered by Gaiman on audio, and who gives his heart to a human called Missy for funsies, apparently, and then follows her around to see what she’ll do with it. Well, once Harlequin makes the mistake of telling her whose heart it is, Missy becomes my favorite character as she takes the heart and eats it with ketchup and hash browns so that she can become Harlequin herself, and leaves the erstwhile Harlequin to the human life. Ketchup and hash browns, people. I love it. And now I must go look up this commedia dell’arte stuff, because it is apparently delightful.

Fragile Things Read-Along, Part the Third

Well, I am pleased to report that we do not have a repeat last week’s intense befuddlement and annoyance. These stories are certainly not any more cut and dried, because that would be no fun, but at least I feel more internal sense-making and also some intrigue. I like to be intrigued.

Here’s where we stand:

“Going Wodwo”
I liked this the least of this week’s stories, probably because it’s one of those poem things and I’m still working on being a poetry person. It may happen, someday, but it hasn’t happened yet. But anyway, this twenty-line poem describes a person, well, “going wodwo,” or becoming, as the intro says, “a wild man of the woods.” I don’t quite follow the path of the story of the poem, nor does it have the delightful cadence of “The Fairy Reel”, but I will give the poem props for imagery. The first stanza reeled me in — “Shedding my shirt, my book, my coat, my life / Leaving them, empty husks and fallen leaves / Going in search of food and for a spring / Of sweet water” — and even though I don’t really get it, I really like the phrase “My skin will be / my face now.” Well, if by “like” I mean “am sort of really creeped out by.” Which I do.

“Bitter Grounds”
There is a lot going on in this story. The main plot, I suppose, is that there’s a fellow who up and runs away from his life, stops running temporarily to help out a random guy who subsequently completely disappears, then sort of decides to be this guy for a while. As you do. But there’s so much interesting stuff to think about as this plot moves along — the disappeared guy leaves behind an abandoned, totalled car that our narrator minutes previously had seen as intact if broken down. Disappeared Guy was an academic writing about zombies. Our narrator, while pretending to be DG, makes a new friend who also disappears, and some other new friends who may or may not exist. Like last week’s “Closing Time”, this story has an ending that I don’t quite understand, but this time I felt like the confusing ending at least fit with the story, instead of being completely jarring. Or possibly I am more forgiving when there are potential zombies involved.

“Other People”
As soon as I heard Gaiman say, in his fantastic voice, “‘Other People,'” I said to myself, “Hell is?” And I was SO RIGHT. I love it when that happens. There are no “other people” in this story, but there is Hell, and it is very hellish. There’s a guy, and he wanders into Hell, and he meets a demon who proceeds to beat the crap out of him with 211 different instruments of OW. And then, for good measure, the demon forces the guy to admit to himself every bad thing he’s ever done or said or thought or probably thought about thinking, over and over and over again. And from what I can tell, that is a LOT of bad things. Interestingly, I missed the important point of the story while ears-reading because I apparently had the attention span of a goldfish that day, but as soon as I started eyes-reading it yesterday I decided that this story was fantastic. This week’s favorite!

“Keepsakes and Treasures”
Oh, goodness, I am turning into one of those Parents Television Council people, aren’t I? I was all for the story when I thought it was going to be violence and sloppy eating, but then it took a turn toward the sex intercourse and I was like, “Oh, that’s gross.” I mean, I still read the story, but I really wanted more gruesome killing. Please don’t tell me what that means about me. Ahem. Anyway. Here’s an example of a story where I don’t know any of the background (Gaiman notes in the intro that this story is based on characters from a comic that I’ve never heard of), but the story was just fine anyway. To spoil everything, there’s an unnamed dude who works for this guy called Mr. Alice, and Unnamed Dude spends a lot of time and effort and Alice’s money to procure for Alice the most beautiful boy in the world for the sex intercourse and then after not very long the beautiful boy gets the flu and dies. And so this is really just a very rated-R way of telling a very universal truth, and even though I was like, “ew, cooties,” the way that Gaiman wrote the heck out of this story really sold it to me. There’s the setup of our unnamed narrator being a bit of a serial killer (sidenote: I did a small but very literal spit take at the dissonance between these consecutive sentences: “She was a looker, my mum. I didn’t know which one of the four was my dad, so I killed all of them.” FANTASTIC), and so also really completely disaffected by all the bad and/or weird stuff Alice has him hired to do, and there’s one scene that Gaiman wrote where I read it and I was like, “That’s weird, a little bit,” and then a couple pages later Gaiman writes this other little scene where I’m like, “Ew,” and then I remember that first scene and I’m like, “Okay, now I need to go take a shower, euucchh.” In a good way? I don’t know.

I’m not quite hooked on Fragile Things again, but I am feeling much much better about its chances for being awesome. How about you guys?

Fragile Things Read-Along, Part the Second

Whaaaaaaaaat is going on here? After a stunning round of stories last week, I am feeling utterly lost this week. I mean, I listened to all of these stories at least twice and read them once, and I still don’t get 75 percent of them. That’s not good!

On the plus side, they’re still read by Neil Gaiman and he can still read me the phone book if he wants.

“The Hidden Chamber”
According to the introduction, this is supposed to be a Bluebeard story. And Bluebeard is a… pirate? Let me go check Wikipedia. That is not a pirate. I am totally thinking of Blackbeard, aren’t I? Things are starting to make so much more sense. Let me read this entry a bit more. … Okay, I’m back, and this is actually pretty okay. Let me change my previous statement to 50 percent. Soooooo this is a sort of poem thing (which doesn’t quite come across in the audio because it’s free verse) about this fella Bluebeard who, as I just learned, is traditionally a guy what likes to kill his wives. But in Gaiman’s version, he’s all, no, no, don’t worry about the ghosts, and I totally don’t have one room in my house you’re not allowed into I don’t know what you’re talking about, and also I’m so misunderstood. He’s reformed, you see, but not in the way you might think, and the poem takes a turn toward the creeptastic at the end. I may need to take out a preemptive restraining order on anyone with a blue beard.

“Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire”
Well, okay, maybe 25 percent, because I think I get this story, I just don’t like it. It opens with the a “chapter” that goes, “Somewhere in the night, someone was writing.” Excellent start! Then it moves over to what is being written, which also doesn’t quite come across in the audio and it took me a second listen to figure out exactly how that worked. And what is being written is a sort of send-up of every horror/ghost/creepy story ever written, with an allusion to The Turn of the Screw and probably many other things that I can’t quite pin down. And it’s predictably bad, and then we go back to the writer, and the writer is all “I am failing at writing this slice-of-life Great American Novel where “American” equals “weird alternate universe where life is creepy all the time and those nice young men etc.” And so at first I am like, “Oh I see how this is a satire of creepy stories,” but then I am like, “Oh I see what you did there and I am not quite in.” Because the author is complaining about how his writing is just a send-up of the “classics” and not a view into daily tedium or whatever, except that Gaiman also writes the Auteur’s actual life as a send-up of the “classics” and so I think he’s doing a great job. And then, when the Auteur (spoiler!) decides to write “fantasy” instead, he’s just sending up a different genre so I don’t think he has improved anything. Okay, maybe 37.5 percent?

“The Flints of Memory Lane”
I get this one! And I kind of like it! But I can’t write as much about it because it’s so short! Anyway, this is just a quick telling of an anecdote from Gaiman’s life where he may or may not have seen a real live ghost faffing about in front of his family’s house. This of course doesn’t do justice to Gaiman’s writing, which conveys the creepiness of seeing a strange woman hanging around under a sodium lamplight, all oddly colored and also silent and also capable of disappearing while your back is turned. I’ve never had quite such a vivid experience, but I’m sure it would scare the pants off of me.

“Closing Time”
I absolutely do not get this story and I need someone to explain it to me. Please. From what I have gathered, this is a story wherein Our Narrator is swapping ghost stories with a group of friends. Check. Then he tells one wherein he meets a group of boys and the boys dare Our Narrator to knock on a playhouse door and then Our Narrator dares them to go into the playhouse, whose door opens and closes by itself, and the boys are never seen again and that’s creepy. And then after the story is told, it turns out that one of the listeners is one of the story’s boys and he’s all, “our dad was kind of a weirdo and my one brother killed himself and I just got out of the loony bin.” And I just… I don’t get it. I don’t understand how this latter bit goes with the narrator’s story, and I don’t understand how all these tangents the narrator goes on have anything to do with anything and… yeah. I got nothing. Help?

I am so not excited for reading the next four stories, because I fear they will be as baffling as most of these, but I have a feeling that as soon as I start the next one I’ll be hooked again. What do you guys think?