In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle reads Richard Bachman’s lesser-known novel, Roadwork
Stephen King isn’t your run-of-the-mill horror writer. Indeed, he resists the generic label – ‘generic’ both because it identifies him with one genre but also because it is blandly general and nondescript – and might be better seen as a ‘writer’ full-stop. Or rather, as a storyteller, for at his best he uses good old-fashioned character-driven storytelling to explore dark themes and ideas. And nowhere do we see this more clearly, perhaps, than in Stephen King’s ‘non-Stephen-King’ novels – that is, his Bachman books.
King published four early novels under the name Richard Bachman, before his fifth outing under the pseudonym, Thinner, led to his cover being blown when a journalist noted the stylistic similarities between ‘Stephen King’ and ‘Richard Bachman’. (One reviewer of Thinner, unaware that Bachman was really Stephen King, remarked that it was ‘what Stephen King would write if Stephen King could write’. Which may be my favourite example of literary irony.) Read the rest of this entry
On one of Woolf’s earliest short stories
Written in 1917 around the same time she wrote ‘The Mark on the Wall’, ‘Kew Gardens’ is one of Virginia Woolf’s best-known short stories. Yet what the story means is far less well-known – if there is one ‘meaning’ that is ultimately knowable. A short summary and closer analysis of ‘Kew Gardens’ should help to provide a little clarity on what is a rather elusive and delicately symbolic story.
In summary, ‘Kew Gardens’ focuses on the titular gardens in London, on a hot July day. As so often with modernist literature, the focus here is on a moment or a series of moments, rather than a grand, unified narrative or plot. A husband and wife walk past the flower bed with their children, all of them lost in their own thoughts: the husband, Simon, thinks about a woman he’d asked to marry him fifteen years earlier (but whom he never did marry). He asks his wife, Eleanor, if she thinks of the past, and she tells him she remembers being kissed by an old lady with a wart on her nose, twenty years ago while she and a group of other girls were painting at the side of a lake. Read the rest of this entry
‘Snowdrop’ is a short poem by Ted Hughes (1930-98), perhaps the greatest nature poet writing in English during the entire twentieth century. Only Edward Thomas can match Hughes for the attention to detail and the powerful yet unsentimental treatment of the natural world (and notably, Hughes called Thomas ‘the father of us all’). You can read ‘Snowdrop’ here before proceeding to our brief analysis of the poem below.
A fine winter poem, this. ‘Snowdrop’ was published in Ted Hughes’s second collection of poems, Lupercal, in 1960. In just eight lines of couplets – which don’t rhyme in the traditional sense, but instead utilise pararhyme and consonance (tight/heart, brass/darkness, minds/ends, month/metal), a favourite device of Hughes’s – the poet sets the winter scene. Read the rest of this entry