The last few weeks I’ve been re-reading some of my favourite books by the author Charles de Lint. He’s a fantasy writer but it’s not dwarves, barbarians, metal bikini clad hotties, elves or hobbity quests….he’s most popularly known now for his “urban fantasy” books set in the made up city of Newford……
Some years ago a customer came into the shop where I was working at the time and was all pleased because he had just found a Charles de Lint book in a charity shop. I said I’d never heard of him and he was “ohhh try this, I think you’d like it”…I kept the book for a while and then realised I’d had it for nearly a year and hadn’t even read the first page, so that evening when I went to bed I opened the book and some hours later looked up to find it was about 2 in the morning and I had been absolutely spellbound…that book was Memory and Dream and remains my favourite book by him (maybe because it was my first, but also because it is just a wonderful read )….it’s about a young artist called Isabelle who learns how to make her paintings come alive…..at various points in the book her paintings are described so incredibly that I find I can close my eyes and see them. I’ve now re read this book so many times that my copy barely holds itself together but if I was going to be on a desert island I’d definitely want to take this book.
There are a whole series of his books set in Newford and the same group of characters crop up in them, I think everyone’s favourite being Jilly Coppercorn, there are three books written about her (The Onion Girl, Widdershins and Promises to Keep) but I would recommend trying those later, partly because I think it’s better to have read more about the character of Jilly beforehand, and also she is older in two of them so it fits the time line of the books better. Memory and Dream is a really good place to start, other ones to try are “Someplace to be Flying”, “Trader” and “Forests of the Heart”…..
Other characters who turn up in various stories include Geordie Riddle (he’s a musician) his brother Christy (a writer), Sophie and Wendy (friends of Jilly…. in fact there are very few people in Newford that Jilly doesn’t seem to know) Joseph Crazy Dog (he’s part canid and corbae and is just one of a group of characters who fit in with Native American mythological characters) and Cerin and Meran Kelledy (musicians) who first start out in one of his more traditional fantasy stories.
There are a few short story collections about Newford as well as various novels, my favourite of these being “Tapping the Dream Tree”.
As well as Charles de Lint, I also like Jonathan Carroll, again, he’s more of a contemporary fantasy writer…….he is a wonderfully descriptive writer and I don’t think I’ve ever nodded off whilest reading any of his books…… I guess my favourites by him are what are called “The Answered Prayers Sextet” and include Sleeping in Flame, Bones of the Moon, Bones of the Moon and what is possibly my favourite book by him …Outside the Dog Museum.
Like the Charles de Lint book, these stores have a few characters in them who cross over from other books, sometimes only briefly, other times staying in the story longer…possibly the best character is the wonderful shaman called Venasque who makes the best sandwiches ever and who lives with a pig and a dog and can teach you to fly (but only if you need to know how…and really, most people don’t need to)……
Where as the Charles de Lint books have more of a happier ending (not “happy ever afters” like in fairy tales but where you can imagine how peoples stories and lives can continue…..) the Jonathan Carroll stories tend to be more…disruptive. They don’t have comfortable endings or even are themselves always comfortable reading…. some of the images from White Apples stayed with me for ages (think I slept with the bed side light on that night….not because the book was scary but more because the imagery was just so uncomfortable and weird…. it’s an amazing story, maybe I shouldn’t have been reading it just before bed….
His collection of short stories called “The Panic Hand” is one of the best short story collections I’ve read….unsettling would be a good way to describe his stories, weird and odd and beautiful things happen in them (my favourite short story by him is called “Mr Fiddlehead” which is about a woman falling in love with her best friends invisible friend from childhood, who, when the friend has marriage problems appears as a gorgeous grown man who eats plum stones, makes gold jewellery and can only keep around if the friend remains unhappy, so between them they wonder what would make her the most unhappy, something horrible happening to her husband or perhaps to one of her children ……it’s so chillingly awful and made my eyes grow huge reading it.
Another favourite book I like to read each year is Wuthering Heights* (I’ve still to see a film or adaptation that does this story justice)…..it’s a perfect book for reading when Summer has changed into Autumn, and the nights grow shorter, when the weather becomes wild, wet and windy….. sometimes I bundle up and sit and read a few chapters outside on a park bench…once my nose and fingertips are numb I go to my favourite coffee shop and have a big latte or a hot chocolate to recover from my “extreme reading” experience….
When you try to explain the story it sounds like the characters are all a bit crazy….certainly Kathy is what my nanny would have called “highly strung” and as for Heathcliff, my head shakes as I hear him described as a great romantic from literature, he beats up his wife, hangs a dog in a fit of temper, is abusive and violent to pretty much all those around him, he kidnaps a child and forces her into marriage with his sickly son, who he then basically leaves to die…….he’s just terrible…..but on the page…..on the page he’s mesmerising, he sweeps you up along with his Kathy, wild passions and embraces……(perhaps this is why books are so wonderful, our mind allows us to filter out that we don’t like so much in a character, it’s not so easy when it is staring at us on screen……) for me it is Hareton Earnshaw who captured my heart the very first time I read the book, one of my favourite passages is when Catherine Linton (Kathy’s daughter by her husband Edgar) puts some primroses into Hareton’s porridge, and he eats them so as not to let Heathcliff know and make him lose his temper.
*as much as I love love love this book….when I hear those words it’s not Emily Bronte’s book I first think of but the Kate Bush song which has to be my all time favourite song in the world…..if I was on a desert island then that would be the record I’d save from the tides…..as soon as it starts I’m covered in goosebumps and end up singing along to it, and doing a little Kate Bush-esque dance if there is no one watching!