Winter is finally here!
Technically of course, we’re still in Autumn (which started on the 21st of September), but it’s safe to say that there are actually only two concrete seasons in Malta, so let’s just say that Winter has begun.
It’s a time of cosy evenings on the sofa, sipping hot chocolate under a fluffy blanket. When you look at the pattering rain outside, imagining the heavy traffic thronging the slick roads, all you want to do is curl up somewhere, light up a lavender candle, and read a book. In my case, especially in winter, my mind usually turns to either gothic, mystery or dark fantasy novels.
Fables taking place in small cottages in the woods or haunted mansions, populated with strange people and even stranger happenings. Narratives which bring a shiver down my spine, contrasting pleasantly to my warm pyjamas, polka-dot socks, and the storm making its way over Maltese buildings and streets.
I’m sure many of you feel at least part of these emotions too. For those who’ve been waiting for the rainy season, here’s a short list of my favourite winter books which are just perfect for those chilly dark evenings. Some are current, while others are old timeless classics, and yet the ambience is still right for both.
Coraline – Neil Gaiman (2002)
Coraline and her parents have just moved into a new flat, which used to make part of an old house. One rainy day, she discovers a locked door in the living room. Her mother shows her that the door doesn’t go anywhere; there’s only a wall behind it. And yet, when her parents aren’t around and the flat is silent, the door does lead to somewhere. It leads Coraline to another world, another reality – where her parents aren’t always busy, and where she’s allowed to eat as many sweets as she wants and her toys can move and fly by themselves. And yet, something’s not quite right…
We Have Always Lived in the Castle – Shirley Jackson (1962)
Popular in her time, this American writer – who also wrote The Haunting of Hill House – is a real queen of thrillers. This novel in particular is perfect for winter. It’s one of those which takes place in a big old crumbling mansion. At the beginning of the novel, we’re introduced to Merricat, the narrator, who, with her sister and uncle, is the only survivor of a fatal dinner where all the other members of the family were poisoned. Her older sister was accused of the murder, but this was never proven and she was set free. The villagers hate the survivors, partly because they suspect them of murder and partly because they’ve always been envious of their wealth and poshy ways. Living in a self-imposed house-arrest, the question remains: why was the Blackwood family killed?
Something Wicked this Way Comes – Ray Bradbury (1962)
This novel is set in summer, and yet it has a distinct Winterish feel to it as well. Autumn is coming to a small non-descript town in America, and with it, the travelling carnival is coming too. A strange carnival no one’s ever seen before, least of all the two thirteen-year old friends, Jim Nightshade and William Holloway. With the carnival and its dark, twisted array of Vaudevillian freaks, something else arrives as well, something which urges people to reach out towards their darkest desires, without letting them know about the consequences… at least at first.
The Witching Hour – Anne Rice (1990)
Gifted and beautiful neurosurgeon Dr Rowan Mayfair is adopted, yet when her birth mother dies, she’s curious to find out more about her true family and her past. She goes to the funeral in dreamy New Orleans, and realises that the Mayfair family consists of a prosperous clan, a tribe of rich intelligent moguls and dames who are delighted to meet her, and somehow consider her to be the head of the family, even though, she discovers, the women of her line had always been treated warily. If the family is so loving, why was her mother left to vegetate – catatonic and dependent on two old women – in a huge empty house? Where did the family’s wealth really originate from? And who’s the handsome Irish architect who seems to know so much about her, even though they hardly ever met? Who are the Talamasca and what do they want to tell her about the Mayfair Witches?
The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde (1890)
Some novels are ageless, in that they’re valid no matter how long ago they were written. This deceptively horrific story hides a number of questions and revelations on human nature, as well as on the relationship – be it real or imaginary – between truth and appearance. What would you do if you could get away with any evil deed? Would you murder, rape, steal? Hurt people knowing there would be no consequences? Do beauty and eternal youth mean that one is free from all social constrains and morals? Do we follow laws and values only because we have to, or do we do so because we really want to? What lies beneath the thin veneer that separates a calm smiling face from the violent thoughts and fears churning within? There are two ways to enjoy this book – one can look only at the novel and so view it as nothing more than a sinister tale, or else peer below stark realities in order to spy the swirling thoughts and human issues below the surface.
What books do you look forward to reading this winter?
Let us know in the comment section below.