THE UPSTAIRS ROOM: A GHOST STORY BOOK REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

upstairs room

THE UPSTAIRS ROOM. A NOVEL BY KATE MURRAY-BROWNE. PUBLISHED IN 2017 BY PICADOR, AN IMPRINT OF PAN MACMILLAN.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This is the first novel of a woman who worked in publishing for years before moving into freelance editing. She’s also a visual artist who shows her work in galleries. This ‘haunted house’ novel is exactly the kind of book I’d love to have written myself or would hope to write in the future. It kept me literally spellbound from beginning to end, and you honestly can’t hope for better than that.

Eleanor and Richard are a posh English couple in their thirties who have just moved into a new house in a nice area of London. When I say posh, I mean they’re the kind of folks who hold dinner parties for their posh friends and put the foetus’s name down for a fancy school place the minute Dad shouts, ‘I’m gonna come now, honey, okay…?!’ And when I say new house, I mean it’s new to them, but it’s an existing Victorian era house with a history all of its own…

Eleanor and Richard have been sweethearts since University and, though they won’t admit it to each other, they’re a teensy bit bored with married life, with themselves, each other and maybe even with being parents to two little girls, called Rosie and Isobel. Kids are a huge responsibility, after all.

It happens. I mean, one day you wake up married and you realise that that fact prohibits you from having sex with anyone new, ever again. You also realise that the face that’s seated opposite you at the breakfast table is the face that you’ll see opposite you at the breakfast table every day for the rest of your life, unless you break up with the person, which involves a lot of legal arse and division of property and custody battles and such-like, and that’s a really heavy scene, man.

They’re not happy with their respective careers, either. Eleanor works four days a week at a publishing house and takes one day a week to spend with her kids. Richard has also gone part-time from his job because he hopes to do a Master’s degree, upstairs in the study he’s created for himself at the top of the new house. Oh, the literary and deliciously creative things he’s hoping to achieve in those few blissfully free hours every week! Sitting for hours on end staring dissatisfied at a blank screen is certainly not one of them…

To help with the mortgage- they’ll need it if they keep taking all that time off work, lol- they’ve taken a lodger in to their basement room, a girl called Zoe who works in an art shop but who suffers from the same degree of career angst as her two landlords. She gave up an admin job in a charity to work in the art shop because it felt like a creative thing to do.

She has a vague idea that she wants to be a writer, but she never actually writes anything. Instead, she has lots of great innovative sex with Adam, an artist who is living Zoe’s dream, living and working in one of those converted warehousey loft spaces with a group of other artists. Unfortunately, you don’t get paid for having sex. Well, unless you’re, ahem, you know…

Adam’s cheating on Kathryn, his long-distance artistic girlfriend, to have sex with Zoe, but Zoe’s sure she has it all sussed. They’ll have all the brilliant sex in the world, have a great time together in other ways too and, if they’re ever so grown-up about it, no-one need ever get hurt and Kathryn need ever find out. Good luck with that, guys…!

In the meantime, Eleanor has discovered that her house makes her sick. Literally. The longer she spends cooped up in it, the worse she feels and the doctors can’t seem to put a medical diagnosis on it. It’s having a bad effect on her children too, it seems. Rosie has started to bite her Mummy, like, really sink her fangs into Eleanor and hurt her. All kids bite, honey, Richard maintains, and maybe, yes, they do, but not necessarily with such severity and deliberate intent to hurt.

Poor Eleanor doesn’t have a clue what to do about it all. She gets no support from Richard, who really, really needs to believe that their house is not haunted and making Eleanor ill because, if it is, they’ll have to move again, and they can’t afford to, as they’ve sunk everything they’ve got into The New House. They don’t currently even have the money to do the house up as they’d like, so as for moving, forget it!

The unhealthiness in the house seems to stem from the titular ‘upstairs room,’ up on the top floor of the house next door to Richard’s study. It’s an empty room that used to belong to a little girl called Emily, who has scribbled her name- among other things- all over the room.

When you try to enter the room, you encounter resistance. Sometimes you can hear noises and footsteps coming from the empty top floor. Who’s up there, in the silence and the gloom? Is it Emily? Is she alive or dead?

If dead, did she die in the house, and was it a violent death? Has she come back to seek revenge against her killers, or is she just a mischievous poltergeist, messing with the family’s heads because it’s fun, and you don’t get too much of that in the afterlife?

Who is the little girl dressed in black whom Eleanor sometimes sees standing across from the house, looking intently up at it? Is she real, or just a figment of poor exhausted Eleanor’s imagination? Rosie has a new ‘imaginary friend,’ whom she calls Girl or Little Girl. We all know what that means, don’t we, in a haunted house book or film…?

Zoe feels it too, the unhealthy miasma seeping down from the upstairs room. She starts sleepwalking upstairs to the room, waking up cold, frightened and disorientated, and she has night terrors and dreams in which a little girl is in the bedroom with her, looking down at her in the bed. She can’t do a thing about it, though, because she now suffers, for the first time ever in her life, from the very creepy sleep paralysis.

Zoe has a real intruder to contend with too, if she only knew about it, but she doesn’t. Someone very real- and corporeal- has been coming into her basement flat when she’s out to sniff her discarded knickers and poke about in her things, because they- the intruder- are jealous of Zoe’s seemingly bohemian, creative and artistic lifestyle, the one they themselves would have wished for but didn’t quite manage to attain. When a desperate Eleanor arranges an exorcism for the house, will Zoe support her, or quite rightfully flee in terror…?

I just loved the book, and the ending too. It’s the kind of book, like Shirley Jackson’s acclaimed THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE, where less is more, the haunting is very subtle and your imagination fills in any blanks. I love that in a book and hope to write one like it myself some day, when the gruesome inspiration finally strikes, lol. Read this one if you can. It’s a proper little belter.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor

 

THE LANDLADY BY CONSTANCE RAUCH. (1975) A BOOK REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

landlady uk

THE LANDLADY BY CONSTANCE RAUCH. (1975) PUBLISHED BY FUTURA PUBLICATIONS LIMITED. BOOK REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This is a little paperback book I found in a charity shop the other day. The gems I’ve found in places like that over the years! Just recently, in a box of free-to-take-away old books, I’ve discovered paperback copies of JAWS, PSYCHO 2, THE EXORCIST and ROSEMARY’S BABY. Not bad at all for a free box!

THE LANDLADY, with a distinct BURNT OFFERINGS feel to it, is in a similar vein to these ’70s paperbacks I’ve mentioned. On the cover, it’s referred to as ‘A mind-wrenching tale of malevolent horror.’

There’s a circle cut out of the title page through which you can see a woman’s face, then when you open it up you see that the face belongs to an old-fashioned doll with ‘Twenties make-up, a torn white dress and a grotesquely cracked bare left breast. So far so good, eh?

 It concerns a young married couple called Sam and Jessica Porter and their two-year-old daughter Patience. They move into a gorgeous big old house in upstate New York that has a fabulous view of the mighty Hudson river. Unfortunately, the house isn’t theirs; they’re only renting from a Mrs. Frederick Falconer, the titular ‘landlady.’

The house is so big that it straddles two streets and has two entrances and even two addresses. Mrs. Falconer lives on the Maynard Hill side, and her new tenants, the Porters, occupy the Granite Terrace end that faces the Hudson.

A door in the middle of the house, referred to as the side door, connects the two houses from the inside, but Mrs. Falconer makes it clear she doesn’t want her tenants using this door to come into her part of the house and, to be honest, the Porters don’t much like the idea of their pushy, frequently stroppy landlady waltzing willy-nilly into their side whenever the fancy takes her, either.

Not that she waltzes, you understand. She’s a heavy-set old dear pushing eighty, who walks with a big heavy cane that makes clumping noises overhead as she moves around upstairs.

She has disturbing mood swings; sweet as pie one minute, then screaming blue murder the next. She’s intrusive, nosey and judgemental and feels free to criticise Jessica’s parenting, which outrages Jessica, and she never knows (or cares) when she’s outstayed her welcome downstairs at the Porters.’

Worst of all, Jessica’s new friend from the area, Mary Smith (the Porters still keep in touch with their old eclectic group of friends), tells Jess that tenants who rent the Falconer place don’t tend to stay there long, and they don’t tend to leave with their marriages intact, either.

Mrs. Falconer has a strange, but unerring, habit of coming between couples and pouring poison into the cup of their marital bliss. The locals, in other words, don’t have anything good to say about the widowed Mrs. Falconer.

A word about Sam and Jess as a couple. Sam is thirty-three and can’t settle to anything since he gave up acting as a bad lot. He currently works in building maintenance with a French chap called Pierre Villard, but he’s failing at this enterprise now too and Pierre wants shut of him. Friendship and business don’t mix well, but Sam makes big errors of judgement that usually result in he, Jess and Patience having to up-sticks and move to a new place.

There’s not much stability in this for Jess and her child. You get the impression that the clever, intellectual and well-educated Jess might be better off striking out on her own with Patience, rather than waiting around for Sam to find his ‘dream job’ and finally be happy and settled. (It’s never gonna happen…!)

Sam seems to love his wife and child but he’s absent, either working or drinking heavily, for most of the scary incidents in the book, and I see him as a deadbeat father and a neglectful, selfish husband, thinking of only his own needs and rarely of his family’s.

Twenty-four-year old Jess, on the other hand, is devoted to her family. She’s devastated when, one night not long after they move in, the bright and curious little Patience has an horrific screaming fit in her cot and, afterwards, when she’s calmed down, she seems to have regressed back into being a baby rather than a toilet-trained and sociable toddler.

The discovery of a smoked cigar butt and a hideous female sex doll, covered in slime, in and around the baby’s cot, leads Jess to the horrible realisation that there must have been an intruder in her precious baby’s room, an intruder who possibly committed a heinous sex act near, or even with, the baby. What the hell is she going to do?

Sam is no help, as he’s running around trying to pin down an elusive acting job with the help of an old flame (grrrrr…!) while Jess is trying to cope with everything on her own. Patience’s mental state –– and future mental stability and well-being –– are at stake here and Jess is worried sick about her.

And there’s also the disturbing notion of the intruder coming back to finish what he started with Patience. If he got in once he can get in again, especially… especially if he’s coming from inside the house…

There’s also the murder of local clerk Nora Kelly in the mix, the murder that occurs just as Sam and Jess move into the Falconer place, and the fact that old Mrs. Falconer seems to have an extreme allergy to the police calling to the gaff. What exactly is the old dear trying to hide, upstairs in the Maynard Hill side of the house…?

I guessed the twist just before it came but it was still a great twist. I really enjoyed the book as a whole. It’s the kind of short horror book that used to come out in the ’70s with some regularity, but they don’t seem to make ’em like that any more. Ah well. Thank heaven for the charity shops…!

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor

BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ. (1928) A BOOK REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

berlin mieze franz

BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ. (1928) A NOVEL BY ALFRED DŐBLIN.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘There is a mower death yclept.’

This book is considered to be the magnum opus-slash-masterpiece of Alfred Dőblin’s. Dőblin was a German writer and doctor who, having come from Jewish stock and with, understandably, plenty of reasons to be apprehensive, fled Germany in 1933 when the Nazis came to power, only returning in 1945 when the war was over.

His great work BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ was made into a fifteen-hour movie by iconic director Rainer Werner Fassbinder, who was a huge fan of the book. This epic piece of cinema originally aired as a German miniseries on German television in 1980. I bet it absolutely smashed all the TV ratings for that year.

Clocking in at a spectacular nine-hundred minutes, it watches like a mini-series, divided up into digestible blocks of one hour approximately, with credits coming at the start and finish. So you needn’t fret that you don’t have the time to watch a fifteen-hour movie. If you prefer, of course, you could just read the book…!

I won’t deny that it’s a tough read. I found it rough going at times and I really had to push myself to keep at it. Dőblin’s style of writing in it, with long passages of what feels like stream-of-consciousness and the way you frequently can’t tell who’s saying what as he doesn’t differentiate between the quotations, has been compared to James Joyce’s in ULYSSES. I’m so glad I persevered with it though. Perseverance brings its own rewards.

It’s the story of Franz Biberkopf, a working-class man who, when we meet him first, is just being released from Tegel prison after a four-year stretch for manslaughter. He has battered his live-in girlfriend to death with a kitchen implement (that’s not as humorous as it sounds…!), thinking that she was about to leave him.

Now he’s done his time and you’d think he’d be glad to be free, but poor Franz is disorientated, discombobulated and generally all of a flutter to be at liberty once more to come and go as he pleases.

I say ‘poor Franz’ because he’s such a likeable character from the start. He’s an Everyman, as it were, an ordinary working stiff who’s had a bit of bad luck, you might say. I’d say it was very bad luck for the woman he killed, but how-and-ever…!

His first experiences as a free man are worthy of note. A ginger-haired and ginger-bearded Jewish man who helps him up when he falls down in the street tries to tell him a story, some sort of parable maybe, and Franz later refers to this man and his Jewish companions as friends of his.

In only a very few years time, of course, Hitler will have come to power and Jewish people such as this man will find their rights to walk freely on the public streets severely curtailed. For now, however, the bewildered Franz is probably just grateful for the human contact, for the chance to ‘ground’ himself once more on the Jewish guys’ sitting-room floor.

Shortly after getting out of Tegel, Franz goes to visit a middle-aged but still attractive blonde woman called Minna whom he knows from before. Once he’s established that she’s alone in her apartment, he rapes her and gives her a black eye and some finger-marks around her throat as well, for good measure. This is how Franz likes his sex, by the way, rough and ready.

We see that Franz later compensates her for the rape by bringing her some aprons to replace the one he apparently messed up. We also discover that this woman, Minna, is the- probably older- sister of the poor unfortunate Ida. The women of that family have surely been sorely wronged by Franz Biberkopf.

So much, anyway, for his fervent promises to only ‘go straight’ from now on. Of course, in his mind, that probably just means going straight in a business sense. It clearly doesn’t include sexual battery, which Franz may not even consider to be a crime at all.

Franz seems to find it ridiculously easy to pick up women. He’s not described as being particularly good-looking, but he’s big and burly, confident and obviously an alpha male type, to whom any broken or damaged women will flock like z-list ‘celebrities’ to the opening of an envelope.

Speaking of which, Franz quickly finds himself a live-in girlfriend in Lina, a nervous Polish woman who almost certainly has a troubled past and some kind of inner sadness. She regards herself as being in the Last Chance Saloon when it comes to bagging a man, and is pathetically grateful for Franz’s attentions. The relationship doesn’t last, however.

Before Lina exits stage left forever, though, she introduces Franz to a family friend called Otto Luders. Franz and Luders go into the business of selling shoelaces together door-to-door in the big old blocks of apartments near the titular Alexanderplatz.

It’s not a great job, obviously, that of door-to-door shoelace salesman, but good honest work in Germany at that time was hard to come by. The country was by then in the grip of a massive depression. The words ‘unemployment’ and ‘inflation’ are synonymous with the Germany of the day.

That’s one of the reasons Hitler and the Nazi party were able to grab power in 1933. They saw what was happening in the country and they promised the voters ‘Arbeit Und Brot,’ or work and bread, which was all that men like Franz were asking for.

By this stage, Hitler had already written his notorious book MEIN KAMPF and been released from Landsburg Prison for his part in the Beer Hall Putsch of 1923. Both the SA (Sturm Abteilung) and the SS (Schutz Staffeinel) had been formed by this stage and Joseph Goebbels already had responsibility for Propaganda within the growing Nazi Party. Within five short years, Hitler would be Chancellor of Germany and the rest, as they say, would be history.

Luders and Franz have a major falling-out, anyway, which leaves Franz shaken and down one business partnership. Then, out of the blue, the despondent Franz is offered a job by a man in a pub. Isn’t that the way it so often happens? The man in the pub is satisfied, for his part, that Franz is a ‘true German.’ ‘Germany for the Germans,’ after all, and none of your Commie Reds or Jews or any of that. Hmmm.

So, what exactly is this new job? Franz is now the latest street vendor, if you please, of the VOLKISCHE BEOBACHTER, a real-life anti-Semitic newspaper. It was the official newspaper of the NSDAP or Nazi party from 1920 until 1945. On his first day of work, Franz is presented with the armband he’s meant to wear while he’s working. On the armband is a swastika…

This job doesn’t last long. Franz is once more on the unemployment line with about half the men of Germany for company. He devotes his time to boozing and engaging in complicated affairs with women, who are irresistibly drawn to Franz’s big, strong rough-and-ready maleness. His ex-girlfriend Eva, with whom he still remains ‘friends with benefits’ and for whom he used to pimp, offers Franz sexual, financial and emotional support whenever it’s needed. It’s well for some.

When Franz finally comes out of the drunken stupor into which he falls after the Luders fiasco, he meets an ugly poisonous man in the pub (where else?) called Reinhold. Reinhold is a cowardly shit who persuades Franz to take first one, then another, of his own mistresses off his hands because he’s tired of them and doesn’t want the hassle of breaking up with them himself, if you can believe that.

Franz is happy to oblige and has many a happy hour getting the most out of the two comely enough exes, Franze and Cilly, before Cilly (Cilly by name and silly by nature, huh?) ends up back with the odious Reinhold. Well, she’s a grown woman. She can make her own decisions. And her own mistakes…

Another consequence of Franz’s ill-fated association with Reinhold costs him dearly. Reinhold is a gangster whose boss, Pums, takes a liking to Franz and involves him in a ‘job’ they’re pulling off. Franz isn’t much cop at being the gang’s ‘lookout’ and he loses his right arm when he’s pushed out of a moving car by Reinhold during the burglary they’re carrying out.

Franz, the big cheery ‘hail fellow well met’ character who always tries to bounce back when he’s down, makes jokes about his amputated arm but we get the impression he’s not as okay about the loss of it as he makes out. Well, how could he be?

He probably feels like half a man now, working at shit jobs like being a carousel barker (he’d be the guy who shouts ‘roll up, roll up!’ and gets people into/onto the attraction) that don’t require a man to have two arms. He spends a lot of time moping around his apartment with only his faithful prostitute-lover Eva and her boyfriend/john/ pimp Herbert for company.

And there’s always the booze. Franz and the booze go back a long way. Now he’s talking to it like it’s an old friend which, in a way, it is. Franz, no longer a young man and now he’s physically disabled to boot, is clearly lacking direction. 

He meets a sneaky little crook called Willy in the pub (that’s where he meets everyone!) and decides to join with him in his dirty little stolen goods business. Wanna buy a watch? You know the type of thing. Franz obviously feels it’s about all he’s able for at the moment, with just the one arm. Talk about a slippery slope, though.

Whatever happened to the oath he swore when he came out of prison to only ever go straight again? It looks like Franz feels like there’s not much point in keeping his oath anymore. Going straight is for schmucks, right? Guy never got rich going straight.

We know ourselves that there’s more to life than getting rich but maybe Franz is tired of being dirt-poor, one of those Between-The-Wars forgotten men. We don’t know anything much about Franz’s record in World War One but we do get to read about the hilarious moment when he decides to buy an Iron Cross replica to account to people for his missing arm, the cheeky liar…!

Franz is on the verge of another life-changing moment but he doesn’t know it yet. Eva thinks he needs a new woman to raise his spirits, among other things, lol. The resourceful Eva’s already found someone she deems suitable, although why she’s fixing Franz up with someone who might be a threat to herself, Eva, is a mystery to me.

Her gift to Franz is a beautiful, shy much younger woman called Sonia, whom Franz christens ‘Mieze.’ He falls for her immediately because of her looks and her sweet, gentle disposition. She falls for him too, though he’s at least twenty, twenty-five years older than her.

She’s clearly looking for a father figure- she even dresses like a little girl and talks like a little girl and wears little-girly pink ribbons in her hair- and there’s no need to analyse why an older man is attracted to a beautiful younger woman. They go for walks in the woods together and she buys him a canary. It’s love all right.

The money Mieze makes from working as a prostitute certainly comes in handy. She immediately accepts Franz as her new pimp. Why should Franz work when he has Mieze’s earnings? Why indeed? He’s a very liberal man when it comes to sharing his woman around. However, it would appear that even Franz Biberkopf has his limits.

Mieze is being paid for sex by a rich older man and Franz has no problem whatsoever with that because the money she makes goes to him. When Mieze is daft enough to admit her attraction towards the rich older man’s good-looking young nephew, however, Franz proves that he’s still a big man by beating the living daylights out of her with his one remaining hand and choking her half to death. Shades of Ida…

Mieze is spared Ida’s fate by the intervention of the odious Reinhold, who is suspiciously close at hand that very night. After the savage beating, Franz expresses guilt and shame- only verbally, mind you- and a loving Mieze forgives him immediately. She pours oil on the troubled waters and smooths everything over with her customary docility.

I personally think that she has deeply masochistic tendencies. She doesn’t react at all like you’d expect a battered woman to react after an assault. Instead, her beatific, almost martyr-like manner as she holds ‘her Franz’ to her again tells us a lot about Mieze, who’s even allowed Franz to change her name, a deeply personal thing about her, from Sonia to Mieze.

I think her behaviour tells us that she’s severely damaged after her upbringing and her life as a prostitute, which can’t all have been plain sailing and rich benefactors. I also think it tells us that she won’t live to see forty, the way she’s going. Will she die at Franz’s hands, a death I could swear she’d almost relish, or does the fickle finger of Fate have something else in mind for her? Let’s move swiftly on…

Franz who, by the way, bears no ill-will against Reinhold for the whole amputated arm thing, makes the mistake of formally introducing Mieze to his partners-in-crime, including Reinhold, down at the bar where they all hang out.

She has an instantaneous powerful effect on Franz’s old friend Meck, who thinks her beautiful, and also on Reinhold, whom she’s met once before but not formally, that is, when he was pulling her out from under Franz before Franz killed her the way he did Ida.

Meck and Reinhold both think that she’s much too good for Franz, and they’re each jealous that Franz has managed to pull such a pretty young thing who’s clearly devoted to him. The spiteful, if not downright evil, Reinhold is determined that he’ll get his mucky paws on the lovely Mieze’s body, and before too much more time has elapsed.

He sneakily orchestrates some alone time for himself and Mieze, all behind Franz’s back, of course. Why doesn’t he just ask Franz straight out if he can sleep with the girl for a few Deutschmarks? After all, Franz doesn’t mind pimping her out for a few quid.

Reinhold takes her to the Freienwalde, the forest in the gorgeous rural area where she is accustomed to sometimes walk with her beloved Franz. Poor silly Mieze’s fate is immediately sealed. What happens to her at Reinhold’s hands is sad, grubby and shockingly inevitable, given her profession, her damaged psyche and her vulnerability.

When Franz finds out, he goes temporarily insane and is taken to Buch Mental Hospital, where he is force-fed by doctors who are stumped by his insanity and intent on keeping him alive to face the hangman’s noose if it turns out that Franz is responsible for what happened to Mieze, as the police seem to think.

If only Franz had broken from the disgusting evil Reinhold, the snake in the grass who not only cost Franz his arm but who has now taken away from Franz, his so-called friend, the only precious thing Franz had left in his life.

If only Franz had had the strength to sever the unhealthy, unholy alliance between himself and the dangerous criminal Reinhold. Will he ever see that Reinhold has feet of clay and is perhaps the worst thing that’s ever happened to him? Reinhold, Pums, the whole gang, it’s all poisonous and polluted. It was a bad day for Franz Biberkopf when he fell in with them.

Will the odious Reinhold ever pay for his crimes? And can Franz ever rise again after this latest body-blow sees him come face-to-face with Death Himself? Well, that, folks, is the sixty-four-million dollar question. Read Dőblin’s wonderful masterpiece of the Weimar Republic for yourself and find out.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor

FRIEND REQUEST. (2017) A BOOK REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

friend request

FRIEND REQUEST BY LAURA MARSHALL. (2017) PUBLISHED BY SPHERE.

BOOK REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

For a long time there, way back in the mid-Noughties, I read nothing but thrillers. I devoured the writings of Patricia Cornwell with her heroine Kay Scarpetta, and also the works of Karin Slaughter, Lisa Gardner, Nicci French and Sophie Hannah, all women because man thrillers are booooooring, lol. I stopped reading them then for a while, going back to my beloved chick-lit and historical biographies. Everything comes in cycles, phases.

Now, FRIEND REQUEST by Laura Marshall, her debut novel as it happens, has persuaded me to dip my dainty hoof back in the thriller-pool once more. The title drew me first and foremost. FRIEND REQUEST? Like the movie UNFRIENDED, it was clearly a novel about Facebook. I bloody love Facebook, even if I don’t get to spend as much time on it as I’d like, ie, twenty-four-seven.

It’s one of those ‘I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER’-type scenarios, where an adult female is plagued by the memory of what she and another friend did to a girl in school a quarter of a century before, and then the memory becomes so much more than just a memory when it appears like she’s being stalked by the actual girl they bullied.

Which would be bad enough, I suppose, to have your past come back and bite you in the ass like that, but when the girl you tormented is supposed to have died all those years ago, well then, it’s suddenly a much more frightening situation. Here’s the deal.

Louise is a single mum in her early forties. Living in London, divorced from Sam whom she’s known from her school days and slaving away at her own interior decorating business, her main aim in life is to be a good mum to her and Sam’s four-year-old son, Henry. But Louise is not exactly happy in herself even though, to an outsider, she might appear to be.

Something that happened at her school-leaving party twenty-five years ago has positively haunted Louise ever since. It involves another girl, a girl called Maria Weston, who died that night and has, presumably, been as dead as a doornail ever since. As is usually the case with death, as I’m sure you’ll agree. However, Maria may not be as dead as she’s appeared to be for all these years…

One day Louise, a Facebook addict because Facebook is understandably an important social outlet for women with children and/or busy careers, receives a friend request from a Maria Weston. The Maria Weston? How can it be? Maria’s been dead since the night of the Leavers’ party. Hasn’t she?

Then an invitation arrives on Facebook for Louise, an invitation to a school reunion for the Class of ’89. That’s the year Louise left school and Maria left this life, supposedly.

Terribly nervous but unwilling to stay away, either from the reunion or from her murky past (a bit like probing incessantly with your tongue at a loose tooth), Louise makes contact through Facebook with the glamorous, flirtatious Sophie, her bitchy ‘best friend’ from those long-ago school days.

Sophie knows what Louise did to Maria, because Sophie did it too. They’re both to blame, both in it up to their tonsils. Both women are going to attend the reunion. And so is someone else. Someone else who knows that what happened to Maria Weston couldn’t have been ‘just an accident’ and who is determined to make the guilty parties suffer as Maria must surely have suffered before she died.

Louise and Sophie haven’t a clue how close they’re sailing to the wind. Will either of them survive the ‘reunion’ of the Class of ’89 and- just a thought- who exactly organised this reunion, anyway? How come it’s a woman that Louise has never heard of, a woman she knows for a fact was never in school with the rest of them…?

I just loved this book, although Louise was such a frustrating character. She tells so many lies to disguise her part in what happened at the Leavers’ party that she’d need a full-time secretary to keep track of ’em.

If she just once told the bloody truth, the awful guilt and misery of the last twenty-five years could have been alleviated somewhat but oh no, why tell the truth when you can complicate things with a series of lies, each more convoluted and baffling than the last? Well, you know what they say. ‘O what a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to deceive…’

I loved the character of Esther, the girl who was a social outcast at school but who now has surpassed all of her school bullies and left ’em far behind with her handsome hubby, brilliant legal career and presumably better-looking, smarter nicer children, heh-heh-heh.

She can quite justifiably raise the middle finger of her right hand at her school bullies now and say, whatcha think of me now, bitches, am I hot or what? I hated Polly because she reminds me of a woman I know whom I can’t stand.

The book really captures the supreme bitchiness and sheer nastiness of teenage girls in school. It’s no wonder some girls are driven to contemplate suicide. The way the plainer or dumpier or swottier girls are treated by the so-called ‘popular’ girls is so cruelly insidious that it can make a girl feel like she’s not fit to live. Anyone who’s in any way different can come in for ostracising, exclusion, teasing, little- or not so little- jibes, body-shaming or fashion-shaming, name-calling, the whole works.

It’s so wrong, especially as half the time all that ‘popular’ means is quite simply skank, anyway. Will drop knickers in exchange for the class ring of the captain of the football team and so forth. Giant sluts, in other words. Screw ’em. They totally aren’t worth your time and effort.

This is the only kind of thriller I will read from now on. Written by a woman about women, plenty of human interest and just the right amount of technology in the form of social media, not technology-heavy like the boring man-thrillers I mentioned earlier. I’m glad I took a chance on FRIEND REQUEST. 

If Laura Marshall in the future writes a series of detective novels featuring a detective with a ridiculous name (Cormoran Strike, what’s that about, JK Rowling?) who has to solve ever more bizarrely convoluted crimes, I shall bow out gracefully, but FRIEND REQUEST hits exactly the right spot. I can read thrillers again, now that they’ve been made accessible by this kind lady scribe.

Laura Marshall is a very good writer, by the way. The plot is paced just right with all the twists and turns coming at pretty much exactly the right time. I’m guessing that she’s a big Alfred Hitchcock fan, as I am myself, and the only thing I was disappointed by in the book was the fact that more wasn’t made of the upstairs neighbour, Marnie.

At one point, after she went mysteriously quiet, I was convinced that Marnie had been killed or otherwise removed and that someone else- a very menacing someone else- had taken her place as the occupant of the upstairs flat. Ah well. You can’t win ’em all.

Laura Marshall’s writing is easy to read and effortlessly faultless in grammar and sentence structure. She even uses the words ‘nascent’ and ‘opprobrium’ in their correct context, which annoyed me no end, lol. Huh. Uppity writer.

Who does she think she is, anyway, with her big words and her fancy plot-lines and her keen insight into the bitching that goes on between teenage girls and the strict hierarchical structure that sees the rich pretty girls, the skanks and the whores all jostling for position at the top of the ladder while the fatties, the swots and the goths occupy the lowest rung? You know what? I think I’ll send Miss High-and-Mighty Laura Marshall a friend request…

THREE LITTLE LIES by Laura Marshall is out now.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor

FRAGMENTS OF ISABELLA: A MEMOIR OF AUSCHWITZ. (1978) A BOOK REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

isabella book

FRAGMENTS OF ISABELLA: A MEMOIR OF AUSCHWITZ BY ISABELLA LEITNER. (1978) THIS NEW EDITION PUBLISHED BY OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.

BOOK REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This is a gorgeous little book. I thoroughly enjoyed it, if anyone can ever be said to have ‘enjoyed’ a book about the Holocaust and the tragic events contained therein. I read it in one sitting on the day I purchased it. The book itself had a lovely velvety feel to it, a texture I can never quite resist in a book. I buy some books just because I love the shape, the feel or the smell of them. I’m totally a book nut, lol.

It’s quite short, this FRAGMENTS OF ISABELLA, just a manageable one-hundred-and-twenty-seven pages in total and, in fact, it was named on publication as an AMERICAN LIBRARY ASSOCIATION BEST BOOK FOR YOUNG ADULTS.

I didn’t realise as I was reading it that it might be a book for Young Adults. I read it for what it is, a very moving, simply written but devastatingly telling account of Isabella Leitner’s- and her family’s- experience of the Holocaust.

Isabella (Leitner was her married name) was a beautiful young Jewish-Hungarian woman who was deported from the ghetto to Auschwitz on the morning of her twenty-third birthday. A cruelty indeed on the part of Fate- and the Nazis- but then, Isabella herself would probably say that every day is someone’s birthday and that all deportations were cruel. And of course she’d be right on both counts.

It’s so sad when she talks about how the non-Jewish population of Kisvarda, the small town in Hungary where she lived with her family, more or less stood by and let these deportations happen. They didn’t just let them happen, they actually stood there and watched them happen, some of them with smiles on their faces that seemed to a shell-shocked Isabella to mean:

‘Well, goodbye, dirty Jews, we’re glad to have our country back to ourselves again.’ In the end, Isabella said that she wanted to leave these small-minded, petty cowardly people behind her, whatever horrors the future held in store for her and her family.

This future was terrible indeed. Isabella and her mother, Teresa, and her four sisters Chicha, Cipi, Rachel and little Potyo, along with her brother Philip, were crammed together into one of the notorious cattle wagons for the journey to Auschwitz, the dead centre of the Nazis’ concentration camp killing machine.

Their father had gone abroad to seek safe passage and immigration papers for his family to come and join him in America or Israel, wherever he was, but I’m not sure if Isabella ever heard from him again after that. Their mother, Teresa, died in the jam-packed, almost airless cattle wagons, as did many others.

The old, the sick, babies, nursing mothers and the very young were, of course, particularly vulnerable to the appalling conditions. People were piled in on top of one another with nothing to eat or drink except what they’d managed to bring along themselves as per the Nazis’ instructions. There was only one bucket for sanitation purposes and the stench of urine and excrement would quickly become unbearable, as you can imagine.

The death of their cultured, kind-hearted book-loving mother was a terrible blow to Isabella and her sisters. Ditto, the death of their little sister Potyo not long after. Life was hard enough to bear without these two deaths to cope with as well.

Their arrival at the camp was the same nightmare experienced by all the others who passed through the dreaded gates of Auschwitz, over which were inscribed the words: ‘ARBEIT MACHT FREI,’ or WORK SETS YOU FREE. Not always the case at Auschwitz.

The sisters endured together the horrible shock of having their heads shaved immediately on arrival, as well as the shaving off of their pubic and armpit hair to prevent the spread of lice, a constant worry in the camp. Isabella describes herself and her sisters at this moment in time as ‘four naked-headed monsters,’ but they were not the monsters. They weren’t even close.

Isabella and her sisters made a pact to each stay alive. No matter what the awful camp threw at them, they would stick together and STAY ALIVE. Thus, whenever one of them felt like giving up and throwing in the towel, the sisters would all rally round and practically will that person to keep going, keep going, keep going, no matter what, to stay alive.

Isabella’s brother Philip, who would have been in the mens’ section of the camp, urged his sisters to stay alive also so that the Nazis could be ‘paid back’ for their crimes against humanity. Also, Philip said, it was so that they could tell the whole world what had happened there at Auschwitz, and that was obviously something that really resonated with Isabella.

And the awful camp had plenty in its horrible arsenal to throw at them. For example, the infamous ‘selections,’ at which Dr. Josef Mengele himself indicated with his right thumb or his left thumb who was to live and who was to die in the gas chambers.

Infectious diseases like typhus and TB. Irma Grese, the notorious SS woman, blonde and beautiful but with a heart of stone. Poor, rotten food. Limited washing and toileting facilities. The endless roll-call or ‘Appell’ at which you could be standing in line for four or more hours while the guards called out everyones’ names.

If there was a mistake or a miscount in the Appell, the guards would start again while the starving prisoners either froze in the snow or wilted under the sun. And always, always, always, the constant shouts of ‘Raus! Raus! Raus!’ meaning ‘Get out!’ or ‘Schnell! Schnell! Schnell!,’ meaning to hurry up. The Nazis always did everything on the run.

Isabella’s book was written in 1978, thirty-three years after Liberation. It’s a sad book, but it’s a book that ultimately contains a dazzling message of hope. PUBLISHERS’ WEEKLY says of it that: ‘Her (Isabella’s) slim volume is a celebration of the strength of the human spirit as it passes through fire.’

The things that Isabella and her sisters go through will strike a chord with any Holocaust survivors who read the book. She’s got her own way of putting things though, a unique voice that tells her dreadful story simply, in a way that’s easy to read and digest. It’s not like one of those massive Holocaust tomes that you could use as a door-stop if you needed to, but then it doesn’t have to be. Sometimes less really is more.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS. 

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor