Ghostland by Edward Parnell
‘Ghostland’ is a non-fiction work that, much like its ethereal subject, defies easy categorisation. Parnell displays a formidable knowledge in exploring the history of our haunted shores, frequenting and documenting the moors, cemeteries, and woodlands across the British Isles and how these places have influenced literature and cinema over the years.
Running throughout ‘Ghostland’ is another, more personal and heart-wrenching story, as one by one his family succumbs to illness. Our author is haunted too but without those memories, life would be empty. In a way, we need to be haunted: the alternative is nothingness. The evocative, beautiful writing envelopes the reader, his eloquent descriptions act as a collection of vines placing the reader in the countryside. It is a meditation on grief, finality, and loss as much as anything else, exploring the transient nature of life, and of what we leave behind.
Through pagan rituals and long-held myths, Parnell studies the history of the landscape, and how it has influenced and shaped history. ‘Ghostland’ is a moving, elegiac read of lingering melancholia that will stay with you…perhaps even haunt you. This is an excursion across a haunted Britain, but the analysis of and study into psychogeography may leave you wondering if it isn’t so much the place that is haunted, but the self.
Dark Matter by Michelle Paver
Thanks to its unique location, Michelle Paver’s ‘Dark Matter’ gets a green tick even before the first chapter opens. Not many ghost stories go this far north, nor do they travel to such remote, extreme landscapes like the Arctic. Told through diary entries, our protagonist Jack is desperate to turn over a new leaf and start life afresh. When he’s asked to become the wireless operator on an expedition to the Arctic, he finds it a perfect opportunity to leave his poverty and loneliness behind in favour of five men and eight huskies.
Taking place in 1937, Dark Matter transports the reader to Gruhuken, a stark, foreboding, and desolate bay. The ship leaves Norway and heads through the Barents Sea on its way to the freezing climate of Gruhuken, which holds secrets of its own.
The midnight sun helps to give the book an off-colour feel where normalcy begins to purple like a bruise. Enthusiasm is slowly diluted and drained. Replacing it is a fear of the night, thanks to a series of incidents and unexplained encounters with a shadowy figure. In this remote land, Jack’s loneliness festers.
Running along the cold, icy shoreline, something is stalking the bay. As his team are forced to leave, dwindling until only Jack remains, he is forced into a confrontation with the lurking, sinister presence. The unique setting leaves the reader gasping in awe and wonder at the beauty of the Arctic, as well as shivering in the exposure to sub-zero temperatures. Bereft of the friendship he was looking for, menace builds as the reader discovers the truth behind Gruhuken. Dark Matter is a well-written, immersive novel, capable of producing a shiver or two even when the sun is shining.
Dark Matter by Michelle Paver is available in hardcopy.
Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker
A book to uplift you and give you courage for the future. Stephen Pinker takes us on an exciting journey through the history of human societies and their development. He also writes clearly and persuasively on issues facing humanity today, showing the reader how much progress humanity has made and why we should have hope for future progress. This includes well presented data graphs to back up his arguments. A book to provoke thought and discussion.
Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Daisy Jones & The Six’ follows a fictional rock band from the 70’s. Told through interviews and transcripts with the band, this book cranks the volume to eleven as it looks back on their many experiences as a band and what their rise to stardom was like, as well as what happened after that.
Glamourous hairstyles and utopic, psychedelic music concealed issues of drugs, addiction, and emotional trauma, and the behind-the-scenes insights are refreshing to read. Discussed by band mates, managers, friends, and those on the fringes of the band, the different narratives weave contradictory webs of what really happened back in the day.
Daisy and Billy are the lead vocalists, two characters struggling with their own personal demons and emotional baggage, and the ripple effect of their two massive personalities (and egos) and how it affects everyone else involved with the band is well-realized. Music unites people, and it takes the group on a dazzling journey, but it can also create dissonance between friends.
The rock & roll era is often sensationalised, but the music scene of the 70’s is revived in this book. It explores the tragedy within human relationships and what it takes to form and maintain a creative group, and the magic of music when artists are all in harmony and playing in perfect time.
Pressures and stresses are never far away from the music, and the different dynamics between the musicians makes things interesting. Something can be perfect one day and become toxic the next. ‘Daisy Jones & The Six’ strikes a chiming chord and has gained something of a cult following. This novel relives the glory days, as well as what happens when the music stops playing.
The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien
As well as being the precursor to ‘The Lord of the Rings’, ‘The Hobbit’ is a fantastic story and a great introduction to Tolkien’s world of Middle Earth. Bilbo Baggins is a hobbit living a peaceful life in his beautiful hobbit-hole at Bag End, in a rural community known as Hobbiton. One day, Gandalf knocks on his door along with a troop of dwarves and Bilbo’s life will never be the same again. The dwarves are looking for help. Their treasure has been taken by a fierce dragon, and they want to reclaim their ancestral home and their gold.
Understandably, Bilbo is quite apprehensive about the whole going-on-an-adventure thing. He loves his well-cooked meals and cosy underground home. To be honest, he’d rather stay right there, sitting in his chair and warming his furry feet by the fire instead of risking his life and burglarising a fire-breathing dragon. But Bilbo has a you-only-live-once moment and decides to go on the adventure, after all (and, with luck, make it back in time for tea). Bilbo goes from reluctance and not believing in himself to a determined hero.
This book is more accessible than ‘The Lord of the Rings’. It’s smaller and delivers plenty of danger, humour, strong characters, and a timeless adventure. Songs and poetry help to flesh out Tolkien’s worldbuilding, and readers will encounter elves, orcs, trolls, goblins, and a small, slimy creature who lives in an underground lake beside the Misty Mountains and the obligatory dragon, too. This is an incredible quest for children and adults alike. Originally published in 1937 and still going strong, ‘The Hobbit’ is a nostalgic read and a classic in children’s literature.