Jaws by Peter Benchley

Jaws by Peter Benchley is everything that you want from a thriller; it's fast, it's gory and very tense - a great read for a relaxing day at the beach!

You've all seen the movie, now it is time to read Jaws the book. When a killer great white shark makes the waters around Amity it's home, it is up to the local Sheriff, a marine scientist and a fisherman to save the town from the menace lurking in their waters.

This book has everything. Giant man-eating under water creatures. Mangled bodies. Local politics. Love affairs. Suburban family woes. Not to mention action and spine-tingling tension that keeps you on the edge of your seat.

Benchley created a great cast of characters in Jaws, the highlight being that of Quint, the fisherman hired by Chief Brody to kill the shark that is terrorising the beach side town. He is thoroughly unsympathetic (as are most of the characters) as a character and yet you cannot help but admire the way he approaches life in his very direct manner.

The best thing about Jaws, and where I felt that it differed most from the movie, was the way in which Benchley portrayed the great white shark. In the movie, it felt as thought the shark was this malicious creature, deliberately out to destroy the men and their boat.

In the book, however, Benchley has portrayed this shark as an ancient and magnificent creature of the sea, without any malicious intent. Instead, it is clearly a creature driven by instinct, that instinct being an instinct to kill.

I purchased this book while I was staying in Fremantle, a beach side town in Western Australia. I loved the feel of lying near the beach (in the shade of course, I am a very pale person!) and listening to the sounds of the ocean whilst reading about a similar sea side town being terrorised by a killer shark. Perhaps that sounds strange, but it meant that I could really get into the mood of Jaws, as I am sure Peter Benchley would have wanted.

This isn't a great work of literary fiction by any means, but it is a fabulous book for those times whenyou need something quick and exciting. It will be a great book to re-read and I highly recommend it.

6.5 / 8: Couldn't put it down, highly recommended.

I know it's not very often that a book lover would admit this but - the book was not as good as the movie. I would love to know what anyone else who has read the book thinks of it, especially as compared to the movie?

Do you enjoy a good ghost story?

Image from ehow.com

"My 'attitude' towards ghost stories is one of enthralling interest and admiration if they are well told. I regard the ghost story as a perfectly legitimate form of art, and at the same time as the most difficult. Ghosts have their own atmosphere and their own reality, they have also their setting in the everyday reality we know; the storyteller is handling two realities at the same time..."

May Sinclair, The Bookman, 1923

Last year I read two ghost stories.

The first was Henry James's The Turn of the Screw and the second was Sarah Water's The Little Stranger.  Both were great stories, but especially James's The Turn of the Screw. I read it in one sitting because I couldn't put it down and the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end for most of it.

Ever since, I have been completely enthusiastic about exploring ghost stories as a literary genre… and my next foray into the world of ghosts has been my current read, The Virago Book of Ghost Stories. It is a collection of 20th Century ghost stories written by some of the most fabulous and talented female authors of that time, including Edith Wharton, Angela Carter and Elizabeth Bowen.

At the very beginning of the preface to this collection of ghost stories is the above quote by May Sinclair and when I read it I fell in love with her words. Not just because I loved Sinclair's own contribution to this collection, but because it captures so accurately how I feel about ghost stories.

They are enthralling.

When I read ghost stories I feel as close to the character telling the story as I might feel to a flesh and blood person telling me of their own ghostly stories.

What Sinclair says about the two realities is so true. A good ghost story blends the supernatural with the everyday reality in such a way as to make the supernatural feel natural, albeit spine chillingly sinister (most of the time). It is the atmosphere that this blend of the real and the 'imaginary' creates that is enthralling.

These stories have me completely sucked in and I wish that the Virago Book of Ghost Stories would never end.

It has, however, got me thinking.

Do I believe in ghosts?

Now I know this is a book and it's not real – don't worry. But I have always had a suspicion that ghosts really do exist, after a ghostly experience I had as a teenager.

This is my own ghost story.

First, let me set the scene. In the family home in which I grew up, there was a hallway that lead from the main living room towards the end of the house. As you walked down the hall, there were 2 doors going off to either side. On the right, the first door led my younger sister's bedroom. The second led to my parent's bedroom. On the left, the first door led to the kitchen and the second to the bathroom. My bedroom was directly at the end of the hall.

This event happened in 2001, the year of my HSC exams (end of school exams for any non-Australians reading this). I was always a good studier, and as usual I was in my bedroom studying at my desk, which was right next to my bedroom door. It's my habit to keep my bedroom door closed, and this day was no exception. I remember being at home alone, although I can't remember anymore where everyone was. It was the afternoon, so it was very quiet around the neighbourhood and as such there was no background noise to distract me from my study.

I was completely engrossed in my study when all of a sudden I heard a sound. I wasn't even sure what the sound was, but there was a sound that made me look up from what I was doing and listen.

I listened very hard, and then I heard it again… a footstep in the hallway. I froze. I kept listening. Eventually I called out "Hello?" There was so response, but eventually I heard another footstep.

I went completely rigid. Every muscle in my body froze. I remember staring at the wall in front of me and not being able to move as I listened.

The footsteps started coming slowly up the hall towards me. I still couldn't move. I was so terrified. I held my breath. I gripped my pen. And I kept staring at the wall in front of me waiting for something to happen.

I think in my mind at the time I assumed that we had been broken into and that it was the offender that I was hearing moving down the hall towards me.

Eventually the footsteps stopped right outside my door and by this time I was completely panicking – internally that is. I was till frozen, unable to move or think or call for help.

Then nothing happened. I don't even know how long I sat there for. I never heard the footsteps retreat, or go into either of the rooms next to my own. They just stopped outside my door.

Eventually enough time passed for me to be able to move and think. I called out again, "Hello" and there was no response. I got up and slowly opened my bedroom door, and there was no one there.

I was so freaked out that I took a break from study (pretty unusual for me sadly) to have a cup of tea and I finished off my study in the bedroom with the door wide open until people came home.

Ok – you can see from that little story that I wasn't born to be a writer, but I hope that you can also see how an experience like that might make an impressionable teenager at least open to the possibility of ghosts, can’t you?!

My suspicion that ghosts might actually be real was almost confirmed when I went on an underground ghost tour in Edinburgh a few years later. We were in a room several floors under the ground and the tour guide was telling us ghost stories. I was standing right near the door into the corridor, which was so pitch black (as you can imagine) that you couldn't see into it. As the guide was talking I could feel a presence in the corridor. I was becoming more and more terrified and was nearly on the point of saying to the guide that I was too scared and I wanted to leave… when another employee of the tour company jumped into the room and screamed "BOO!" As you can imagine, I screamed the loudest out of everyone in the room, and obivously I was sensing the actual presense of this person standing right near me outside of the door. It confirmed that there was no ghostly presence at that time under the streets of Edinburgh.

But I have still always suspected…. that maybe they do exist.

Lately, I have been taking it a few steps further? I am not a religious person. I like to think that there probably is a God, but I definitely don't believe anything that man says about God (ie. follow a particular religion). I don't even know if I believe in life after death. But lately I have been wondering – how can I believe in ghosts if I don't know if I believe in life after death? Can you think that there is probably a God and still believe in ghosts? What is a ghost anyway and does it have anything at all do with the afterlife or not? Or anything to do with religion or not? Am I just a sentimental fool for even contemplating the existence of ghosts?

So many questions and so few answers. Now I have exposed my embarrassing secret and personal ghost story it's over to you.

Do you believe in ghosts – or have you had an experience that you can't explain? Do you like reading ghost stories and what is it about ghost stories that you enjoy? I want to know everything!

The Broken Shore by Peter Temple (Australian literary crime fiction)

The Broken Shore is the precursor to Truth, the first crime novel to win the Miles Franklin Award, and so I was excited to be finally reading it. This is, however, the second Peter Temple book that I have read (An Iron Rose being the first), and whilst I very much enjoyed The Broken Shore, it was very reminiscent of An Iron Rose in terms of the characters, the setting and the plot.

The main character of this book is Joe Cashin, an ex-homicide detective who becomes involved in the investigation of the death of Charles Burgoyne, a local man of large wealth. His death is blamed on some young Aboriginals from the town, but Joe soon discovers that there is something more sinister behind the killing of Charles Burgoyne and the killings that follow.

The same comments that I made about An Iron Rose equally apply to this book. Temple's writing is very spare and gritty. He writes in the hardboiled style made famous by Hammett and Chandler. In fact, the main character in The Broken Shore, Joe Cashin, was very Marlow-esque. He was a complicated character. He had the hardness of an ex-homicide police officer, but was clearly enjoying being in a role where he could exercise his discretion and common sense without all the action.

Temple is skilled at capturing detail despite his spare writing style, and is able to effectively use dialogue to give the story and setting a distinctly Australian setting.

The good thing about The Broken Shore is that not only was he able to capture detail so well but he also covered many important political issues such as crime and justice, police corruption, Aboriginal politics, environmental protection and institutionalised sexual abuse.

I enjoyed The Broken Shore, although it moved very slowly and was worryingly similar to An Iron Rose, from my perspective anyway. I am now looking forward to reading Truth and seeing how it is distinct from these novels.

6 / 8 stars: Enjoyable and well-written. I would recommend it.

Do you ever feel a little bit worried when you read a book that is very similar to other books the author has written? If this were your ordinary crime fiction it perhaps wouldn't bother me, but Temple's writing can just as equally be considered literary fiction as it can crime, I think that I expect something a bit more original from a writer of literary fiction. What do you think? Have you read any more of Temple's writing than me and have a better idea of the distinctions between each of his novels?

End of Agatha Christie Week

A big thank you to everyone who participated in Agatha Christie Week. 

It is the first time that I have dedicated an entire week to a single author and I have had a lot of fun doing so, especially with an author as creative as Agatha Christie.

It was made all the more satisfying for your shared enthusiasm and contributions to Agatha Christie Week. Christie's books have provided me with hours of entertainment over the years and it was a pleasure to share my enjoyment of her books with you.

In case anyone missed anything:

There were also three Christie reviews posted for those of you looking for a good read:

In honour of Agatha Christie week I also made a point of watching a televised version of one of her books - Evil Under the Sun, starring amoungst many famous actors, one of my favourites Maggie Smith. I am a big fan of the movie/tv versions of Christie books and I especially enjoy watching David Suchet's depiction of Hercule Poirot, easily the most accurate portrayal of this eccentric detective.

Have you watched many of the televised versions of Agatha Christie's novels? I would love to know what you think of them and who your favourite actors are that have played the various characters.

Thanks again for participating and I hope you will pop back in next week for some different but no less interesting reviews.