Highlights in the Charts
Dracula by Bram Stoker
Review by Arabella Petts
If, like me, you’re trying to hold on to spooky season for as long as possible until it can be officially declared Christmas, the classic novel Dracula by Bram Stoker is a great transitional read. Although originally written in 1897, it has been climbing back up the bestsellers charts recently – and for good reason.
It begins with Jonathan Harker’s journey through Transylvania to stay at the castle of an aristocrat, Count Dracula, even though he has been warned by locals not to visit. The story progresses through letters, diary entries and newspaper articles, allowing the reader to become part of the story as though they themselves are visiting the Count. As it moves on, we meet more characters and see how each of them become ensnared in Count Dracula’s life.
The book features several details and plot points which may be unfamiliar to those who only know of the modern retellings of the story, allowing them to experience the best of both worlds and (hopefully) be surprised by some of the eerie plot twists.
It also touches on several themes including madness, xenophobia and seduction to name a few. Regardless of it not being a current book, some of the themes are so prevalent to modern day that it’s easy to find some of yourself within the pages.
Although Carmilla is classed as the first vampire novel, when you read Dracula you’ll be able to tell why this had such an impact. Reading it and spotting the differences from the modern perception makes it all the more worthwhile, especially when you can see how it paved the way for so many future vampire novels and television programmes and how it helped to shape the horror genre as a whole. Any fans of Twilight, Young Dracula and What We Do in the Shadows; this one’s for you.
Dracula is one of the first and one of the best vampire novels, paving the way for so many of our childhood favourites, so no matter what you think about classic novels, promise me you’ll try this one.
Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan
Review by Jenna Tomlinson
Claire Keegan's latest novel, Small Things Like These, has won the Orwell prize for political fiction and been longlisted for the Booker Prize. Both huge accolades for a novel that is only seventy-three pages long.
But my god, does Keegan pack a punch in those seventy-three pages. Weaving the ordinary with the uncomfortable, Keegan's imagery of 1980s Ireland sets the daily life of family man Bill Furlong against the political backdrop of an Ireland in the midst of grappling with change. A pivotal time for the country, 1985 saw the first time people in the country could buy condoms without prescriptions; but the country was also still housing the infamously cruel Magdalene Laundries and displaying a stigma towards unwed mothers and their children.
Born to an unwed mother, our protagonist Bill Furlong has had an uneasy start in life, albeit one which could have been much harsher. Taking pity on his mother, her employer (a local widowed Protestant woman) allowed Bill's mother to not only keep her employment, but also provided a home for her and baby Bill. However, outside this home, Bill was still subjected to the harsh discrimination of a community prejudiced against unwed mothers – he recounts one time he returned home with the back of his jacket covered in spit.
We learn how Bill, with the help of his mother's caring and generous employer, has carved a life for himself. Now married with five daughters, Bill works delivering coal and timber and is a contented member of the community. Working to provide a safe, stable home and future for his wife and children, all is well for Bill until he becomes accidentally aware of a local Magdalene Laundry at the convent he provides coal to.
As you would imagine from a novel entitled Small Things Like These, Keegan's book doesn't jolt you with huge revelations and shocking twists. Instead, it is about the regular, almost mundane plodding of time and activities that make up a life and how those 'small things' can change your perspective or insight, without drastically affecting everything you know. When Bill finds one girl locked in a coal shed at the laundry, he isn't overcome with some heroic saviour's notion, but it does play on his mind and we see how his life is displaced by the unsettled feeling he has after the experience. Those around him advise him to leave well enough alone, that it isn’t his place, but Bill also considers that his own mother could have been one of those Magdalene girls. The reader spends the remainder of the novel tensely anticipating what Bill will do with this knowledge and the impact on his family when he decides.
Keegan's novel is beautifully paced. Short but immensely deep, reading it felt both like it had raced by and also shrouded me in a calm storm. I'm looking forward to reading more from her.