The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy (2006)

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I solemnly read the last line of the book I am holding, then close it and put it on the desk next to my bed.

It is 1:30 am and I have finally added James Ellroy’s ‘The Black Dahlia’ to my list of books I no longer have to beat myself up over not having read. Struck with faint memories of the movie adaptation many years before, I knew to expect a seedy unfolding of lust and gruesomeness. It played out perfectly so, and I was prepared for any sexual explicitness or violent bludgeoning the book had in store for me. The twists and turns, and the quick pace of a budding detective/ boxer cop Bucky Bleichert as he becomes entangled in murder and mayhem, at first seemed incongruous to me (who has never dabbled in cop or boxing novels before). But as I progressed from chapter to chapter I became sucked into a world that I couldn’t tear my eyes away from. The book centers around the horrific murder of Elisabeth Short, a whore and aspiring actress, who comes to be known posthumously as The Black Dahlia. A girl with no talent (except in the bedroom) who spins tales of lost war lovers and non-existent  babies…a lost, fragile flower getting by with the only thing she has, her body. I could go into typical book review mode right about now, but I hate spilling the plot; each person should have their own journey into the story of a text. What I do want to talk about though is The Black Dahlia herself, because instead of going to bed, I find myself thinking about her, I find myself obsessing over this poor girl’s pathetic story like the cop duo Bucky and his partner Lee did. It ends up possessing them and turning them to the very corners of themselves, to the corners of self-destruction and emotional corrosion. Her ghostly hooks are already in me.

A book is just a book, right? So imagine my surprise when I hop onto the old faithful google and Wikipedia informs me that the novel is based on historical fact: The Black Dahlia was a real woman who suffered a real death. For those of you who don’t know, she was found in two halves, drained of blood, internal body parts missing, disemboweled, legs broken and wide apart, teeth gnashed into face, mouth slit into a smile from ear to ear…I think you get the picture. In reality the case remains unsolved till this day, with Ellroy’s novel being a fictional speculation. But one thing that is not speculation is that this is a story that sparks many conjectures about the treatment of the female body in society. It can’t be normal, that as I sit and type this out, the Dahlia is seated mutely in a chair at the corner of my room with an expression vividly reminiscent of Edvard Munch’s German Expressionist painting ‘The Scream’. I don’t think she was the seductress that the world made her out to be. It’s so typical of society to label women ‘whores’, who don’t fit into their image of the sinless, perfect, angelic woman. She made mistakes, but she also probably made decisions based on the only choices she had in life. The pieces of her biography offers us a sad life…a confused and vulnerable girl whose fate was brutality.

I enjoyed James Ellroy’s novel, but the picture painted of Elisabeth Short in his pages leaves me unsatisfied. I find myself wishing I could meet her, talk her through life, give her options to a better life…a brighter future beyond the vacant plot she ended up in. So here’s where my contemplations come in. Whether you’re a man or a woman, life sometimes hands you a raw deal. It’s easy for people to say, well you should do this or that…sometimes you don’t have the financial or mental means for such things. Sometimes you find yourself having to work through your demons face to face and do things you’re not particularly fond of (like the Dahlia) I think the only way to win in this life, is to keep your own personal integrity; whatever that may be to you. If your life is going down a dismal path…if your steps are edging closer and closer to nothingness…take a moment to breath and reconfigure. Now the Black Dahlia has become a symbol of something completely different to me. She becomes a sort of talisman against life getting the better of me. She becomes an honest, exposed and beautiful example of strength clothed in black and dipped in red. Weird…how a simple character in a book could bring a dead woman to life and in the process awaken another.

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins (2015)

” Carolyn rose and stood alone in the dark, both in that moment and ever after.”

I stumbled upon this book quite by chance. My book mate ( that’s my term for someone special in your life that loves reading as much as you do) and I decided that despite living on completely separate continents, we would proceed to bridge the gap by reading something together. Our tastes are often different so when it fell on me to find our next read, I was a little apprehensive. We’d made mistakes before (looking at you American Pastoral-ugh). So I did what every techie nerd does, I googled. Then I did what every techie nerd with a superpower desire does, I let my intuition guide me to the correct choice. So that’s how I came across Scott Hawkin’s The Library at Mount Char, known as a science fiction horror novel or contemporary fantasy. A lot of people seemed to use the word bizarre in their comments about the book, so my interest was piqued quite naturally.

It has elements of bizarre for sure, and gruesomeness that reminds you of real world brutality yet doesn’t ever feel like it’s trying too hard to make you squirm in your skin. The writing keeps you captivated and isn’t that what we all hope for when we pick up a book? The characters are rather dark, with psychological wounds that continuously fester. Sometimes you’re left wondering if peace and compassion even exist in the writer’s world. And yet…something stirs in the recesses of your animalistic side. Makes you wonder whether humans or animals are actually more humane. Makes you consider the paths people take after pain or trauma ensues. Makes you relinquish that the mind and heart can both open and close in order to survive.

Read it. It’ll leave an imprint on you either way.

Midnight Mass

Words and illustration by Kamalini Govender

Heavy

The blackness crawls upon my chest.

She laughs. She screams. She apologizes.

She always apologizes.

Eyes like midnight

stare out from beneath her blanket of black hair.

I think I see a drop of sorrow  there.

Heavy

The darkness claws at my heart.

She sings. She pleads. She does not apologize.

Always. Always.Forever. Always…

She spits the words at my crotch.

Eyes like graveyards

listlessly searching for something concrete to hold.

I think she smells the heat of my fear.

Heavy

her soul

my carcass

the silence when it’s over.

Seven Things All Bookworms Are Guilty Of

You know that moment when you make a realization that completely sets you apart from the majority of people living in the sane portion of the world? That moment when you step back and say to yourself “I’m super glad it’s only my stuffed unicorn that’s here to witness my absurdity”. Bookworms get these moments ALL the time. We’re mentally incapable of restructuring ourselves to act in any other way. Because the allure of a book, the seductiveness involved in reading one…these things keep us perpetually floating on our oddball cloud. I’ve put together seven undeniable things we bookworms are guilty of. Let’s not pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about. *insert raised eyebrow

  1. That social feeling other people get when they walk into a crowded club full of hot men and women, is the same feeling of potential you get when you walk into a bookstore. All those books…all those words…I’ll buy myself my own drink thank you and sit in a corner with my new friend, I mean book.
  2. You smell your books. It’s totally ok! Smelling is an ancient tradition in the animal kingdom and it’s how you categorize friend from foe, who you’ll play with and who you’ll eat. So smelling a book is a totally legit way to welcome your book into your safe space.
  3. Buying books when you have no money in your bank account, in no way indicates problematic behavior. It means you have a  healthy optimism that money will soon magically appear to keep the credit card hounds at bay. That’s faith right there! Right?
  4. When you see those little book worms on the pages of your old books, you say “hello there old friend!” instead of running for the hills like your non book-loving mates.
  5. When someone eventually twists your arm to lend them one of your prized possessions (that can be said for all your books by the way), you imagine all sorts of creative serial killer ways to end them if they spill anything on it or ,god forbid, lose it.
  6. You have more books than friends. And I’m talking about real life friends, not your imaginary ones. Because if we had to include Elizabeth Bennet and Michael Valentine Smith (among others), things could start getting out of hand.
  7. Your understanding of time borders on science fictional remarkable. Ten hours in a bookstore can seem like a mere five minutes. One minute of someone interrupting your reading time can stretch for lives. I’m talking Koopa Troopa cheat bouncing lives. And I’m pretty sure studies are being done on the bookworm’s ability to extend their natural lives through reading too. We are indeed a special breed.

Seven ways… doesn’t even seem enough to list our endless quirks but that’s still seven points you can bring up in conversation with humans to prove how advantageous you are to planet earth. Although…human conversation, what’s that?

 

Une étrange aventure.

“We live in the void of metamorphoses, but the echo that runs through the day… that echo beyond time, anguish or caress. Are we near to our conscience, or far from it?” Alphaville, Jean-Luc Godard

 

Why do we let ourselves soak in words and images? Why do we crave it? Why do we fall apart without it? Because man was made with the desire to learn, to seek and survive. Knowledge is how we adapt and how we evolve. Reading and writing is not just a hobby, it’s a means of survival. It opens us up to possibility and let’s us dance with Beauty. And it is in that dance that we find our compassion, our love…the things that make living worthwhile. It is in that dance, that we find ourselves.

                                                                                                                                Kamalini Govender