Nordic Noir or Plodding Mystery?

Nordic Noir or Plodding Mystery?

13242182Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell

For the first time in possibly a decade I’m reading more than I have in ages; disiplining myself to set aside time to read just as I have set aside writing time, and its working. So I’m trying to read a little bit more widely and out of my comfort zone. I’ve recently read Quentin Bates’ Frozen Assets, and as I’ve loved the BBC/Kenneth Brannah adaptation of Wallander, I thought I’d try one of Henning Mankell’s Nordic Noir…

What I found was an awkwardly plodding book which saw Wallander plodding through the routines of his investigations. After initially hooking me with the main, bloody, murder the story turns to another story that I expect to end up linked, but which, in the end is resolved with an ‘oh, okay then…’ fashion.

Whilst I will watch the adapations again, I’m not sure I like the Wallander of the books enough to continue.

The Occasional Poet

The Occasional Poet

Whenever I start a new notebook to jot down my writing notes there comes first a period where I have to transcribe bits and pieces across from the old to the new. I have quite a collection of truly interesting story ideas building up now, but I also found some poems I needed to copy to my small book of poems.

One of these poems was one that I began on hearing of my great auntie Kathleen’s death earlier this year At the time I left it because I didn’t know how to complete it, but actually, re-reading it now I find it to be a fitting tribute.

Auntie Kathleen

You saved our Cristmas cake
When we let it cookfor double
the time it should have

I had a question about ham
and you sent me your little book
to help me.

You came all the way
to the foot of Snowdon
When I got married.

You blew bubbles like a pro
You were kind and caring,
with I think, a slightly wicked
Sense of humour.

You gave me five songs for my
wedding, to remember you by
Five songs, and the reasons behind them.
Thank you for the whole host of memories

New runes will come to Odin’s heirs

New runes will come to Odin's heirs

18665033The Gospel of Loki by Joanne Harris

I loved what Joanne Harris has done with the character of the Norse God Loki in her earlier books, Runemarks, and Runelight, and so the prospect of the story of the Norse world from creation to Ragnarok from Loki’s perspective was just too big a draw for anyone. I had to read this book.

What you get is absolutely a standalone tale from the Runemarks books. It is a different Loki too, but older or younger? You can’t tell, and this uncertainness is one of the things that makes The Gospel of Loki so alluring.

In this book, Loki, the trickster god is out to set the record straight; to tell the story of the Norse legends from his perspective for a change instead of the usual (rubbish, he would say) that Odin tells of. I wonder whether his voice in this book is him confessing the story to Maddy (from the Runemarks books)? Those books are set years after Ragnarok as the nine worlds have been, as prophetised, rebuilt again, and this is the prequel to those.

As to the age of Loki. I want to see him as a youngster, but he clearly isn’t that, but he isn’t an old man either. This is the great thing about the Norse Gods – just as they can change Aspect and use their Glam, so they can be of all ages and none. And for this there is all the more to love them for it.

A story that details brilliantly how hour society is only beginning to understand the hidden conditions

A story that details brilliantly how hour society is only beginning to understand the hidden conditions

18481678Elizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey

This is a quite remarkable story from a debut novelist to watch in the future. Emma Healey’s story is told by Maude – an old lady living with the onset of dementia – as such does not always (brilliantly) make sense.

She spends the course of the novel searching for ‘Elizabeth’, her friend, but finds it hard to make herself understood. Indeed it is in the scenes when she is trying to make herself understood that I find are the best. The smaller scenes, the scenes where she encounters people on the street, in shops, or at the police station, are incredibly powerful. They are about a woman with a dementia, but they could so easily refer to, and reflect, how society does not understand people with any of the hidden conditions.

There are poignant and touching moments, but there are also really quite funny episodes, like when Maude is placing a small ad in the local newspaper for her friend, and the woman in the office thinks it is a lost cat.

The fact that this story comes from the pen of an author who’s still so young, makes it even more impressive, and her next novel, which I hope she is already writing, even more anticipated.

A habit of noticing the strangest of things

A habit of noticing the strangest of things

This morning, on my journey into work I saw something – or someone – that I was least expecting to see. From the upstairs window of the bus, I could see a pirate cycling up Headington Hill.

Now, some might think that I was seeing things again. There was the infamous ‘badger on a bicycle’ incident from years ago (rumoured to actually be one of those lie-down tricycles that was coming off the A34 of all places at the North Abingdon slip-road). There was also the jousting knight on a moped that I saw on a country road in Oxfordshire, and most recently of course, earlier this year the medieval blacksmith on the bus. In fairness, although I don’t know whether he was a blacksmith, he was unshaven, wild-haired, and wearing a medieval-like tunic who had made some of his own attire (because I heard him tell this to the 21st century girl he was sat next to).

However, if you see a man – albeit wearing high-vis jacket and riding a bike – flying the Jolly Roger from his “vessel” then the man is clearly a pirate. It seems immaterial to me that his vessel might be the more unconventional bicycle.

Dreams of disconcertedness

Dreams of disconcertedness

I woke this morning, as usual with Radio 4 and Farming Today with every intention of getting up. In fact, I thought – I dreamed – that I did get up and unbelievably, showered, dressed,  fed the puss cats, had breakfast and was all ready to go out by the time that Tweet for the Day came on. Actually, I think I might have been the daily (fictitious?) repeat an hour later, just before 7. Let us ignore for the moment that had I actually have still been in the house at two minutes to seven, that I would have missed the bus. It was all a dream, and in the best traditions of dreams it doesn’t really make sense. It was also an anxious, panicky type of dream.

To understand exactly the nature of this morning’s anxious dreams we have to go back a few week’s to another dream that I don’t think I realised was a dream until now…

It was the weekend that my Mum and Dad came to stay to celebrate my birthday. I have this memory – a false memory as it turns out – that whilst on the way back from somewhere we stopped in Brill (maybe?) at a tumble-down little cottage on the hill, where an old lady was selling plants and crafts. Emma bought something – some crafts I think, and I remember her saying something about what her Dad told her never to do as she was getting money out her purse. Then later on she discovered her wedding ring was missing. The only thing that we could think was that she put her wedding ring in her purse whilst she tried on the ring that she was buying from the old lady (the crafty thing must have been jewellery?) and then paid for the gift jewellery with her wedding ring. I remember saying that we can just go back and see her, but Emma pointed out that the old lady had it now and wouldn’t give it back, and that can’t be what happened anyway, and that not to worry because it would turn up.

I really should have know that was a dream there and then then because that’s a very rational, considered – unbelievable response! But anyway I thought it was real even though nothing more was said about it.

So this morning I woke up really anxious and panicky about it, and thinking all the time that I must make sure to remember to ask/check with Emma if she had her ring still or if some old lady with a tumbledown cottage in Brill had taken it, before I left for work and really worrying in case I didn’t and then I would be worrying about it all day. Clearly, my anxiousness stayed with me after I ‘woke up’ properly. I even kept on going back trying to remember the details of what we did and where we went that weekend to try and remember where it was that it happened (was it Brill?) and why her Dad had warned her about something…

It really freaked me out.


The voice that inspires

The voice that inspires

8711783The Voice That Thunders by Alan Garner

I began to read this book of essays and lectures with some trepidation. Since before my teenage years I have loved Alan Garner’s books and have grown up with them at my side, but it has been a relationship that has become progressively difficult. His books, particularly Strandloper and Thursbitch, which can be near to incomprehensible. I was thus worried, that this book of essays would be a similarly difficult read.

I am so glad that I didn’t let these concerns stop me from reading The Voice That Thunders though. Yes, there are some intellectally challenging chapters that shows Garner’s detailed knowledge of his subject, but mostly it is a collection of talks that cannot fail you to write stories and enjoy words.

It’s a book that I can’t begin to count the number of times I quoted sections from it, let alone the number of times I didn’t because it wasn’t convenient at the time, and then I’d passed another half dozen of quotable passages. An inspiring read!

Of Dreams and Dylan Thomas: the power and mystery of words

Of Dreams and Dylan Thomas: the power and mystery of words

In contrast to yesterday, today has been altogether a more productive, enjoyable kind of day. It began with a bit of read in bed this morning, which included a spot of dream reading. Now, does anyone else ever dream read. Dream reading is when you are there reading, your book in front of you, working your way through the story/text just like you do albeit with varying levels of sense… and then you wake up. You realise, that you’ve dozed off and when you try and find your place you find the words on the page are completely different. It is a weird, confusing occurence though!! Does anyone else experience this? No? Just me, then. Me and my weird brain…

Nice, relaxing breakfast, and then I set to cleaning out the animals in the sunshine whilst listening to last week’s Desert Island Discs with Blue Peter editor Biddy Baxter. I made lemonade from the kit that the Shaw’s gave me for Christmas and I finally got round to writing my review of Time Was Soft There which Helen gave me for my birthday. I mention this last act particularly because I wrote the review on my laptop, which whilst still being a little slow to open things (it is 4½ years old though!) was accessing the old t’internet with some degree of speed expected of it. Maybe whatever it was I did succeed in doing yesterday worked?

I’ve earthed up the potatoes this afternoon too, and read lots more of my book during the heat of the day – well I sure as hell ain’t getting hot and sticky vacumning when its already hot and sticky! Then I made dinner of mashed fish (really this is a dish that is a lot tastier than the name might suggest – I seem to have quite a few recipes in my repetoire that seem to fall into this category) and then we settled down to watch the new production of Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood with an all-star, mostly Welsh cast. It was very interesting done, briliantly made in a way that completely highlighted the power of Dylan Thomas’ words…. but they cut it! It was only about an hour long which means they actually cut at least half an hour, maybe more. I would love to have seen this version but complete. Oh, why BBC, why did you deprive us so.

And now I’ve caught up with writing about my weekend in these pages. I used to write about my daily goings on so much more regularly than of late. I need to get back into the habit of it.

An unachieving kind of day

An unachieving kind of day

I thought that today might be a productive kind of day. Emma had to go to work this morning and then be on call for the rest of the weekend, so it was always going to be the quieter kind of around-the-house kind of time. To this end, I got up with Emma, and made breakfast before she headed off to work, but then I kind of remained on the sofa for a bit longer doing a bit of Open Day-relatated social mediaing. And then the rain started, so I had went and showered dressed and headed out to feed the chickens and the bunnies. Even though I had my waterproofs on by the time I came in the rain had  been so heavy I was wet through. There was also a text waiting for me from Emma suggesting that, in this weather, it was maybe best if I didn’t do the cycle Tour de Bicester to go to the butchers and get veg from the market.

By the time Emma got back from work it was actually clearing up, but she came with to Launton and town anyway. I love it now, when I pitch up the butchers towards closing time on a Saturday, Lotte and John know in the butchers that I haven’t been in yet, and also what it is I’m likely to be wanting and so haven’t put it away yet.

Because it was getting late we got scrummy things for lunch Nash’s bakery, and had a late lunch. I wanted to spend time sorting out my novel for the unsolicited submission month at Jonathon Cape, and read some more of my book, but instead spent more time than is healthy for me trying to persuade my 4½-year old laptop to access the internet with the same speed that our Kindles do. I hate computers when they don’t do what I want them to do when I want them to. They are fantastic tools when they are doing the job in hand, but otherwise they are a pain in the bleedin’, soddin’ kneck… *mutter mutter grumble grumble*

I did do *something* to make the laptop situation improved, I think (maybe, possibly, in a fair wind…) so put it away (in possibly a small amount of a strop), made a nice pot of tea and sat out in the garden to read some of Alan Garner’s The Voice of Thunder. This is a book of essays/lectures he has given over the years about his writing, work, and research and is for the most part really accessible (I had been concerned that it might be, as sometimes his novels can be, although technically brilliant, a bit on the confusing side). I shall be reviewing this soon, maybe this week.

So dinner, spaghetti bolognaise – Emma’s favourite on-call meal – was a bit late. We caught up Friday’s Springwatch Unsprung, and Episodes, and that, was about it. So I did salvage something from a wet and frustrating day.

A bookophile’s book

A bookophile's book

55008Time Was Soft There: A Paris Sojourn at Shakespeare & Jeremy Mercer

This is a bookophiles book; a book for everyone who loves everything about books, and the written word. It is impossible that I wouldn’t love it.

I had little idea what to expect when I added this to my too read wish list. I have only recently discovered that Shakespeare & Co. is a real place. I first encountered it whilst watching the brilliant, Before Sunset. I just assumed that the bookshop was an invention of a clever script and a location manager – I never dreamed it was actually real until a friend posted a picture of them outside of it a few years later.

And what a marvellous truth it is that this bookshop does exist. Who hasn’t – or a least who who doesn’t also love books – dreamed of living in a bookshop. Next to eating and sleeping in a library, surely it is the most perfect of dreams. Time Was Soft There is Jeremy Mercer’s own story of the time when he ended up living and working, and writing, and loving in Shakespeare & Co., and through him you get the biography of the bookshops owner and creator, George Whitman.

The cast is bohemian, as are the stories, many of them self-contained in their nature. Indeed, for me, the book works best in the first two-thirds, when each chapter is pretty much a self-contained story. When we get towards the end of Mercer’s accounts, the book has more of an over-arching story, and this for me detracts from the portraits of individual characters. Even so, a wonderful book of a a wonderful place, that one day I will visit.

The world will grow again, fresh and green and beautiful

The world will grow again, fresh and green and beautiful

31IuxTwAorLTales of the Norse Gods by Barbara Leonie Picard, Rosamund Fowler (Illustrator)

This is a charming little book that takes you through the stories of the Norse Gods. There is an over-arching story that runs through the series of shorter tales hich could each be read, if you liked, individually.

Each story is headed up with a small woodcut which really does add to the appeal of this book. I think my favourite story in this collection is The Lady of the Vanir which features Loki, Freyia and the Brisen-gamen. I feel having read it that I should have read this years ago before tackling Alan Garner’s The Weirdstone of Brisengamen as I think I might finally be understanding Susan’s story in that.

But that’s the joy of a book like this. It tells the tales in a simple way, almost like fairy tale, or fable, or even as a kind of ‘Just So Story’. It’s a collection not to just entertain but to inspire. I am getting ideas of my own for a follow-up to The End Of All Worlds! But then this book invites sequels and retellings…

one day, out of the sea that had engulfed it, and out of the ruins, the world would grow again, fresh and green and beautiful; with fair people dwelling on it, born from Lifthrasir and Lif, the only man and woman to escape the fire


Realistic language, WTF?

Realistic language, WTF?

Tonight on Front Row tonight they were discussing the challenges of keeping the dialogue of teenagers authentic with writer of E4′s Youngers Levi David Addai and star Calvin Demba, along with reflections from Val McDermid, Phil Redmond and Joss Whedon on how they’ve tried to make their teen characters ring true.

I always remember an interview in the Radio Times with Steven Moffatt (long before Doctor Who) about how he wrote Press Gang. He said, on the subject of naturalistic young dialogue that he couldn’t, not at 5.05pm on a Wednesday afternoon. Truly naturalistic dialogue would be to have a f-word a minute, and swear words peppered like punctuation. I was reminded of this only a few weeks ago as I found myself sat diagonally opposite by some college kids on the bus home. They were, if you listened – and their voices were loud enough that you couldn’t not – talking quite intelligently and profoundly but it was peppered like machine-gun fire with f-words.

The solution that Moffat found was to layer the dialogue with linguistic tricks and to write the kind of dialogue that 16-words would want to, and aspire to speak. Redmond and Whedon were saying something similar.

I agree with this stance. Truly naturalistic dialogue of whatever kind may be authentic, but it can be almost unreadable and can date very, very quickly. better i think to hint at a relaxed way of speech and allow the reader or the actor to bring their own interpretation.

Murder Mystery or Nordic Noir…?

Murder Mystery or Nordic Noir...?

9781849017756Frozen Out by Quentin Bates

I’ve not really read much detective fiction/thrillers so I am unused to the conventions of the genre but I enjoyed this book – the first in the Officer Gunnhildur series. It’s a story set at the height of the global credit crisis, and set in small-town Iceland. It’s a story that is bigger than just the murder of a man into an isolated harbour as it draws in corporate and political corruption.

You can tell that it’s supposed to be another thriller along the ‘Nordic Noir’ theme but I’m not sure it ever quite manages that. There are some very effective scenes that play with the lonely, and bleak isolation of the small town that mirrors Gunnhildur’s own life in many ways but at the same time it can be awkwardly pedestrian. There are a few too many scenes which for me tell too much but show me nothing as the action flits backwards and forwards between Reykjavik and Hvalvik.

I probably shouldn’t admit this as another English-born author who has written stories set in Iceland, but I found that even though Quentin Bates has apparently lived in Iceland for 10 years, I found that some of the language and narrative felt a bit too ‘English’. This is something that Hannah Kent (an Australian who only lived in Iceland for one year) managed so successful in her debut novel Burial Rites – indeed so much so that her portrait of Iceland is all too real.

I found the character of the Skandalblogger perhaps the most interesting meeting him or her only through their blog posts. I really hope that this is not the last we see of them, and that at some point we discover their real identity. I have my suspicions that we may have already have met them!

All in the best possible taste: discovering Grayson Perry

All in the best possible taste: discovering Grayson Perry

17995518The Vanity of Small Differences by Grayson Perry

Until recently I didn’t really no much about the Grayson Perry, except that he was a transvestite potter who had won the Turner Prize. His recent presentation of the BBC Reith Lectures opened up but his work as an artist in me but my interest in the Reith Lectures (neither of which I had really exposed myself too, before).

When we visited Birmingham last Saturday it was to go and look at the tapestries featured in this book (as well visiting the new, and excellent, Public Library), and seeing the six large, and incredibly detailed tapestries depicting the rise and fall of the fictional anti-hero Tim Rakewell and our response to class and taste that comes of that, it prompted me to buy this book and find out more.

Next up I want to watch the DVD of the Channel 4 documentary to see what inspired Perry to make the tapestries.

One Wish: the tricksy magic of Michelle Harrison

One Wish: the tricksy magic of Michelle Harrison

18756972One Wish by Michelle Harrison

Some people might think that stories about fairies are childish and silly and possibly inconsequential. Not so, the fey of Michelle Harrisons 13 Treasures books. They are dark and scary, tricksy and all too real.

With Michelle’s last book, Unrest, it looked like she was turning her back on her younger readers for something that was sheer terror to the bravest of adults and all the more brilliant for it. So when it was announced that her next book was to be a return to the 13 Treasures world ‘for younger readers’ and not just that but a prequel involving the story of Tanya younger than she was in the first, original, and award-winning book from 2009, I really was wondering what to expect, and how this could possibly work.

This book is not just a story for younger readers, it is a story for readers of every age, and it doesn’t hold back. When Tanya Fairchild arrives in Spinney Wicket she can already see fairies, and she learns that she has the second sight so is not so surprised when she encounters the Wishing Tree who delights in speaking in rhyme and wordplay. When she meets Ratty, she gets up in an adventure that is dark and dangerous and has lessons for us all about the importance of imagination, creativity, and the sense of self. As I read this book, whilst understandably gripped by the story, I also found myself nodding to the genuine insight into how life is, and found myself wanting to quote this line, and that phrase. A prequel to Tanya’s story, yes, but an adventure that in no way could have been written first.

Oh, and it’s also a book that might, just might, get children eating their Brussel sprouts!

One Wish is published by Simon & Schuster UK  on 5 June 2014
ISBN 9781471121654 | 352 pages | List Price £6.99

Did I ever tell you that I love a good story dream?

Did I ever tell you that I love a good story dream?

Time was that I used to have lots of story dreams, some based on real events, some completely fantastical, usually episodic across consecutive nights. Of late though, I’ve been having fewer of these, and when I do, they haven’t been as memorable.

Last night though, I was attending a writer’s conference with all my old university cohort. Jon Scotcher was there and was trying to talk to me about eBooks but could never quite get to talk to me because some really annoying lady (who seemed to know me, but I had never met before) kept on pestering about me about her own experiences of being published.

I went to college in the middle of a Cheshire field, but for some reason the Creative Arts Reunion Writers Conference (I have no idea if that’s what it was called but it describes it quite well) was being held up the Queen Elizabeth Lecture Theatre – a surprisingly auspicious name for a temporarily constructed room erected prior to major campus redevelopment – which post-dated our time at College, and was in fact located in a now demolished building in the old two-story bit of Darcy Building at Oxford Brookes University. It didn’t seem to matter that we were existing in the same time and space as the new pubic plaza at the front of the new entrance…

After the plenary we broke out into discussion groups which seemed to bring in people who worked in the National Trust volunteer office, and I was very excited to see the new working holiday brochures with some of Emma and my wedding photographs from Craflwyn Hall.

We had been booked into one, massive hotel somewhere but we were being switched and I got a taxi with some of my course-mates to the new hotel on Above Bar street in Southampton…

…only at this point did it occur to me that this was some crazy, mixed up writers’ conference. Still, if you’re going to have a crazy, mixed up conference then it might as well be for crazy, mixed up writers.

Alphabetical: the story of the ox-house

Alphabetical: the story of the ox-house

alphabetical  by

I have enjoyed dipping in an out of this book a chapter – or should I say a letter – at a time since Christmas. The history of, and the stories behind, words, letters, and languages are fascinating and this book is every bit as fascinating.

I never realised that, to take its actual, literal meaning, the alphabet is an ox-house! And there are so many other gems that its hard to single them out. Each chapter concerns the history and story of one letter, and then Michael goes on to use the letter to tell some other story about how language has evolved. He goes back to the earliest cyphers and rune markings right up through letterpress and mass publication to the 21st century texts and tweets of the digital age.

Next time you send a tweet, stop for a moment, and think of it as a telegram of old.

A dark tale, set in the dark, dark woods

A dark tale, set in the dark, dark woods


This is the second in the Crowfield trilogy by Pat Walsh – a series of books that pitches religious beliefs with beliefs of magic and the fae world. Our hero is Will an orphan who finds himself under the guardianship of the monks of Crowfield Abbey, but his real, true companions are Shadlok – a fay trapped in this world and bound to Will for as long as he lives – and ‘the hob’whom we both met in the first book of the series.

It’s a dark tale, taking place in the woods (don’t all fairy tales take place in woods…) and the crumbling abbey, threatened by some dark magic. When the church collapses and monks die it is largely because they haven’t listened to Will when he talks of dark magic, as they prefer to have blinded faith in their God who does nothing to help them at their hour of need.

The language of the book is immediate and now, but in its tone succeeds in reflecting the darkness and senses of the medieval world.

Back to Basics

Back to Basics

Back in the day I learnt my photography on a secondhand Practica 35mm SLR camera. About the only automatic function that I had was a little lever to check the exposure, other than that it was all manual. I’m not saying that I ever completely grasped the business of f-stops and ISO settings but I at least was able to fiddle with them and see the difference happening actually inside the camera before my clicking my shutter to a shot that I had some degree of certainty in.

Digital is a different kind of skill, but related (or at least related in a forgotten kind of way). I want to not forget. I want to be able to learn how to use my DSLR camera in a way that means I can fiddle quickly with manual settings have more chance of getting the shot that was in my mind’s eye.


And there’s the thing. Anyone with a half-decent digital camera can, come up with picture-perfect, stunning shots – the kind of shots that most of us would, year’s ago have dreamed of getting. But year’s ago (and by year’s, I mean actually, not that many years – 15 years maybe, tops, which is actually not that long…) film and developing were expensive and unless you were a photoholic like me you would only take one or maybe two shots of a subject.

Even so, now, if you have an idea in mind for a project – an illustration, brochure, or poster – and you need some source material to work from (and you can’t go and take it yourself) you’d be surprised at just how often when you look at the various online galleries and stockphoto websites there are lots and lots and lots of images that are all very much the same. Only the very few capture the idea that you dreamed up in your mind.

Which leaves me to think that whilst anyone, given some good kit and the opportunity can take a very, very, good photograph of something, only a very  few can take a truly unique photograph. Because that skill is in the mind, not the camera. That skill would be very nice, very nice indeed, to have.


The Mysteries that Shroud the old Green Knowe

The Mysteries that Shroud the old Green Knowe

riversGreenKnoweThe River at Green Knowe by , illustrated 

Lucy Boston’s first and original book, The Children of Green Knowe has long been a favourite of mine – a ghost story with a hint of fantasy set in the quietly mysterious Fens. Six years ago I visited the actual Green Knowe house and had a tour of the Norman manor house in Hemingford Grey by Lucy’s daughter, Diana Boston.

The second book in the series, The Chimneys of Green Knowe is a similarly fantastical time-shift story, but this third installment lacks for most of the story any of the ghost or fantasy elements of the story.

The story concerns a new set of children who are visiting the house for the summer, but it is a story that is for the most part less about Green Knowe but the river that surrounds it and concerned with the adventures, discoveries, and the people that the children meet whilst messing about on the river. Mrs Oldknowe, the old lady of the earlier stories, is mentioned only once in passing is not until the last short section that the house takes on its old, mysterious persona.

For all this it is absolutely beautifully and sumptuously written, and a delight to read, and makes me want to go back and explore the real gardens with its strange topiary that really could come to life upon a moonlit evening.