Category Archives: Literature

All literature-related articles of MUSE Magazine.

Indie Author Ann Livi Andrews

Image: Cover Illustration of Crimson Mistress, designed by header5buck

Author: Sandrine Spycher

Indie Author Ann Livi Andrews

Ann Livi Andrews is an independent author from the USA. This busy mother of a two-year-old son qualifies writing as “the most basic form of art.” More than only art, writing is for Mrs Andrews also a witness of history. She sees writing as an indispensable tool working on several levels. “From mere fantasy and creativity to teaching someone a skill to documenting history,” she says, “we know so much because someone took the time to write it down.” And although Mrs Andrews is admittedly always busy and finds it hard to fit writing in between different little jobs and taking care of her child, writing holds an important place in her life. Not only is it a “stress reliever and a way to maintain emotional health,” but also a tool to fight insomnia.

Ann Livi Andrews has been writing since she was in first grade, though she’d had “stories swirling around in [her] head.” She writes because she has stories to tell; like that of the pencil and the eagle, her first ever written story. Suffering from insomnia, Mrs Andrews says that she can’t go to bed until all the words are put on paper. “A sense of peace” emanates from putting those thoughts on paper.

It is partly thanks to her husband that Ann Livi Andrews chose to self-publish her work. With his marketing background, he was the one to encourage her to “find some inner courage and put [herself] out there.” Since then, Mrs Andrews received positive reviews; for instance a reviewer wrote that they had “found this little gem by accident.” And although the book in question (short stories) was for her a side project, it received a large amount of positive feedback and encouragement, which “definitely put a smile on [her] face.”

One of the stories written by Mrs Andrews bears the title of Hollow Towns: The Beginning. The story begins in a sort of climate change apocalypse, where the reader is introduced to several characters who are not, apparently, linked to each other. Yet, all the characters seem to suffer from a kind of amnesia. This element allows the writer to cleverly build her story around memory and uncertain past events.

The reader discovers what is happening at the same time as the character, however there is always a missing element. While the vague outline of the narrative builds incredible suspense, it can also prevent a full understanding of the story. One could also reproach the writer the several repetitions and the incessant questions at the end of paragraphs. Yet, the intrigue is developed in such a way that it leaves you clinging to the book, waiting to discover any climatic ending. The dialogs are sharp and well organized; they allow the reader to better understand the characters’ feelings. Moreover, the light writing style makes the book a quick read.

Apart from the Hollow Towns series, Ann Livi Andrews is also working on a series called Rehab for Superheroes from which Crimson Mistress is volume one. Crimson Mistress is a story full of suspense and mystery. The mystery is set right from the beginning with the somewhat strange character-narrator who is Clementine. She is a superhero, but getting sick while the city outside her window is burning.

The reader is immediately thrown into a suspenseful narration where they will try to fill in the blanks with their own imagination. Indeed, bits of info are given along the pages, but the suspense stays at a maximum level as very little is revealed about the setting, time, or even the main character herself. She seems to be struggling with regrets and internal conflicts which are cleverly described through flashbacks and memories. One detail does seem out of place, though: the fact that the superhero publishes short stories in her free time. Against Clementine is what seems first to be an incredibly evil villain. One could almost be put off by how much of a jerk he is at first. Yet, after an interesting switch in the narrative, he turns out to be quite an interesting character as well. However, Butlerians among the readers will probably be annoyed by the fact that the villain is portrayed as a father-figure who answers all the questions of the apparently clueless heroine.

The main reproach that could be addressed to the author is the amount of repetitions. Some more time could also have been accorded to editing as some inconsistencies in style appear (use of abbreviations, use of numbers). Yet, her somewhat flat style makes for a quick read where suspense and descriptions are interwoven. Mrs Andrews’s strong point is definitely her ability to create suspense. As mentioned above, suspense appears right from the beginning of the story because it starts in medias res. And is finished on a huge cliffhanger; something to make the reader hungry for more.

Despite the inconsistencies, the numerous repetitions, and the gendered hierarchy of knowledge, I enjoyed reading Crimson Mistress. I would recommend it to any fan of suspenseful science fiction, and to lovers of short stories with interesting characters.

Ann Livi Andrews has an incredible potential for writing suspenseful stories which will keep you awake and turning the pages. She admits writing for herself, and editing for her readers. And though she has to squeeze writing early in the morning or late at night—“Either way, it’s writing versus sleeping,” she says—she always finds time to read and write dark fantasy and apocalyptic fiction. As a master of suspense, Ann Livi Andrews displays great skill in writing. Keep an eye on her for she might soon be a bestselling author of weird stories.

Short Stories To Shklovsky

Image: © John Schultz, www.flickr.com

Author: Sandrine Spycher

INEBRIATING LOVE

You know that feeling when your heart starts beating faster, when your sight almost fails you, and you can’t speak properly anymore. And then you start smiling stupidly at whatever people tell you. And you’re feeling good, although slightly dizzy. Your world is balancing back and forth, as if you were on a boat swinging to the rhythm of an Ed Sheeran tune. Perhaps you’ll even start dancing soon. There’s something like a sweet vibe going through your body, from head to toe. And it’s a delight to let it move you. Let it take control of you, just as if nothing else mattered in the world. Then perhaps you’ll close your eyes for a minute and slowly breathe in.

Breathe in to regain control of yourself. And when you open your eyes, you’ll see them laughing at you because you can’t stand straight anymore. That’s when you know that last glass was just the one too many. So stop drinking. And try not to aim for anyone’s shoes when you have to throw up.

So did you think I was describing love?

Well perhaps there’s a link between drinking and love. Perhaps it’s not impossible to find your soul-mate at the English Christmas Party. And perhaps you’ll feel the fast heartbeats and the dizziness when you wake up “on the right side of the wrong bed” on the next morning.

GREEN INNOCENCE

I saw them come, with their dreadful roars and menacing moves. They advanced, weapons in hand, their eyes concealed behind their huge limbs which kept moving forward in big threatening gestures. I could already feel the heat of their horrible hearts approaching.

I called to the wind to help me raise my voice. And I cried for help but no one heard. I saw my brethren fall before me as I stood, a powerless witness to this mass murder. I heard the scratching and crackling of torn skin. I saw feathers fly away and wished I could move. But my symbiosis with the land—that which I thought would protect me against wind, rain, and storms—seemed to be the ally of my enemy, conspiring for my fall.

When they were finally on me, the saw cut through my skin and my body. I fell heavily to the once cherished earth. I was cut in two pieces, my heart still beating where my roots clung to the ground. And that’s when I noticed my little friend, that innocent baby Jaguar fighting his way away from the war engines.

He ran as fast as he could. He climbed on my sisters to hide in between their leaves. He trembled with fear as he saw his mother slain at my foot. He cried his little heart out. A heart broken by the mechanical hands of the bipeds.

LOST IN FEELING

The trees are huge. Although naked, they cast a large shadow on the ground. It looks dark and feels cold because of those big black shapes. Sunlight can hardly break through the canopy, even though the leaves are not on the boughs but rather making a slippery carpet on the ground.

The air is wet and heavy. Animals are sleeping or dead. Silence reigns on this dreadful kingdom of creaking wood. The lost wanderer hears nothing but his fast heartbeats and his quick irregular breathing. Shivers run down his back. He feels like a thousand eyes are spying on him. The eyes of the forest. Silent, omnipresent, oppressing ghosts.

Broken boughs crack under his footsteps, otherwise silenced by the soft carpet of snow. White snow, here and there, fallen from the naked branches, contrasting with the black shadows. White, but not luminous. Cold snow. Cold as the lost wanderer’s cold heart. He walks emotionless through the trees, barely even feeling the fear which run up and down his body in dreadful wet shivers.

Suddenly, a movement. The lost wanderer stops. His eyes go from left to right and right to left. What was it? Where was it? Nothing moves anymore. It was just an instant, a flash, like blinding lightning in the darkness of the night. It’s gone.

The lost wanderer feels the fear creep into his flesh now. He shivers. His hands tremble. His pace grows unsteady. Where does that fear come from? Who dwells in the dark corners of the forest? That beast, that unknown monster which makes its poisonous venom run through the earth.

But the wanderer knows it. He knows the face of the monster. It is the pain of a broken heart, the weight of solitude, the threat of loneliness. Behind closed eyes, the forest disappears. The dark, the silence, the dreadful feeling of being lost. But as soon as he opens his eyes, the calm dream vanishes and the solitude of the dark path comes back. Sometimes, a slight movement, her eyes, her hand. A mere memory. And then it’s over. And then she’s gone. And then the monster creeps in once more.

SWISS FOGGY BEAUTY

Have you ever heard of the Swiss sea? Have you ever seen those white waves flood the mountain sides?

It is a sea more beautiful than the Mediterranean, they say. It comes and goes along with the weather, and is more likely to be seen in winter. It invades the plains, drowns them in its thick whiteness, leaving them flooded and hoping for redemption.

But when you see it from the mountain tops, it is absolutely breath-taking, they say. The little curly waves hardly move at all, even if the wind blows on their white wings. It expands, still and silent, at your feet. It makes you feel like you are on top of the world with nothing under you but that beautiful white sea.

It is light and mild, just like the thought of a loved one, they say. It makes you dream, giving you visions of a lost otherworld. It looks magical, as if created by the hand of mighty Tolkien. It adds a dreamy touch to the green pastures of the Swiss Alps.

If you travel above the white sea, you won’t even get wet, they say. You don’t need to worry about being overtaken by the waves, for they won’t soak your socks. No need to take off your shoes to run along the beach, which is as long as the mountain side.

And do you know what makes that sea so beautiful? Well, it’s made of fog.

<<<<<>>>>>

The Tragedy of Macbeth : Interview with Florence Rivero, director and actress

Image: www.sweetsorrowtheater.com

Author: Corinne Morey

The Tragedy of Macbeth directed by the talented Florence Rivero was presented during this year’s Fécule Festival and received high praises from students and other members of the Unil community. Despite her very tight schedule, Florence took the time to answer a few of our questions regarding her interpretation of this timeless play.

Dear Florence, you now have quite a few successful play directing experiences behind you and I am confident you have many more ahead. Could you tell us what was your main challenge for this play in particular?

For this adaptation of Macbeth, I decided to mostly focus on the internal and psychological struggle of the characters, avoiding any supernatural or mystical interpretations. A very significant challenge was how to show to the audience the psychological distress our characters are going through. How does one show a fragile mind, a psychological manipulation, psychopathological consequences, hastily made decisions from a broken mind and internal suffering? To do so, a lot of work was done acting-wise and with the relation towards the audience. However, the most important element was the adaptation of the original script. That is where it all started, the first step, where everything had to make sense so it could actually work later on stage. This is the first of four productions where I have done an unrestricted and careful adaptation of a Shakespearian play, focusing on what I personally wanted to highlight.

What do you wish to emphasise most in your version of Macbeth? What approach did you choose for this play?

My emphasis is on the psychological journey of the character of Macbeth. That is the reason why I kept the original title of the play in its entirety: The Tragedy of Macbeth. I really wanted to show this tragic character’s mental decline. I do not see a bloodthirsty man wanting power; I see a man who is destroyed by it, even during the process of acquiring it. I want the public to feel compassion for him or at least to relate to his tragic being. He is not an evil character; he is lost and mentally disturbed.

You are rather known in Unil for staging the lighter and more comic of Shakespeare’s plays. Was this a change for you or have you already had this kind of experience in the past?

Our choice to start doing comic plays four years ago was because the troupe and I thought they were easier to do and more accessible to the public (I question that now). However, after our first play, Much Ado About Nothing in 2012, my wish was to follow up with a tragedy, but I did not feel ready as a director. We then did A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 2013 and I still did not feel ready after it. Nevertheless, I wanted to start experimenting, that is why I decided to direct A Winter’s Tale last year. It is a tragicomedy that presents a very serious and sad first half, followed by a comical second part. That experience really helped me to make the transition to a classic tragedy. I would still love to do more comedies, but I think I feel more comfortable doing tragedies. They inspire me greatly.

We guess you had your say in the selection of the cast, of course. Who plays the main character Macbeth and why did you choose this person?

Raphaël Meyer plays my main character. We met when he did the casting for A Midsummer Night’s Dream back in 2013, where he eventually played my character’s love interest. Raphaël and I have been together as a couple since then. In 2014, he played Camillo in A Winter’s Tale, a small character yet a motor for many of the actions and twists of the play. Raphaël transformed Camillo from a simple functional character to an endearing, complex and multidimensional one. I was so impressed by his work that when I decided to do Macbeth, I thought he would be perfect for the role. Sadly, he didn’t want to audition for it since he felt incapable of portraying such a big and intense character. It actually took me months to convince him and to reassure him that he did have the talent and acting potential to do it. He did finally audition and got the role by a unanimous decision of our four-member jury. I’m very lucky to have him as Macbeth, although I cannot lie, it is a difficult challenge to direct your significant other. Fortunately it worked out great at the end, for both the play and for our relationship!

Blood is a very important symbol in this tragedy; will there be blood for all our gory/gothic lovers?

Blood is extremely important in this play! For me, its physical presence is fundamental. However, it is very important not to overuse it. Shakespeare mentions the presence of blood in several scenes and in my opinion, those should be the only times where it must be shown on stage. Blood represents the tangible reality. It should be there to remind both the characters and the public of the consequences of their actions. So to answer your question, yes, there will be blood.

Your choice of character for yourself also changes from what your public is used to. You play the witch who prophesizes many, if not all, of the events of the play. What made you choose this character and what do you like most about playing the witch?

As most of you may know, the witches in Macbeth are originally three sisters. In this adaptation, I decided to portray them as only one character: a mentality disabled beggar. I like the fact that she is a real person, suffering from real psychopathologies. Her prophecies can then be interpreted as merely coincidences, or maybe as psychological influences on Macbeth’s decisions and actions, and not as a mystical force. As an actress, playing this character has been very demanding. It is both a very physical and mental character and it demands a lot of energy. I’m usually exhausted after one scene, but it has been a very enjoyable experience.

If you did not get the chance to see Florence Rivero’s version of The Tragedy of Macbeth, it will be played three more times on the 29th, 30th and 31st of May at the Centre Pluriculturel et social d’Ouchy (CPO)! For more information please visit the Sweet Sorrow Theater Group’s website at www.sweetsorrowtheater.com!

Indie Author G. G. Atcheson

Image: Cover design for The Legacy: Fate by Yanik Dallaire. Source

Author: Sandrine Spycher

Indie Author G. G. Atcheson

G. Atcheson, born in Montreal, Canada, is an independent author whose science-fiction books are already high-rated by online reviewers. And although she hated writing at school, Mrs Atcheson has always been a self-proclaimed dreamer. Words didn’t find their way to the paper, but many stories still lived in her mind. “Whether it was to put me to sleep at night or on the long commutes to work,” she says, “I’d close my eyes and imagine.” That imagination only needed a little impulse to turn into The Legacy series. That impulse happened one night as Mrs Atcheson was discussing TV shows, movies, and books with her husband; they found out that the two things they liked most (aliens and vampires) never appeared together. Soon after, she sat down at her computer to write her sci-fi novels.

G. Atcheson chose to self publish her novels because of the freedom it allowed her. And above all, she “wanted [her] characters to stay how [she] imagined them and not how the publisher would want them.” She writes her books in the point of view of an alien as a kind of linguistic strategy. Indeed, born in Montreal from French speaking parents, Mrs Atcheson does not write in her mother tongue but in English, especially after moving to the United States in 2000. She chose to write from that particular point of view so that her mistakes wouldn’t show. However, she needn’t worry about this issue because, like a reviewer told her, her French origin doesn’t show in her writing. And this shows just how meticulous she is in her work.

G. Atcheson’s science-fiction novel The Legacy: Fate is the story of LX (or Alex for Earthlings) who crashes on Earth, light-years away from his destination, while on an exploration mission. Alex knows he must not fraternize with the natives, and he does his best to keep away from them. That is, until he meets Mellie, an attractive young woman with speed and strength which, though unknown to Earthlings, are oddly similar to Alex’s own special abilities. He will thus start going out with her, first out of scientific interest but soon also because of tender feelings. For her, Alex will break his own people’s rules up to the point of no return. He will face betrayal at the hands of his new friends, and torture at those of his new enemies. And while Alex might be the only chance to save Earth from doom, he may have to break his primary Oath: the vow never to take a life.

The Legacy: Fate is a very well constructed novel with lots going on: unexpected plot twists, sub-plots combining into incredible climax, complex characters evolving on different levels, etc. The book starts with a short prologue which immediately throws the reader in the action, promising a thrilling and entertaining story. The language is fluid and makes for a quick read. Moreover, the pronoun you is used to address an implied reader in a quite light and witty dialog-like style. The novel is written through the eyes of an alien, with an internal focalization. This allows several powerful things. First, a lot of suspense is created as the reader discovers what happens at the same time as the protagonist. Then, a funny level is added to the story with the alien’s misunderstanding of Earthlings’ manners and jokes. More importantly, this particular narrator is cleverly used by Mrs Atcheson to criticize some human practices (such as hunting, for instance). The alien’s viewpoint is also an interesting device to defamiliarize certain common things. Money, for example, is referred to as “thin paper used in trades.” Earth’s description through alien eyes at the beginning of the novel is very striking as well. One more strength of this brilliant novel is the great intertextuality. One cannot read Alex’s exploits without thinking of Superman. A lot of historical events are also quickly mentioned to give some background to the novel and to enrich the character of Alex. There are, however, little reproaches that could be addressed to Mrs Atcheson about Fate. The most important one would be the projection of Earth traditions on her alien protagonist (he prays God, wears a wedding ring, etc.). Another negative point is that of the missing parental advisory. Indeed, the novel contains some swearing and sex scenes, but the reader has no way to know it before actually reading those scenes. Besides, these sexual encounters are almost the only descriptions of the protagonists’ relationship. The final combat scene is also slightly disappointing as its main focus is somewhat displaced from the main narrative (but I won’t say more, I wouldn’t want to spoil it for you). The Legacy: Fate could also have done with a little more editing, but it is nevertheless a very clever novel which surprises by how well very different things—ravaging weather, aliens, vampires, and crime—are brought together. And what is most astounding is that it actually works; everything incredibly fits together despite the different genres.

G. Atcheson writes in the hope to give company to lonely people. As she says herself, “more people than we know are alone. Sometimes it’s by choice, other times it’s due to health reasons. They are stuck at home or in the hospital, and I believe books offer a good way to occupy their time. Our characters become their friends. As an author, we owe them good stories with relatable characters, something that will keep their mind off their everyday struggle.” Mrs Atcheson has this very humane mind (just like her character Alex) which also shows in her love for pets. Not only did she want to be a vet when she was a teenager, but she now owns three dachshunds and two cats. And although she admittedly writes for herself first, she also wants to share her fiction with sci-fi fans. “I hope that others who have a special love for [science-fiction] will be happy to discover there is someone out there who is writing about them. I can’t be the only one, can I?” Indeed she isn’t the only one. G. G. Atcheson writes original and unique stories, with great potential for more perfection and which would deserve a place on your shelf.

A Paterian Charol

Image: Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci. Source

Author: Charlotte Coudresse

A Paterian Charol

“I shrink from approaching Pater’s style, which has a peculiarly disagreeable effect upon my nerves – like the presence of a civet cat”.

J.A. Symonds, Victorian poet, literary critic, and feline lover.

This article is a (futile) attempt to do justice to a figure that has progressively waded out from the conventional literary horizon. Walter Pater, as mesmerizing and influencing as he was in the Victorian “naughty nineties”, does not hold sway on the modern mindset. Too much does he typify the stiff and shy scholar with his natural quietude. His over-the-top theorisation of cultural icons, his swelling and stilted analysis grind the gears of modern critics. His purple and highly evocative style raises objections; bulimistic seems his foray into too many literary genres (essay, pseudo-biography, novel). Plus, not one single sane soul could confide in Pater’s objectivity. The impressionistic approach of the Studies in the History of the Renaissance bids adieu to any modern form of criticism. Pater does not vindicate Matthew Arnold’s classicism, which imposes a critical distance from the object of analysis. Contrariwise, he does not intend to escape the emotion engendered by a work of art (and paving the path for the reader-response criticism, by the way): the subjective reaction enacts the deeply elusive significance of the object of art. Therefore, the reader will not find any fact-grounded or historical criticism: only the “impression of pleasure” is the stake of interpretation, the lens that furnishes the key to Mona Lisa’ smile, or Du Bellay’s spleen-inducing exile in Roma. As surprising as it seems to the 20th century eye, the odds for Pater to shoot to stardom were high in the 19th, with Wilde crowning himself as his most prominent epigon. The outrageous aesthete (too quickly) drew the conclusion that Pater was the trailblazer of the new Hedonism. As a core figure in Oxford’s literary milieu but arcane author to the mass, Pater naturally felt flattered, notwithstanding an understandable wariness. For in the fray and bustle of decadence, in the collision between aestheticism and Victorian moralism, to purport the doctrine of art for art’s sake was a considerable danger, and Pater was soon deemed as poisonous and condemned to a metaphorical pilorit.

That too could be considered as an adjunct inducement for the modern reader, who will soon be enchanted by the long, winding phraseology and complex synthesis of every artistic manifestation in one single sentence. Take, as a foretaste, the literary portrait of Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa:

“The presence that rose thus so strangely beside the waters, is expressive of what in the ways of a thousand years men had come to desire. Hers is the head upon which all “the ends of the world are come,” and the eyelids are a little weary… All the thoughts and experience of the world have etched and moulded there, in that which they have of power to refine and make expressive the outward form, the animalism of Greece, the lust of Rome, the mysticism of the middle age with its spiritual ambition and imaginative loves, the return of the Pagan world, the sins of the Borgias. She is older than the rocks among which she sits; like the vampire, she has been dead many times, and learned the secrets of the grave”.

Outrageously subjective, the all-encompassing association of diverse ideas conjures up an amiable wandering in a dream-like state, as well as it compels the reader to fuel the enthusiasm for old – to the verge of redundancy – topoi. The continuous fascination, from the fledgling allurement of the novice to the “hard, gem-like flame” of the weathered reader, holds sway in the long run, perhaps because of the diverse subjects that Pater embraces. His most praised essay on the Renaissance entails the pictural as well as the literary arts, from Leonardo de Vinci (quoted above) and Botticelli to less known figures, like the German scholar Winckelmann. This subjective line-up is easily explained by the fact that all of them embody a strong individuality that acts as a blazing torch for the centuries to come; an inspiration that would lead to a renewed understanding of life, to briskly sum up Pater’s conclusion.

For the gripped audience, Pater’s novel Marius the Epicurean would fulfil the wish of seeing a human, deep-coloured incarnation of the sometimes abstract philosophy (yes, let us confess that drawback, but we promise it is the only one). Pater wrote it out of fear of being hastily judged on his disreputable aestheticism, but notwithstanding the back-story, the novel, set up in the Roman age, remains compelling and singularly modern. Unless the Greek Studies reveal themselves as a must-read and compulsory input for the curious mind. Fortunately, the Oxford World’s Classics have recently re-edited the Renaissance studies for a modest price; the rest of the works can easily be bought in the Cambridge Library Collection. The Renaissance has not only swept the 14th,: it has also come for Pater, “dead many times”; nonetheless resurrect as swiftly as his dame Lisa.

PATER, Walter, Studies in the History of the Renaissance. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Speaking With Birds

Image: © Flickr.com

Author: Elizabeth Leeman

Speaking With Birds

1869

~

The small metal gate creaked open as I pushed it inward and walked onto the Dickinson propriety for the first time. I took a step on the small stone pathway that led up to the Homestead house. The garden surrounding it was plush green, filled with small stout bushes and tall thin trees. There was a rose bed to one side with yellow and red roses in bloom. I looked up at the house, it seemed rather grand to me. The pale yellow façade and dark green shutters stared down at me. I could see white curtains behind each windowpane. I saw one of the curtains move suddenly and I realized it was not a curtain at all. A women dressed in white had been standing behind the glass watching me.

I was still looking up at the first story window from where she had disappeared from when a Nightingale began to sing. I turned to look for the source of the melody. I followed the sound of his song with my eyes trying to find him. I saw him perched in a large lilac tree by the main entrance. I walked up to it. The smell of the tree’s flowers was overwhelming. I stroked the strap of the bag I was carrying. I could feel it getting wet from my moist hands. I walked up the steps to the main entrance; my bag felt heavy all of a sudden. I swallowed hard as I looked at the white door in front of me.

‘It’s only temporary,’ I said to the Nightingale who chirped at me in response.

‘Oh, shut up.’

He flew away singing louder than before.

‘You’re probably right,’ I said and knocked on the large white door.

I heard small quick footsteps approaching behind the wall. I imagined it must be the woman in the white dress. I caught my reflection in the window next to the door. My frizzy black hair was pulled tight in a bun but a wild strand had gotten loose. I tried to tuck it back but it refused. My freckles and big blue eyes stared back at me, mocking my attempts to look presentable. The door swung open, making me jump. A short woman who was out of breath and wearing a dark blue dress looked up at me. She had round blotchy red cheeks and big brown eyes with long lashes. Her eyes seemed to sparkle as if she had just plays some mischievous prank on someone and was waiting for them to find out about it. I thought she was quite pretty.

‘Hello, my name is Margaret, I’m your new-‘

‘Ah you’re here, good, good,’ she said cutting me off and still gasping for breath ‘well, come in, come in.’

She ushered me into a narrow hallway. The wallpaper was a silver white color with a fancy design on it. It looked so rich I felt my hand twitch. I wanted to reach out and touch it but the woman was walking away quickly, her small heels tapping against the wooden floorboards as she went. We turned right in front of a staircase going to an upper level. There was a dark carpet on the stairs and a white bannister to its side. We turned again, went through a kitchen and into a washroom. She led me up some stairs into a dark hallway. As we walked she explained what my main chores would be:

‘As you can see the house is big and requires a lot of work. You are our only maid. You will be required to clean the house of course, do the laundry, the ironing, make soap, do the dying, press the laundry, hang it, do the dishes, the dusting, the mending and the cooking. But not the bread mind you. Emily bakes the bread. Make sure you stay out of her way when she does. Oh and you’re also responsible for feeding the cats and chickens.’

We continued up the stairs and I saw three doors lined against the wall.

‘The one at the back is yours. Here are your keys. This is the one for your room.’ She said, pointing at a large key with a small pink ribbon attached to it.

‘The others are for the rest of the house. This one is to the main entrance.’ She finished pointing at a key with a blue ribbon on it. ‘Leave your things in your room and follow me.

I did as I was told. I did not even think to look at my new room. My mind already thinking about the amount of work this house would generate. I followed the mistress to the front of the first floor.

‘I’m Miss Lavinia Dickinson. You can ask me any questions you might have. You will also be working for my sister Miss Dickinson as well as my parents Mr and Mrs Dickinson. You won’t see much of Mr Dickinson, because he travels a lot.’

We passed through a small passage and were back in their part of the house. The white wallpaper called out to me again. Miss Lavinia turned to me and brought one finger to her mouth showing me to be silent. We walked passed a door that she pointed at without saying anything. I looked at the door. There was nothing special about it. It was just a white door with a white doorknob. My new employer did not stop in front of it but continued down a flight of stairs.

Once we had made our way back into the kitchen, she turned to face me.

‘The door, you saw it?’

I nodded, my eyes widening.

‘That’s Miss Dickinson’s room. You are not to disturb her when she is in her room. When she comes down to bake bread, you will have time to clean her space. Be careful you leave everything as you find it. If you pick up a pen to clean under it, then you must put it back exactly where you found it. Do you understand?’

I nodded again.

‘Good. Emily – Miss Dickinson to you, I mean, is very particular but that’s none of your concern. You may not ask questions about that. And under no circumstances must you perpetuate the ridiculous rumors that circulate about her in the town. Do I make myself clear?’

I nodded again.

I heard footsteps coming towards the kitchen and turned to look at its owner.

‘Lavinia I’m going to the market. Would you like to join me?’

A tall woman with strict features was in the doorway. Miss Lavinia introduced her as Mrs Dickinson. I was afraid of the old woman then and there. She seemed stern and cold. I did not know it yet, but my path would hardly cross hers during the time I would work at the Homestead house. When it did, she usual ignored me, as I was the help.

When Miss Lavinia had left I began preparing the evening dinner, my mind full of questions about Miss Dickinson I knew I could not ask or have answers to.

The next day I was preparing lunch when she walked into the kitchen. I had not seen or heard her walk in and when I turned around from the stove I shrieked with surprise at the sight of her. The butter I was holding flew out of my hands and splattered on the floor at Miss Dickinson’s feet. Startled, she flattened herself against the kitchen door. There was a long silence in which we both caught our breath.

Then, we looked up at each other. I could not control myself. I was submerged by a fit of giggles. I slumped down onto the cold dark red tiles of the kitchen floor and felt tears run down my cheeks. On the other side of the room, I saw her clutch her stomach and kneel down trying to control herself.

I noticed her white dress and dark brown hair pulled into a tight bun not dissimilar from mine. She had the same brown eyes her sister had, but hers seemed more alert, more awake. She didn’t have plump rosy cheeks though; hers were flatter with higher cheekbones. It was a very pretty face.

‘What’s going on?’ Miss Lavinia said, coming into the room. ‘Miss Maher! Do your chores, now! Emily are you alright?’

I hurried back into the washroom still laughing. I grabbed the cleaning kit and went up to Miss Dickinson’s room to clean it still trying to control my laughter.

I placed my hand on the white doorknob but did not open it straight away. I felt as if I was trespassing or stealing something that did not belong to me. I heard Miss Lavinia’s tapping footstep’s on the ground floor and shook my head. I turned the handle and stepped in.

It was as remarkable as the white door that led into it: unremarkable. There was a bed, a nightstand, a washbasin, a hearth, a commode, a table and chair. I kept looking around the small space expecting some strange object to catch my eye, but there was nothing. I walked to the window and looked out. The front garden was just as green as ever and stretched out from the house to the main street in front. I turned around back to the room and hit my thigh on a small writing table. I swore under my breath and tried to rub the pain away.

I began cleaning the small table. I moved the gas lamp and pen that were beside it. It was a very nice table. The wood was smooth and I guessed it was probably cherry. It had a small drawer with a little round golden ring handle. I dusted and polished it before carefully placing the two objects that were on it back to where they had been. I remembered the lamp had been right at the edge of the table, the pen had laid diagonally to it, the pen’s point angled towards the right of the lamp.

After that I carefully dusted every other item of the room, but there wasn’t much in the room. A small basket on the window sill caught my eye. I looked inside hoping to resolve some of the mystery surrounding the room’s owner. I found only needlepoint in it. I shut the weaker basket with a bang and continued dusting.

Then I began scrubbing the floor carefully. When I moved one piece of furniture I used my foot as a marker so I could set it back exactly where it had been when I had finished.

Finally, I finished cleaning and dusting the room. I noticed Miss Dickinson had left a small tray with a teacup and saucer on the commode top in front of some pictures. The porcelain cup had a gold rim running along its edge but the rim was slightly chipped near the handle. I picked it up and noticed the word “Sèvres” engraved on its bottom. I left with the tray, closing the door behind me.

The smell of bread filled the house by the time I left her room. When I reached the kitchen, I was surprised to see that she was not there anymore. The door to the back garden was open and I went to shut it when I saw Miss Dickinson outside. I stepped out, curious to see what she was doing. She was standing very still looking up at a tree. A Robin was singing.

Miss Dickinson closed her eyes and I saw her sway slightly form one foot to the other. Fearing she would fall I took a few steps toward her but a hand came out of nowhere and grabbed me. I turned to see who was holding me back and saw a gardener.

‘She’s fine. Leave it,’ he said in a thick Irish accent that reminded me of home. He did not look at me while saying this but kept his eyes on Miss Dickinson.

I looked back at her and saw she was reaching one hand out towards the bird who was still singing. The bird flew out of his nest down onto the walk in front of her. I realized she was offering him a crumb but he did not seem interested. He was eating something else but I could not see what.

‘Probably a worm,’ the gardener said, answering my unasked question.

The bird ruffled its feathers and flew away. Miss Dickinson got up and walked off towards the back of the garden near the apple orchard.

‘Ah good, she wasn’t too long today, bless her,’ the gardener said and picking up his tools started walking away.

I ran after him and asked him about Miss Dickinson’s strange behavior.

‘If you thought that was strange, you probably won’t last long in this house. She was just playing with the bird, that’s all. I don’t see why some folk find fault with that. I always give her room when she walks through the garden. She doesn’t need me clipping around her when she is speaking with the birds.’

‘She speaks to the birds?’

‘Not to them, with them.’

He told me she talked with everything, the birds, trees and anything or anyone else that would listen. She just didn’t use words to speak.

‘How can you speak without words?’ I asked him.

‘Did you not just see her?’

I felt more confused and decided to stop asking the gardener questions. I was not aware of it yet but his name was Dennis Scannell and I would come to know him well in years to come.

I returned to the safety of the kitchen. I looked around at the bright yellow casements and the pale green walls. I definitely felt like this was the best room in the house. I started cooking and sang an old tune from home to keep me company as I worked.

As evening approached I began preparing dinner. I was singing an old tune again while Miss Lavinia’s cats Gaspar and Pumpkin watched me cook. I heard a noise from the main part of the house but didn’t stop to worry about it. Perhaps I should have because I jumped with surprise when Miss Lavinia and Miss Dickinson both came rushing into the kitchen. Miss Dickinson banged the cupboards open one after the other.

‘Emily, tell me what you’re looking for, please.’

I froze and watched as Miss Dickinson pawed through the washed dishes. I saw her remove the chipped cup from the lot. She showed her sister the dish and without a word exited the room.

Miss Lavinia was holding on to the counter and breathing hard. She picked up Gaspar and stroked him from the top of his head to the tip of his tail.

‘Did you remove the cup from her room?’ she said to me but kept looking at her cat.

‘I’m sorry. I thought it was to be washed. I-‘

‘Next time, leave it exactly as you found it.’

‘Yes M’am.’

She left with her cat. I sat by the fire for a moment, not sure how to understand either of the sisters’ attitudes.

The next day while I was dusting in the library, I heard someone at the door. When I went to open it, a Mrs Jameson asked to see Miss Dickinson. I tried to hold back a grin, unsuccessfully.

‘Just tell her I’m here, will you?’

I ran away feeling her stare bore into my back.

When I was in front of Miss Dickinson’s door, I hardly knew what to do. I wanted to knock but was afraid too. I was just about to when I heard her voice:

‘I’m coming.’

I was surprised to hear her say she would. I left without a word to fetch Mrs Jameson tea. I then headed back towards the library to finish my dusting but I saw Miss Dickinson come down and head for the North Parlor.

‘Ma’am she’s waiting for you in the South Parlor.’

She nodded in response but went into the North Parlor all the same. Perplexed, I stood still a moment. I heard the sound of her voice greet her friend. I was sure I’d left Mrs Jameson in the South Parlor and poked my head through its doorway again to be sure.

Mrs Jameson was seated on a small chair next to the large red curtain separating the two parlors. The curtain was closed and I could hear Miss Dickinson speaking to her friend from behind the curtain. I was still watching the guest speak to a closed curtain when Miss Lavinia came into the hall and shut the door to the parlor in front of me.

‘It isn’t polite to listen to other people’s conversations.’

‘I wasn’t, I just, I mean- the curtain’

Miss Lavinia told me to return to my work but she did so with a smile. I think she saw the confusion on my face and understood my perplexity. I returned to my dusting, wondering about Miss Dickinson’s strange habits.

The days passed and I saw little of my employer. I did the laundry, fed the cats and chickens. One day, after spending the morning figuring out a particularly complicated recipe for cookies, I went to the market to buy meat for supper. When I returned, I saw the cookies where gone. I looked around the kitchen, scanning each countertop looking for the culprit. My eyes landed on Peppercorn, Miss Lavinia’s fattest cat.

‘Hello Maggie,’ I heard someone say behind me as I lunged for the cat.

I turned around and found my two young nephews, William and James each holding one of my cookies.

‘Where did you get those?’ I asked, my eyes popping out.

They told me a woman had lowered them down from her first floor window in a basket.

‘She was really nice. She said we could have as many as we wanted,’ Will said, smiling.

I looked at him, surprised. Even though she would not come out of her room, she still found ways to please those around her. Although the cookies were difficult to make and I had planned on serving them that day at tea, looking at my nephews chocolate stained faces, I felt they now had served a better purpose.

I continued cleaning the house and saw the seasons slowly change from the bright sunny mornings to the cold and wet afternoons. The leaves in the apple orchard turned gold and red. Puddles started to form around the kitchen door, making it impossible to get through to the vegetable garden and chicken coop. Slowly though the wet turned into cold, the leaves blew away leaving the trees naked and snow started to fall. Miss Dickinson didn’t go outside anymore, preferring the warmth of her room or of the kitchen when she baked.

Still, I wondered what she did when she was locked in her room. Wasn’t she bored? I did not feel bothered by her habits or that it was necessarily strange. I was just curious to know what she did with herself.

One day, Lavinia and her mother had both gone out to call on some friends. It was just Miss Dickinson and I in the house, and curiosity got the better of me. I had been sweeping the landing of the first floor when I stopped in front of her door. I looked at it up and down and up again.

Then, I thought ‘no’ and walked away and headed down the stairs to the entrance hall. I had made it as far as the second step when I turned back and went to the door once more. I stared at it for a full minute and walked away again. I made it to the third step this time before turning back. I gazed at the door longer this time, unsure what to do. I laid down on my stomach trying to see through the crack of the door. All of a sudden, the door creaked open. I looked up hoping that the grin on my face would suffice as an excuse for my behavior.

‘Would you like to come in?’ she asked with a smile.

‘Uh’ was all I could answer.

I got up and fixed my gaze on the hem of her white dress. She ushered me into her room. I noticed, for the first time, the intricately made the floorboards.

As she shut the door, her movement caught my eye and I looked up. She had bent down over the keyhole and made a gesture as if to lock the door. But she held no key. I looked at her, my brows furrowed so far together that when she looked at me she laughed.

‘Welcome to my Prison.’

‘Prison?’ I asked and was sorry she felt this way.

‘No, no it’s a good prison. It helps me understand what’s out there better,’ she said, looking out the window.

I went and stood next to her but did not understand what she meant. How could being in a prison, as she called it, help her out there? I did not understand and she must have seen my confusion.

‘Do you miss the birds?’ she asked me, still smiling.

The birds had migrated south for the winter. I missed hearing them sing when I went into the garden. I liked hearing them when I picked apples in the orchard or pulled vegetables in the garden for the daily meals.

I nodded.

‘When the war was on, did you miss peace?’

I nodded again.

‘But did you miss it before the war?’ her eyes pierced mine when she asked me this.

I fell silent. I had not thought of peace before the war. I hadn’t really appreciated it before the war because I had not known how terrible the war would be. How many men would never return home and how many more should not have returned in the state they did.

I shook my head.

‘When I’m in I can remember everything out there more clearly. I can see them better from here. I appreciate what’s out there more, from in here.’

I nodded again.

‘Its as if the more you go out there the more difficult it is to see it. The more you have to look at it through a filter or a lens. From in here I have perfect eyesight. Its magic,’ she said and laughed.

I laughed with her although I wasn’t sure why we were laughing.

I turned around and saw her small cherry writing desk was covered with papers. My gaze wandered further to her commode. A drawer was open and overflowing with papers.

‘I have a trunk in my room. It’s empty if you would like to use it?’

She looked at me in silence for a while.

‘That would be nice,’ she said and then asked me to leave.

When I was back out in the safety of the hallway, I felt air fill my lungs again. I had not spoken to her in the five months I’d been working in the Homestead House. Apart from saying ‘hello’ or ‘excuse me’. For a first real meeting it seemed a little too intense for my liking. But in the next few days I kept thinking about what she told me and especially about what she had taught me.

1870

~

I was preparing lunch one morning in April when Miss Dickinson came in. I excused myself and made my way to exit the kitchen.

‘Maggie.’

I turned around and saw she was handing me something.

‘You said you had an empty trunk?’

I nodded and took the papers she was giving me. I left quickly through the back of the kitchen. Once I was in my room I looked through her notes. They were, as I expected, poems. I was happy she had decided to trust me with her work. Each packet she had given me was composed of about twenty poems hand-sewn together with some string. I wanted to read them but I didn’t dare. She had trusted me with them and I did not want to break that trust. I put them safely in my trunk and went to clean her room.

I deliberately took too long cleaning her room in the hopes that she would return and we could talk more. She did not come however. I eventually made my way back to the kitchen, dragging my feet. She was not there but I noticed she had left some notes lying on the counter. I grouped them together and set them under a jam jar so they would not fly away if someone opened the door to the garden. I went out to pick Thyme that I needed for the evening meal when I saw her kneeling by the rose beds. I was happy to see her going outside again.

As I was watching her I saw a carriage come by. Miss Dickinson straightened as it neared the house. The driver was an old man hunched over. He was bald and had a pointy nose. He was well dressed but wore all black, which I thought made him look sad. His horse seemed as old as his master, if not older. He dragged his legs and the rhythm of his clip-clopping hooves seemed out of tune.

The carriage driver held a long whip at his side that he looked more likely to drop than to use on his horse. When he saw Miss Dickinson, he tipped his black hat to her smiling and drove slowly onward. His smile seemed more like a grimace to me and I was glad he had not greeted me in this similar, disturbing manner. After the carriage was out of sight, I watched my mistress shiver and return inside. When I went back into the kitchen she had removed her notes from under the jar and was writing fast on one of them.

A little later in the day, a Mr Dwight Hills came to visit the family. I let him into the Parlor where Miss Lavinia and Mrs Dickinson welcomed him. When I’d returned to the kitchen I heard Miss Dickinson’s bell ring. I went up to her room curious to see what she needed since she never rang her bell.

When I arrived on the landing, I saw a small note in front of her door addressed to Mr Hills. I took it down the stairs to the guest who read it directly.

‘She isn’t coming down I assume?’ he asked me with a wink.

‘I’m sorry sir. I-’

‘You must be a strange bird yourself if she trusts you so much. How did you get in her good graces?’

‘You may go, Maggie,’ Mrs Dickinson ordered me.

I tried to relax my shoulders and exited the Parlor as fast as my feet would carry me. When I was back in the safety of the kitchen I realized Mr Hills had a point. Why did she like me or trust me? She didn’t know me and I was only a maid in her house. I smiled

‘She trusts me.’

A few days later another man came to visit. He was tall and had a little moustache I quite liked. When I let him into the Parlor I did not bother to return to the kitchen but went straight up to Miss Dickinson’s room to see if she had left a note for the visitor. As I reached the first floor landing I saw her exit her room. I asked her if she needed anything but she said she did not. She was wearing her usual white dress but had also put on a pretty blue shawl. I wondered why she felt the need to wear an extra accessory for this visitor. She went past me down to the first floor. I expected her to go into the North Parlor but when she headed to the South Parlor my mouth opened in surprise.

Lavinia walked into the hallway holding Tangerine.

‘Come on, Maggie,’ she said stroking the orange cat’s long hairs.

We waited in the kitchen as the two conversed in the Parlor. Seeing my anxiety for my mistress, Miss Lavinia explained that the guest was Mr Higginson, a publisher from the Atlantic Monthly. Miss Dickinson had written him several letters and he had been eager to meet her to discuss her writing.

When we heard their voices more clearly, we knew their meeting was over. I followed Miss Lavinia who went to see the gentlemen out, hoping to glimpse him better myself. Miss Dickinson had already returned to her room when we arrived in the hall. Mr Higginson thanked Miss Lavinia for her kindness but said he had to leave right away.

‘I have no energy left after this meeting.’

I stood behind Miss Lavinia nodding. I remembered the first time I had spoken to her and how confused and more curious about the world I’d felt all at the same time after our first discussion.

The next day I monotonously went about my chores, dusting, sweeping, ironing. I sang songs from Ireland to keep me company while doing so. It made the time go by faster. I was cleaning the kitchen and singing ‘The Rising of the Moon’. I began to dance with my broom pirouetting around it. I picked it up and played it like a banjo for the benefit of Fig, Miss Lavinia’s black cat. I twirled a few more times laughing and singing when I heard someone else laugh as well. I turned around and saw Miss Dickinson in the doorway waiting to come in to do her daily baking. She clapped and congratulated me on my singing.

‘Thank you,’ I said taking a bow and was about to add that she should join me but all of a sudden she froze. Her smile left her face and she started looking around the kitchen for something. I asked her what she needed but she did not answer. Finally she found a pen and an old bill paid off months ago. She started writing on the paper fast and sloppy. I was not sure even she would be able to reread what she had written. I understood what she was doing and left the kitchen quietly.

As I cleaned her room that morning, I was sure we could become good friends even if her poems overtook her sometimes. The thought of her friendship made me smile.

1874

~

Mr Edward Dickinson was back. He travelled often for work and was only seldom at the house. He had returned two nights ago but already had to leave the next morning. I was in the washroom when I saw him and Miss Dickinson walking in the garden. They were talking and looked quite content. They spent the entire day together walking, in the garden or sitting talking in the Parlor. I must admit I was a little jealous of Mr Dickinson. I had only had a few conversations with his daughter but would have loved to have a few more.

That evening while I was cleaning the South Parlor I heard him and Miss Lavinia speaking in the North Parlor. Mr Dickinson said to his daughter how pleased he had been to spend this time with Emily and did not want the afternoon to end.

The next day however, he got on a train to Boston. Miss Dickinson seemed sad to see him go. When she went to bake the bread, she asked me to cook and sing at the same time to keep her distracted.

When, a few days later, a telegraph came in it was as if she already knew what had happened. I took it up to her but she did not open it directly. She asked me to fetch Miss Lavinia and they opened the note together.

Mr Edward Dickinson had died. He had been ill and the doctor had given him the wrong dose of medicine.

I wanted to hold them both close to me, but they told me to prepare for the funeral. I left without needing more instructions. I left determined to get everything ready so that Miss Lavinia would not have to do it herself. She seemed too sad.

When the funeral finally took place. I watched Miss Lavinia leave from the front of the house with Mrs Dickinson, her brother, Austin and his wife Sue, to go to the funeral.

‘She isn’t going,’ I said to Dennis.

‘Not surprising,’ he answered, leaning on his rake.

I was not worried or ashamed that she wasn’t going to the funeral but felt mostly worried about her. She would have to stay alone in the house while everyone else convened together in church. Dennis and I made our way to the church through the backyard and down a few side alleys.

That evening I was sitting by the kitchen hearth writing a short letter to my sister, Mary when Miss Lavinia came in. I stood to greet her and ask what she needed but she told me to sit down.

‘I came for the company and the warmth,’ she said smiling and I wasn’t entirely sure she meant the warmth of the fire.

‘How are things?’ I hesitated to ask but did anyway feeling that silence would have been more awkward.

‘She’s all right. She processes things differently than most people. That’s the problem. I always feel responsible for her because she’s my sister. I don’t want her to be in so much pain, but I guess that comes with being a poet.’

‘I didn’t mean her.’

‘I sometimes forget about myself,’ Miss Lavinia laughed. ‘I worry so much for Emily, I sometimes forget it might be worth worrying about myself.’

Parsley rubbed her long tail against the leg of Miss Lavinia, who picked her up. While stroking the grey cat’s short fur she turned to look into the fire. The light from the flames reflected on her round rosy cheeks. We heard a noise at the kitchen door; it was Miss Dickinson. She came and sat with us by the fire.

I looked at the two sisters who were physically similar but had very different minds. Miss Dickinson didn’t have Miss Lavinia’s round cheeks or the softness in her eyes. Her eyes were awake and sharp.

I realized how sad they both looked though. This would not do. I got up in one swift movement that made them both jump.

‘We’re baking a cake.’

‘What?’ Miss Lavinia said.

‘No what! We’re baking a cake.’

The two got up but did not seem enthused. I decided I would make them want this cake. I would make them both smile and laugh, at least for the next few hours.

I began singing O’Donnell Abu and taught them a few words so they could join in and sing with me. By the time the cake was in the oven they had learned the entire song and we were singing it to each other from different corners of the kitchen as loud as we could.

We collapsed with laughter by the hearth and I noticed Miss Dickinson had some flour on her sleeve. I handed her a cloth to wipe it.

‘Miss Dickinson,’ I said when she failed to see me holding the cloth out to her.

‘I think you can call me Emily, Maggie,’ she said wiping the flour off.

1884

~

The doorbell rang and when I opened it I saw Mrs Todd. I felt my face clench unwillingly. I admitted her into the house without a word. She was an unhappy women whose interest in the family, at least in my opinion, was only to further her own social advancement.

She came regularly, to play the piano for Emily. I knew Emily liked to hear the instrument being played, although she never came down to watch. She would open her door ever so slightly to hear the notes better.

Mrs Todd used Emily partly as an excuse. Her main interest in coming to Homestead was to see the young Mr Dickinson. It seemed quite clear that they were lovers, although Emily never noticed, staying in her room the whole time, she did not doubt what the woman’s real motives were.

When the young woman sat herself at the piano and began to play, I went up to the first floor landing to see if Emily had left her anything. There was a rose in front of her door with a note ‘for Mabel’. I took it down to Mrs Todd but when I entered the Parlor, I froze. Mr Dickinson was at her side. I had not even heard him come back from his office that morning. He was holding her by the waist and kissing her neck while she played. I left the rose on a small worktable next to the door and left.

I found Lavinia in the kitchen by the fire. I walked in and leaned against the counter without saying anything.

‘He owns the house,’ Lavinia said, staring into the fire.

‘I know. You don’t need to apologize.’

‘Yes, but I can tell it bothers you.’

‘Doesn’t it bother you?’ I said a little more forcefully than I’d intended.

‘Yes, but what can I do? The music makes Emily happy and Austin pays for everything. Without him we’d all be out on the streets.’

She got up and went out through the back door to the garden. I shook my head, unhappy with the situation. I felt that Lavinia had lost hope since her father died. She had doubled her attention towards Emily. She hoped that her constant presence would keep her sister from becoming too fragile. Perhaps it did help a little until the moment when Mrs Dickinson had fallen ill.

In my mind, her illness was brought on by the loss of her husband. The first time she felt unwell was on the anniversary of his death and since that time she had always been sick. She spent most of her time in bed unable to get up anymore. Lavinia tried so hard to take care of her but the pressure from taking care of Emily in addition to taking care of her mother had killed something inside her. I could see it. Her eyes didn’t sparkle like they used to.

When her mother had passed a few years ago, I had felt a little relieved for Lavinia. But her brother’s affair was weighing her down now and dragging me with her. I was worried about what the outcome would be, not only for Austin and his sisters but also for the entire house. Had I known what was to come I might not have worried so much about his affair. Emily’s was far more worrying.

The first time Judge Lord came to visit Emily a few years ago, I hardly knew what to think. He was much older than her and I therefore did not understand the nature of their relationship until Lavinia pointed it out to me.

It is true that when he came to the house she seemed lighter. But she seemed almost too light, I thought. It worried me. What would happen if he went away one day?

He rang the doorbell on a Tuesday and I let him into the South Parlor as I usually did. When I went to fetch Emily, she was already coming out of her room. She went straight down to meet him without a word to me in passing. They stayed in the Parlor for hours, talking.

I went out into the garden for fresh air. I was also hoping to run into Dennis again. He always made things seem less serious than I thought they were. I could not find him but tried to rationalize the relationship myself. Maybe she wasn’t too sensitive. Maybe they would get married and she would always be as happy as he was making her now. I walked around the apple trees trying to convince myself of this but in my heart I didn’t feel any of this would actually happen.

A few months later he died.

Lavinia and I took turns watching Emily. We made sure there was always someone with her when she wasn’t in her room. When she baked, I found an excuse to stay in the kitchen. When she went into the garden, Lavinia found a reason to go with her and talk about something.

What worried me most was how unemotional she seemed about his death. I was afraid she had reached some state beyond sadness. I went to see her in her room using a tray of tea and biscuits as an excuse to come in.

She was sitting at her small writing table looking out the window. I placed the tray next to the paper she had been writing on. She did not look at me. I looked out the window myself and saw a Nightingale on the windowsill. I wondered if it was the same one I had seen on my first day in Homestead. I stayed for a minute watching the bird, but when he flew away I gave up. She would not speak to me. I was almost at the door when she changed her mind.

‘What do you think hope is?’

I stopped. I did not know what to say to this.

‘Emily?’

‘I think it’s like a bird,’ she smiled, but the expression on her face worried me. It was not a smile that translated happiness. ‘A bird that’s inside you.’

I did not really understand what she meant and she must have noticed because she continued.

‘Imagine that hope is like a loaf of bread and all your soul bird needs to survive is one small crumb. You don’t need the entire loaf. Just a crumb is enough to keep hope alive. And your hope, your bird, never tells you to give it bread. You need to give it freely to keep the bird alive. To keep hope alive.’

I asked her if she wanted to come down to bake a cake with me.

‘In a little while,’ she answered and I left her.

I returned to the kitchen and found Lavinia. She looked at me. Her eyebrows arched so high she didn’t have to say anything else.

‘She said something about a bird being hope and crumb you have to offer it to keep it alive or the bird and the crumb both die. No wait it was the other way around, the crumb was hope and the bird was the soul, I think.’

I looked at Lavinia for help. She shrugged.

‘It made sense when she said it!’

I was now unable to explain her words myself but I still felt I understood, even if on paper it did look like I hadn’t understood anything about her.

When Emily came down we started baking and I tried to get her to sing with me but she would not. This was going to be a silent session. I was fine with it. The repetitive motion of stirring or rolling the pin back and forth over dough was sometimes soothing. I thought she might be feeling a bit better and I was about to suggest we bake cookies next when she collapsed on the floor.

‘Emily!’

Emily was lying on the ground unconscious. Lavinia who had been sitting by the fire hurried over. I ran out to find help, leaving Lavinia with her sister.

1886

~

I dried two gold-rimmed porcelain cups. I turned the chipped one, the one Emily liked, over to dry its base and saw the now almost completely faded mark of “Sèvres”. Only part of the word was still visible. I placed both cups on their small individual saucers and these on a bigger silver tray.

When I reached Emily’s room, Lavinia opened the door to let me inside. Emily was unconscious again. This was the third time this month she had passed out. Lavinia would hardly leave her bedside anymore for fear. However, she now asked me to stay while she went out. I took her chair and sat in silence until Emily woke up. She asked me about the trunk where I kept her writings.

‘I still have it. It’s almost full.’

‘Will you burn what’s in it when I die?’

‘What?’

‘Promise you will.’

‘I-I promise.’

I swallowed hard. I felt tears come into my eyes. I was about to tell her I could not do it, that I could not burn something that was such a big part of who she was. But she spoke again and I was unable to say what I wanted.

‘Where’s the fly?’ she asked looking at me straight on, her eyes wide open with worry. ‘The one that was buzzing.’

There was no fly or at least I could see no fly and I told her so.

‘But it’s time.’

She looked at me, her eyes filled with sadness. I did not know what to say. She seemed to implore me to find this fly but I was sure there was none. She began to cry. I held her but I could not erase her pain. I could not even really understand it. So, instead, I held her and sang ‘The Wind That Shakes The Barley’. The words seemed difficult to sing now:

‘Twas sad I kissed away her tears, Her arms around me clinging. When to my ears that fateful shot, Came out the wildwood ringing…’

She had fallen asleep but I kept singing until I reached the end of the song.

‘I wept and kissed her clay-cold corpse, Then rushed o’er vale and valley. My vengeance on the foe to wreak, While soft wind shook the barley.’

She died that day.

I never had a chance to tell her I would not be able to burn her poems. I went to see her brother Austin and asked him to not make me keep the promise I’d unwillingly made to his sister. He took the poems from me.

‘It’s all right, I won’t burn them.’

I knew he wouldn’t, but it was difficult to part with them all the same. It was the last piece of her I had. I prayed I was doing the right thing. I felt I was, because, although I had never read her poems myself, I knew their author well. If her poems were half as special as she was then they were worth saving even if she did not want them to be saved herself.

~

‘The Casual Vacancy’ by J.K. Rowling

Image: Photo © Lila Mabiala

Author: Lila Mabiala

Review The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

The Casual Vacancy - by J.K. Rowling
Source © J.K. Rowling. All rights reserved

The Potter generation was faced with a true wake-up call in 2012 when J.K Rowling published The Casual Vacancy. Like many, I struggled with the fact that not only was Harry Potter over, but Rowling had truly moved on. Hopes of returning to the comforting common rooms of Hogwarts and celebrating wizarding history were dashed when The Casual Vacancy flooded bookshop windows. I felt betrayed and didn’t pick the book up until two years later, this summer. When I did, the blurb felt like another let-down: a novel set in a small English town against a political backdrop? Surely there could be nothing less magical and un-Rowling like?

And then I started reading. I turned the pages and…just like that she had me.

The story is set around Pagford, an otherwise nondescript small town somewhere in Britain. There’s a school, doctor’s practice, a deli and its new café, a law office and a hospital a small way away. Each of these involves a set of characters. It is a small-knit community where everyone somehow depends on each other. But Pagford is in fact almost a suburb of Yarvil-the bigger, badder town where children meet up at the shopping centre, a livelier and less village-like place. But in its ambitions to grow, Yarvil’s council estates have edged too close for comfort. Worse yet – an addiction clinic is housed in a Pagford building. Anyone who has lived in such a setting even in Switzerland will recognise the rivalries which develop between neighbouring towns. Questions of expenses, borders and school districts… tensions work up until something gives. In this case, it’s a vein in Barry Fairweather’s brain.

Rowling’s Skills at creating attaching – and detestable – characters is soon apparent. Though we only get second hand accounts of the character who is in fact the most important, everyone else feels irkesomely real. The Mollisons are the closest thing to a royal dynasty Pagford has to offer. Both generations are haughty and heavy; striking in their calculating coldness. All the while one can’t help but feel pity for Samantha and even Shirley, the women behind their imposing husbands. On the other end of the spectrum is Krystal Weedon and her broken home. Though insulting and not always easy to understand, she represents less well-off part of the community which struggles to be recognised as a valid member of it. She is particularly touched by the death of Barry Fairbrother and struggles to come to terms with it, making her someone the reader wants to protect and encourage.

The story covers all levels of the community, a massvie range of emotions and relationships. Each of the characters gets a turn in the spotlight, making this novel a beautiful portrait of British society. It also seems to encourage reflexions on our own place(s) in society: whether parent or child, student or teacher, employer or employee, carer or in need of care, we all have duties and an immeasurable impact on those around us. The Casual Vacancy, under cover of a petty political drama is in fact a fully-blown, heart-wrenching collection of lives.

Oh and one more thing… in true J.K Rowling style, the first 300 pages are all there for setting the scene to an unexpected, chaotically frightening ending. This will remind you of having the breath knocked out of you, the feeling of devastation and somehow the yearning for more at the end of any of the seven Harry Potter novels. Just as well the characters are set to take life in a miniseries being filmed as we speak.

Indie Author J. David Clarke

Image: Missing Time cover design by Kimi A. Philips. Source

Author: Sandrine Spycher

Indie Author J. David Clarke

J. David Clarke is a talented independent author from Texas, who writes various genres such as science fiction or young adult fantasy. However, writing was not his first dream. Indeed, Mr Clarke started life with the goal of performing in live theater. After becoming a Fine Arts graduate of Southwest Texas State University and having majored in acting, he wanted to perform and teach acting himself. Yet, as life is often unfair, it did not allow him to follow his dream. Not able to move to New York as he had wished, he instead had to work in different jobs to pay off debts. After taking care of his elderly grandfather, Mr Clarke finally turned to writing. First, he posted chapters of a story “concocted as an experiment,” like he says himself. Those chapters were eventually reunited in his debut novel Missing Time.

As most indie authors, J. David Clarke has no marketing machine behind him. He was published in the literary journal of Tarrant County Jr College. Later, discovering tools for self-publishing, he decided to publish his own work online. Not yet making much money from his books, he writes above all “for the love of creating stories which bring people together in their fascination for cool characters and bizarre tales.” His working team involves himself, his computer, and a giant list of ideas for upcoming tales. Mr Clarke is currently working on his fourth novel Time Lost, the conclusion of his science fiction trilogy of which Missing Time is volume one.

Missing Time is the story of eight teenagers involved in a school bus crash, and waking up with special powers, such as flying, reading minds, or resurrecting the dead. Each remembers a different thing, but none knows what actually happened during the bus crash. Being hunted down, they must put their memories together to find who wants them dead, and answer the question of what happened during the missing time.

J. David Clarke’s science fiction debut novel is filled with action, suspense, and plot twists from beginning to end. The unusual use of narrative structure allows the author to work on the characters’ distorted memories and visions through short scenes and vivid flashbacks. Although some chapters might seem elliptic or lacking in plot background, the dynamic writing makes Missing Time a fast and easy read.

The characters in Missing Time all have very diverse personalities, which are cleverly revealed through their dialogs and interactions. Moreover, Mr Clarke builds their relationship through memories, thus giving the reader different viewpoints on each protagonist.

This novel is fueled with lots of intertextuality, such as X-Men or Heroes, sometimes explicitly evoked by the characters. And although his style is a bit flat and repetitive, Mr Clarke has the reader wondering, along with the protagonists, what is going on; a question which is beautifully emphasized by the thrilling, and somewhat abrupt, ending of the novel.

Missing Time is an absolutely breath-taking page-turner which will make you cling to it and ask for more. I’d recommend this novel to all sci-fi aficionados, and possibly also to anyone interested in questions of memory and forgetting.

Apart from Missing Time, J. David Clarke has written three books. Volume two of his science fiction trilogy 313 is called Time Spent; and he anticipates the release of volume three, Time Lost, in late 2014. He also wrote a collection of short stories under the title of The Rubberban Man and Other Stories. He is working on an epic fantasy series, Keeper of Days, and hopes to have completed volume one this year. Last but not least, he published a young adult fantasy adventure called The Wizard in my Window, to which a sequel is planned.

The Wizard in my Window is a great story which gets you clinging to it, turning the pages to find out what is going on. The story is that of young Timothy Collier and his family who move into a big old house. Timothy finds a mark on his bedroom window with the shape of a wizard. First his family thinks it’s just a scratch on the window, but soon magical items start appearing out of nowhere. Timothy and his sister Nichole have fun playing with the objects, until they find out that the magic belongs to an ancient wizard and that it’s not devoid of danger. Soon the whole family has to face the wizard’s powers and his old enemies.

In this novel, half stated things create great suspense; the reader is not told the truth and has to wait until the end of the book to finally discover it. The mystery begins right away as the writer cleverly puts his story through the viewpoint of the window in the first chapter. Plot twists are also very good. The characters are well created and realistic. Their interaction as a family—kids fighting, for instance, or hiding things from their parents—is very convincing. Moreover, there are a lot of funny moments in their dialogs. Several references to other works of fantasy can be noticed throughout the book. One would think of Jumanji or Prince of Persia, for example.

The only reproach that could be addressed to Mr Clarke about this novel lies in the incoherence between Greek and Latin references. Indeed, the Wizard says he was born in Greece, why then are the book, names, and spells in Latin? There are also a number of typos, but not enough to put you off. To summarize, this short novel is a good read which I’d recommend to any fan of magic, humor, and suspense.

J. David Clarke’s writing is a must-read among contemporary fiction. And although he says that there is “nothing very extraordinary about [him] at all,” I believe he has an extraordinary talent for making up original, thrilling stories, which deserve the greatest attention.

John C. Espy’s Eat the Evidence: A Journey Through the Boroughs of a Pedophilic Cannibal’s Mind

Image: John C. Espy’s Eat the Evidence: A Journey Through the Boroughs of a Pedophilic Cannibal’s Mind Book Cover. Source. All rights reserved.

Author: Elvis Coimbra Gomes

Raw. Revolting. Unrestrained. These are the three words that pop into my mind after reading John C. Espy’s Eat the Evidence: A Journey Through the Boroughs of a Pedophilic Cannibal’s Mind, the first book in a series by Karnac Press. Based on hundreds of hours of interviews, Espy delivers the biography of the child predator Nathaniel Bar Jonah in a journalistic style. Although the protagonist was born David Paul Brown in 1957, Espy always refers to him as Bar Jonah (a self given name with a religious background) in order to shape his monstrous character. The reader follows the protagonist from his birth up to the murder of 10-year-old Zachary Ramsay in 1996 in Great Falls, Montana. We discover a constantly lying character, who gets the confidence of many parents in order to get access to their children. The more we read, the more we get frustrated by the naivety and ignorance of Bar Jonah’s surroundings. Wouldn’t a woman find it weird, if her lover didn’t want to share the same bedroom in order to preserve his virginity until marriage, but welcomed little boys to sleep in his bed with him? We get disgusted when Bar Jonah offers his special chili con carne (made out of human flesh) to his neighbors. We get revolted by his release when Christian psychologists evaluate him and understand that his deeds were “in the service of the Lord.” And we even get challenged to question if pedophilia is not only another sexual orientation that is fortunately seen as immoral when another pedophile, Doc Bauman, questions Bar Jonah’s murderous attitude.

Through very short, but detailed, descriptions of the character and his atrocious killings, Espy culminates in twisting the reader’s stomach. You feel suffocated by Bar Jonah’s hunger. The sharp and direct words sting your olfactory senses once you realize that the description of Bar Jonah’s horrid scent is invading your nose. This however won’t let you put the book aside. After a deep breath of fresh air you pick it up again because of the thrilling, fast-developing plot that turns you into an investigator of the Ramsey case.

It might be disappointing that the plot is told in a third-person narrative, however this might also be the strength of this book. Espy’s aim wasn’t to pity Bar Jonah’s condition, but to show how this psychopathic mind works. He wanted to “take the reader inside the inner world of a serial pedophile but also to allow the reader to experience someone as pathologically primitive from within.” Before plunging into the narrative, Espy takes time to educate the reader on the condition of a pedophile which instantly shapes the monstrous character of Bar Jonah: “It is imperative for the reader to understand that pedophiles live for only one purpose and that is to manifest their pedophilia. Everything that the pedophile does is to find a way to express this profoundly primitive psychological state of being. Inherent in the world of the pedophile is the aspect of lying, deception, and manipulation; they are the life’s blood of his inner and interpersonal world and are manifest through a primitive psychological mechanism called projective identification.”

Although the editor missed some spelling mistakes, this book might not be the best read for some people due to its harsh treatment of such disturbing topics. As a big fan of torture porn movies like Hostel (Eli Roth, 2005) and the Saw franchise (2003-2010), I had an uncomfortable, yet insightful, reading experience. The book really does “take the serial perpetrator into the psycho of the reader” as does the synopsis state. Espy really punches you in the guts with his raw vocabulary and sometimes cynic tone and leaves you craving for the second part A Parasite in the Mind (published in September 2014). A must read for all those who want to get instructed and who are interested in the dark boroughs of a troubled human mind.

A.M. Homes’ May We Be Forgiven and the Essay I Never Wrote

Image: Photo © Lila Mabiala

Author: Lila Mabiala

A.M. Homes’ May We Be Forgiven and the Essay I Never Wrote

All the time I was reading May We Be Forgiven, I kept having to jot things down, thinking they corresponded to the exact topic of an essay I had written a few semesters back. I thought either for a class on Post-modernism I took in Lausanne or a more recent one about the Post-1945 Novel in Fribourg. This novel was like an echo to everything I had learned and been interested in.

The book rings a tribute to all things Am-Lit. Aside from references which are spelled out in full, a lot of elements nagged me throughout, challenging me to identify and remember. I’ve only taken two American literature classes in my university career but obviously they covered some vital bases. Enough for me to want to tear this book apart and dissect it.

Harry Silver has a brief affair with Jane, his brother George’s wife. A cheeky peck, car crash and a couple unforgiven acts later, the Silver brothers’ lives are turned upside down and shattered into a million pieces. The book follows Harry during the full year following that fateful Thanksgiving evening. A book which starts and ends with Thanksgiving? That’s right, we’ve just been catapulted straight into Americana.

Welcome –

Fans of Nabokov’s Lolita

Harry has something distinctly Humbert Humbert-y about him. It’s not only about a shared initial. He’s a middle-aged university professor. Simple enough (fans of Delillo, don’t worry, we haven’t forgotten Jack Gladney). Though Harry never detects it in himself, the reader can’t help but feel an awkward sense of déjà-vu when he goes on road trips with the children, and frequently shares his bed with them. He plays the role of surrogate father to the T. At one point he even compares his own excitement to the way “Humbert Humbert once liltingly tripped over the three syllables in Lo-lee-ta” (p 183).

Recap: lonely professor, attachments to children under his responsibility, road-trips through America (where the children are in charge) – check, check, check.

Fans of DeLillo’s White Noise

Homes’ tribute to Delillo couldn’t be clearer. Harry actually runs into Don DeLillo as a person more than once in the novel– when grocery shopping for example. And how could we forget the meaning Delillo invests in the setting himself in his blatant denunciation of consumerism. Jack Gladney is a professor of Hitler studies, Harry Silver a Nixon over-enthusiast. Both men’s obsession with a single historical figure can undoubtedly be paralleled.

Recap: fear of death/need to feel alive, initially harmless betrayal leading to murder, intellectually ambitious eldest sons, abundance of children with Stories, …- that’s clearly a pass.

Fans of Palahniuk’s Invisible Monsters

“She has a weird problem where whenever she goes to someone’s house for a weekend she steals drugs from everyone’s medicine cabinets” (p321) sounds just like the Rhea sisters. This is only one example of self-medication in May We Be Forgiven. It is an issue which crops up in a number of American novels I have read, and one that would merit looking into. That’s what I was aiming for the topic of “One pill to save them all: counting on medication to solve all one’s problems”, using some of the novels I am mentioning here (White Noise, The Corrections, as well as Invisible Monsters obviously).

Recap: serious sibling issues, pill guzzling – you bet!

Fans of Franzen’s The Corrections

For an epic family portrait. But mainly because Enid and Alfred Lambert are all the (grand)parent figures in May We Be Forgiven. The complicated nature of family relations and the dangers of festive meals are also common to both novels.

Recap: old-age ailments and miraculous recoveries, not forgetting…wait for it…the lonely professor (in the shape of Chip Lambert) – it’s all there.

Fans of the Double

This is one of the most complex themes in literature and anyone interested in it is in for a treat with Harry and George Silver. Are they really separate? They can definitely be read as one and the same, as projections of each other. Are they ever seen in the same place at the same time? It’s a truly troubling dimension of the story; proceed with determination and a good eye for detail. Things like “I have no doubt that the only thing that stopped him was narcissism – to kill me was also to kill some part of himself” (p178) will titillate these fans. I myself somehow thought of the narrator as being called George at times; Harry’s name is very seldom mentioned

Recap: mistaken, borrowed, stolen identities – not only between George and Harry but also Amanda and Heather…there is enough to stay entertained long enough.

May We Be Forgiven is a magnificent pot-pourri of a strikingly difficult to label tradition of literature in America. Homes has acted like Frankenstein, skilfully putting it all together, with seamless narration, compelling penmanship and a confidently demented pace. The content is dramatic and worrying but the tale of redemption behind it all is heart-warming and full of hope. This is probably one of the best books I have read in a while, making me want to betray my passion for all things Romantic and dive into contemporary American literature instead. What about that essay, I hear you say? Well, as I was gathering my notes to write this review, I just couldn’t find it anywhere. How come I could remember researching it so vividly though? Well, I found out that in fact I had only started elaborating the topic as one of two exam questions…and I never got the chance to discuss it! Is it a bad sign when you wish you could sit an exam all over again, just to be able to go further with an idea? Or maybe it’s just the sign of a truly good, thought-provoking novel…