interview, Saturday Sundries

“Evil needs a doorway into our world”: An interview with The Demonologist’s Andrew Pyper

Andrew Pyper. Photo by Don Denton, LiteraryPhotographer.com
Andrew Pyper. Photo by Don Denton, LiteraryPhotographer.com
Demonologist

In Andrew Pyper’s The Demonologist, (available March 5th) Professor David Ullman discovers that demons exist—and that they are the reason his beloved young daughter has been taken from him. I recently talked with Andrew about the bread crumbs his protagonist must chase, and the world of emotional horror that opens before him. . .

What brought about the genre shift to horror?

In hindsight—because all of this is hindsight when I talk about the “category” of the book, it’s all post-facto analysis—I was just following my nose in a narrative way and going where the story took me. But I think, why did it take me there? Because I’ve always been interested in the supernatural. It appears glimpsingly through almost all the previous novels, but in a kind of partial way. And this story demanded, because it entertains the possibility of demons existing alongside us in the real world, the creation of an entire world. Whereas the previous novels required people putting up a forbidden window, this is like, no, no, you have to build an entire premise whereby all human action will be infused with the supernatural companionship with demons. So once I recognized that, it felt quite liberating. I didn’t feel like there was a constraint of rules—although you can’t go that far, because that would make it a different kind of book. There was no sense of rules that might be broken.

It’s interesting to me, the idea of demons living alongside us. You play with this Miltonic idea of Hell not being a physical place, but living in us and alongside us. Unlike, say, in a movie like Constantine, where Keanu is transported to Hell, in The Demonologist we have these hellish things happening in our minds and all around us. Is that a conscious choice to stick with this Miltonic idea? What brought about this vision of Hell for you?

It is in part born because Milton is obviously an influence on the novel, a text that I used both thematically and to a degree mechanically, but I think that commitment, that is, the commitment to realism, having the story take place in the real world with these impossible supernatural beings moving through it, that was just an aesthetic choice of my own. I love horror and I love fantasy, but when it comes to those kind of stories, I’m definitely on the muted, restrained “keep it real” end of the spectrum. I know some people are like, “No, if you’re going to talk about Pandemonium, why don’t you take us inside Pandemonium? Let’s see the floor plan.” Mine’s a more internal, psychological Pandemonium. That’s just what I prefer. I personally like those kind of stories, like Rosemary’s Baby, where this is a story about the Satanic but it actually takes place in present-day New York.

Charles Grignion (engraver) after Francis Hayman, illustration to Book VI of Paradise Lost (1749), engraving.© Christ's College Old Library
Charles Grignion (engraver) after Francis Hayman, illustration to Book VI of Paradise Lost (1749), engraving.
© Christ’s College Old Library

Continue reading ““Evil needs a doorway into our world”: An interview with The Demonologist’s Andrew Pyper”

book review

Flying in his shadow: a review of The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin

A proliferation of books has been published lately with titles like “The X’s Wife” or “The X’s Daughter.” These titles tend to irritate me a bit, as they define the main female character in terms of a relation to a man in her life. But in The Aviator’s Wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, wife of famed aviator Charles Lindbergh and mother of the missing Lindbergh Baby, defines herself continually by the role she plays in other people’s lives, never on her own terms.

The Aviator's Wife

“Were we women always destined to appear as we were not, as long as we were standing next to our husbands? I’d gone from college to the cockpit without a chance to decide who I was on my own, but so far, I was only grateful to Charles for saving me from that decision, for giving me direction when I had none. Even so, I suspected there were parts of me Charles didn’t understand; depths to my character he had no interest in discovering.

The Aviator’s Wife, Melanie Benjamin

A proliferation of books has been published lately with titles like “The X’s Wife” or “The X’s Daughter” (take a look at this great article on The Millions). These titles tend to irritate me a bit, as they define the main female character (very rarely is it a son or father or husband) in terms of a relation to a man in her life. But in a book like The Aviator’s Wife, this strategy is a sound one. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, wife of famed aviator Charles Lindbergh and mother of the missing Lindbergh Baby, defines herself continually by the role she plays in other people’s lives, never on her own terms.

We first meet Anne and her vivacious older sister Elisabeth on the train to Mexico, where their father has been dispatched as the US ambassador. Anne is just about finished her degree at Smith, where all the Morrow girls go—even though she wanted to go to Vassar. Elisabeth is the beautiful one, younger sister Constance is still a child, yet to be slotted into a defined role, and Anne is the shy one, the unwavering one. She blends into the shadows and allows her life to be dictated by her family. . .and then she meets the most famous man in the world. The young Colonel Lindbergh is a media sensation, fresh from his flight across the Atlantic, and is visiting the Morrows for the holidays. Everyone assumes a romance will bloom between him and Elisabeth but in fact Anne catches his eye. He invites her for a solo flight and something awakens in her. It seems like true romance is in the air as he proposes, asking her to be his co-pilot.

Anne and Charles Lindbergh. Photo credit: Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Anne and Charles Lindbergh. Photo credit: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Continue reading “Flying in his shadow: a review of The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin”

literary event, Multimedia Mondays

Multimedia Monday: TIFF presents the Books on Film series

Deepa Mehta's Midnight's Children. Photo Credit: TIFF Film Reference Library
Deepa Mehta’s Midnight’s Children. Photo Credit: TIFF Film Reference Library

Part of the fun of being a book lover in a city like Toronto is that there’s never a shortage of bookish events to attend. One of the most exciting and thought-provoking of the year is the Books on Film series, presented by Toronto International Film Festival at the Bell Lightbox.

As you may know, I love the intersection of literature with other media, seeing interpretations of great books as movies, tv series, ballets, plays, and more. Over the course of six evenings that explore great films that were inspired by great books, the Books on Film series is presented in association with Random House of Canada. Each evening features a different book-to-movie with a different guest expert, and the series’ host is near and dear to many a reader’s heart: Eleanor Wachtel, of CBC’s Writers and Company.

Subscriptions to the series are available for $153 for TIFF Members or $180 for non-members (prices include tax). Based on availability, single tickets may be released closer to the event. The first 100 subscribers will receive a complimentary copy of each book featured, courtesy of Random House of Canada.

Continue reading “Multimedia Monday: TIFF presents the Books on Film series”

ballet review, Multimedia Mondays

Multimedia Monday: La Bayadère: The Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom of ballets

La Bayadère. Svetlana Zakharova as Nikiya, Yekatarina Krysanova as Gamzetti. Photo by Yelena Fetisova.
La Bayadère. Svetlana Zakharova as Nikiya, Yekatarina Krysanova as Gamzatti. Photo by Yelena Fetisova.

Sometimes I forget how amazing—and how connected—our world is. Then, I find myself in a movie theatre, watching a live performance of the famed Bolshoi Ballet, beamed around the world to me via satellite. Cineplex offers a fantastic opportunity to see ballet (and theatre and opera) from esteemed troupes around the world, and seeing it at the exact moment it’s happening on a stage somewhere far away. I have never experienced the Bolshoi in person, but I have seen them live several times over the past few years thanks to this technology.

I happily attended Sunday’s production of La Bayadère, not quite sure what to expect. I’ve never seen a Canadian company offer this ballet before, though I was aware that it is a Marius Petipa ballet, with music by Ludwig Minkus, the team behind other ballets including Don Quixote. What I witnessed was a mixed bag of flawless dancing and deeply troubling choreography, storytelling, and cultural stereotypes.

Continue reading “Multimedia Monday: La Bayadère: The Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom of ballets”

Possession Readalong

Possession Readalong Part 2: Chapters 4 and 5

Possession Readalong banner

Click the banner for a complete list of readalong posts.

Part 2: Chapters 4 and 5
Next week, Chapters 6 and 7

The story so far. . .

Chapter Four
The chapter opens with the first Christabel LaMotte poem we’ve seen so far, a chilling reimagining of the Rapunzel story, in which an unknown “he” watches an evil “humped one” climb Rapunzel’s hair in his place. Roland is off to meet Dr. Maud Bailey at the University of Lincoln, and he catches up on some LaMotte background while he’s on the train. He notes the change in scholarly attitude toward her: a biography from the 1940s dismisses her Melusina outright, calling it “now deservedly forgotten,” but applauds her “domestic mysticism,” her “delicate lyrics,” and her “troubled but steadfast Christian faith” (p. 37). Whereas, Roland notes, “thirty years later the feminists saw [her] as distraught and enraged,” focusing on a repressed indignation at feminine domesticity, her “occluded lesbianism,” and subversive female roles in Melusina.

Rapunzel. Anonymous artist, circa 1909.
Rapunzel. Anonymous artist, circa 1909.

Off the train, Roland meets and is immediately intimidated by Maud, who is much taller than him, is dressed impeccably with her hair wrapped in an elaborate turban, and who comes off as icily professional and somewhat condescending. She takes him on a tour of the university, which is the opposite of the Ash factory: rather than being buried in the hot, windowless bowels of the museum, the university is all white towers, brightly coloured tiles, libraries made of glass. Maud, a self-sufficient modern-day maiden, lives at the top of Tennyson Tower, and her office is glass-walled on one side, with highly organized books and not a speck of dust. Everything is opposite to Roland’s experience. She sets him up in the library with the diary of Blanche Glover, the woman with whom LaMotte lived, her close companion and possibly her lover.

Continue reading “Possession Readalong Part 2: Chapters 4 and 5”

Possession Readalong

Possession Readalong Part 1: Chapters 1, 2, and 3

Possession Readalong bannerPart 1: Chapters 1, 2, and 3
Next week, Chapters 4 and 5

The story so far. . .

Chapter One
Possession
opens with a quote from a long poem called “The Garden of Prosperina,” written in in 1861 by one Randolph Henry Ash. Twenty-nine-year-old British scholar Roland Michell is at the London Library. His area of expertise is Randolph Henry Ash, and he works part time as a research for Professor James Blackadder, a man who has been working on the complete edition of Ash’s poems for his entire academic career. Roland is look for a copy of Vico’s Principj di Scienza Nuova—the very copy that Ash once owned himself—hoping to find links in the text of the book that might show influences on Ash’s “The Garden of Proserpina.”

Vico

Roland discovers that the book, laced with “a black, thick, tenacious Victorian dust” (p. 2) has been undisturbed possibly since Ash himself last closed the book in the 1800s. This could be a big deal for Ash scholars, since most of Ash’s belongings have been secreted out of the UK and to Robert Dale Owen University in New Mexico under the supervision of an Ash expert named Mortimer Cropper.

Continue reading “Possession Readalong Part 1: Chapters 1, 2, and 3”

book review

A few of her favourite things: a review of Mrs Queen Takes the Train by William Kuhn

Sometimes, it’s not easy being the Queen of England. In William Kuhn’s Mrs Queen Takes the Train, set in the days before the latest jubilee and the 2012 Olympics, Her Majesty Elizabeth II finds herself growing a bit sad, fearing that she has grown obsolete.

Mrs Queen

“‘That’s only one hour and ten minutes from now,’ said The Queen, pointing at the figures with the pencil stub. ‘Tell the driver I shall be attending. Let him know, please.’

This was a bit too much, as far as the guard was concerned, but he gave her a nod of his head and relished what he’d tell the driver. . . . ‘Old lady in the last carriage keeping tabs on you. Gave her a timetable. Try and keep it on time, will you?'”

Mrs Queen Takes the Train, William Kuhn

Sometimes, it’s not easy being the Queen of England. In William Kuhn’s Mrs Queen Takes the Train, set “several years ago,” Her Majesty Elizabeth II finds herself growing a bit sad. She fears that she has grown obsolete; she can’t quite get the knack of the computer and the Prime Minister is threatening to shut down the Royal Train because it’s an expensive relic. She wonders if she, too, is an expensive relic. Although she does find yoga quite relaxing, she is still vexed by how much her life is influenced by public opinion, which turned so bitter toward her after Diana’s death, and by the Government’s penny-pinching.

Feeling out of sorts she pops down to the Mews without a coat to check on her favourite horse, and while there a thoughtful stablehand lends her a hoodie to stay warm. The Queen discovers that with the hood up, she’s rather unrecognizable. And just like that, she decides to slip away from Buckingham Palace, first to pick up a bit of cheese and then to Scotland, where her decommissioned yacht Britannia is moored. Continue reading “A few of her favourite things: a review of Mrs Queen Takes the Train by William Kuhn”