Book review

Hazel's Phantasmagoria by Leander Deeny (2008)

Have you noticed that it's always much easier to be nice to someone else when you are feeling happy yourself? And if you're feeling really unhappy for some reason, you are more likely to bite someone else's head off?

I wonder what you'll make of Hazel when you meet her in this story. Sometimes she seems to be quite a nice person, and sometimes she is quite horrid.

Much to Hazel's disgust, she's going to stay with her Aunt and cousin in the country for a couple of weeks while her parents go off on holiday all by themselves! She doesn't like Aunt Eugenia because well, because Eugenia doesn't seem to like her:

'That was a very nice dinner, Auntie,'
Eugenia did not look impressed. She stared at Hazel threateningly, and drank her tea as if Hazel hadn't spoken at all.

And Hazel isn't really sure if she likes cousin Isambard or not. He actually tries to make friends with her but he is deeply weird, as she discovers when he takes Hazel to see his pets:

'His name is Bullivant. He's a very special dog.'
Out of the kennel, Bullivant emerged, sleepy, wet, and not quite what Hazel had expected. Actually, she felt frightened.
' he supposed to look like that?'
Isambard looked a little hurt.
'Oh, my cousin, what do you mean? You don't think there's anything wrong with him? Haven't you seen a dog with a wooden head before?'

And on top of dealing with these difficult relations, Hazel finds the house quite revolting. You probably would too if you had to sit where Hazel sits:

She was sitting upright on a long yellow sofa. Well, it was long, but only one corner was usable, as red wine stains covered most of it. Mouldy red wine stains that had not been properly cleaned when they first did their staining. Mouldy red wine stains with mushrooms growing out of them.

I think it's fair to say that Hazel's visit goes from bad to worse. She wavers between trying hard to be quite normal and nice, and trying hard to be quite horrid. Either way, it seems she has to put some effort in. And I suppose that's the point of this story...when you meet new people, you have to make an effort one way or the other. In the end Hazel finds she might as well make an effort to be nice, because she just might make a new friend, eventually.

Brilliant, brilliant book! I could not put it down. Rather like a Grimm Fairy Tale, the grotesquerie was quite frightening. And I really enjoyed thinking through everybody's reasons for their actions in the Epilogue...

So what do you think?
Who was bad? Who was worst? Was anybody good?

What can I read next?

Loved it. Highly recommended! This is a first novel and I shall look forward to reading more by Leander Deeny.

Meanwhile, if you enjoy scary stories with a touch of the grotesque, have a look at this page-turner by Neil Gaiman:

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