As I mentioned in last week’s column, fall is by far the vibiest, most atmospheric time of the year: a time to rejoice in the mellow, melancholy beauty of thick fogs, Autumnal forests dripping with rain, Scandinavian sweaters that smell of wet dog and smoke from burning leaves, and eerie, unexplained noises in the night. Essential, then, to bring it to unsettling life with a judiciously curated selection of appropriately evocative reading, watching, and listening material. Here are a few more of my personal favourites:
In the Bedside Bookshelf: The Shape of Snakes, by Minette Walters
If you’re like me, you will understand that shutting out the world and curling up with a good murder mystery between the covers or on the screen is a solid strategy for happiness at any time of year. But if the spring and summer seasons cry out for something thrilling but just a little cosier, such as a work by Agatha Christie or Martha Grimes, the darker, bleaker weeks of Autumn demand something with more psychological heft.
Not so much today, but back in the 80s and 90s, Minette Walters was a major force in murder mysteries. In the mode of PD James, she wrote gritty tales with deep psychological understanding. Like the TV show Luther, she explored the grim underbelly of pre-millennial Britain, with all its racism, toxic masculinity, financial inequality, and potential for violence (plus ça change). Her books are almost Dickensian in their social criticism. This novel is one of her best. She creates a narrator who is smart, dogged, and admirably committed to finding the truth about a horrendous injustice. But she’s also duplicitous and a little cruel, along with being self-aware enough to know it. Lots of fine twists and turns along the way, and the snarky, razor sharp dialogue is a huge strength, as well.
Very dark, but full of heart and brain.
On the Turntable: Tempest, by Bob Dylan
If ever there was music made to explore and capture the manifest wonders of darkness, it is Bob Dylan’s, and Tempest, his 2012 masterpiece, is surely one of his most haunting albums. The Nobel laureate’s voice, sounding like it has been seasoned by a couple of centuries of tobacco smoke and bourbon whiskey, sings a collection of deeply affecting songs about bad times, revenge, murder, shipwrecks, and life and love gone wrong. As always, it feels like it’s possible to get drunk on the poetry of his words and drenched by the stormy beauty of his music.
On the Screen: Stoker, dir. By Park Chan-wook
This 2013 film by the brilliant South Korean director (Oldboy, The Handmaiden) is, for sure, not going to be to everyone’s taste (but then again, what is?) Starring Mia Wasikowska and Matthew Goode, with a wonderful small supporting role from Nicole Kidman, the film is arch, bordering on campy and slightly absurd at times. The visuals are rich, elegant, and often convey the sensation of experiencing a strange dream. To me it is absolutely mesmerizing, and its weirdness seems to perfectly fit what I am looking for at this time of the year.
Once again, I do hope I have reminded you of or introduced you to something that feels right for these shortening days and lengthening night. One more roundup of treats next week.