Tag Archives: mystery

I’m Not Scared by Niccolo Ammaniti

Synopsis from Amazon.com:

I’m Not Scared by Niccolo AmmanitiThe hottest summer of the twentieth century. A tiny community of five houses in the middle of rural Italy. When the adults are sheltering indoors, six children venture out on their bikes across the scorched, deserted countryside. While exploring a dilapidated and uninhabited farmhouse, nine-year-old Michele Amitrano discovers a secret so momentous, so terrible, that he dare not tell anyone about it. To come to terms with what he has found, Michele has to draw strength from his own sense of humanity. The reader witnesses a dual story: the one that is seen through Michele’s eyes, and the tragedy involving the adults of this isolated hamlet. In this unforgiving landscape, dominated by the contrast between dazzling sunlight and the blackness of night, Ammaniti skillfully blends comedy, the world of children and their language, the strength of friendship, and the drama of betrayal. The result is an immensely lyrical and deftly narrated novel, a compelling portrait of losing one’s innocence and a powerful reflection on the complexities and compromises inherent in growing up. I’m Not Scared is the winnter of the 2001 Viareggio-Repaci Prize for Fiction and has already been sold in twenty languages.

I’m Not Scared takes place in 1978 during a recordbreaking heatwave in Italy. Michele and his friends while away the hours outside, playing games and taunting each other; the village children are free to get into more mischief as the adults are unable to tolerate the heat and prefer to stay indoors. One day, in an attempt to navigate the cruel politics of childhood, Michele is dared to enter a ramshackle, dilapidated house; naturally, refusal is not an option. As his friends wait outside, Michele explores the house and finds a boy trapped in a hole. Michele does not tell his friends of his discovery and vows to keep his silence as well as stay away from the creepy house. His curiosity gets the better of him, however, and he returns to the boy, determined to figure out how and why the boy came to be in the hole. Unfortunately, the boy won’t tell Michele his name and appears to be under the impression that he is already dead. Despite the extreme heat and the difficulty of the journey (the house is located up in the hills, a monumental journey for a nine-year-old), Michele visits the boy repeatedly; he begins to feel a persistent foreboding that the adults in his life are trying to hide something. His suspicions are confirmed when he hears the adults – his parents, his friends’ parents, and a mysterious, old man from Rome – arguing one night; the source of the ruckus is a news segment on television, wherein a beautiful, wealthy woman pleads for her son, Filippo, to be returned safely by the men who had kidnapped him.

Not much else can be revealed about I’m Not Scared without completely detailing the plot. However, that may give the impression that the novel is more intricate than it is; though there are quite a few twists and turns, they progress exactly as expected, which is what makes this read disappointing.

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The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Synopsis from book flap, courtesy of Amazon.com:

Storytelling in the grand manner, The Secret History is a debut remarkable for its hypnotic erudition and acute psychological suspense, and for the richness of its emotions, ideas, and language.

There are the confessions, years afterward, of a young man who found at a small college the life of privilege and intellect he’d long coveted – and rarely has the glorious experience of youth infatuated with knowledge and with itself been so achingly realized. Then, amazed, Richard Papen is drawn into the ultimate inner circle: five students, worldly and self-assured, selected by a charismatic classics professor to participate in the search for truth and beauty. Together they study the mysteries of ancient Greek culture and spend long weekends at an old country house, reading, boating, basking in an Indian summer that stretches late into autumn.

Mesmerized by his new comrades, Richard is unaware of the crime which they have committed in his dreamy, unwitting presence. But once taken into their confidence, he and the others slowly and inevitably begin to believe in the necessity of murdering the one classmate and friend who might betray their secret and their future.

Hugely ambitious and compulsively readable, this is a chronicle of deception and complicity, of Dionysian abandon, of innocence corrupted by self-love and moral arrogance; and, finally, it is a story of guilt and responsibility. An astonishing achievement by any standard, The Secret History immediately establishes Donna Tartt as a supremely gifted novelist.

Nothing will make a book more unpalatable or pretentious (and, in some cases, intimidating) than calling it a thinking person’s book. But this, essentially, is what The Secret History is, although it is also many other things as well: a comedy of manners, a tragedy, a psychological thriller, a romance (although not in the bodice-ripping sense); that’s not to say that it’s not pretentious because it is.

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House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

Synopsis from book flap, courtesy of Amazon.com:

Years ago, when House of Leaves was first being passed around, it was nothing more than a badly bundled heap of paper, parts of which would occasionally surface on the Internet. No one could have anticipated the small but devoted following this terrifying story would soon command. Starting with an odd assortment of marginalized youth — musicians, tattoo artists, programmers, strippers, environmentalists, and adrenaline junkies — the book eventually made its way into the hands of older generations, who not only found themselves in those strangely arranged pages but also discovered a way back into the lives of their estranged children.

Now, for the first time, this astonishing novel is made available in book form, complete with the original colored words, vertical footnotes, and newly added second and third appendices.

The story remains unchanged, focusing on a young family that moves into a small home on Ash Tree Lane where they discover something is terribly wrong: their house is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.

Of course, neither Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Will Navidson nor his companion Karen Green was prepared to face the consequences of that impossibility, until the day their two little children wandered off and their voices eerily began to return another story — of creature darkness, of an ever-growing abyss behind a closet door, and of that unholy growl which soon enough would tear through their walls and consume all their dreams.

The verdict:

House of Leaves was alternately impressive, infuriating, and rewarding.
In short, it was fucking phenomenal.

I was initially reticent to pick up the book; the comparisons to Chuck Palahniuk turned me off, as i find Palahniuk to be the Dan Brown of would-be edgy, post-modern literature. (Sorry if that offends.) I figured that if this was just going to be Palahniuk, part deux, it would not be worth my time.

Having read House of Leaves, I can understand the basis of the comparisons between the two writers. While Chuck Palahniuk treats his characters with contempt and reeks of judgmental grandstanding, Mark Danielewski’s writing has none of the moral superiority and shock value stylings that makes me grit my teeth (and that made Chuck Palahniuk famous).

But I digress.

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Filed under Debuts, Postmodern Literature, Speculative Fiction