Book Review: A Night in the Lonesome October

A Night in the Lonesome October was brought to my attention by io9, which has an excellent review of it here. Since I know we have both animal lovers and Lovecraftian horror people in our midst, I read it and I absolutely intend to add myself to the ranks of those who read it one chapter a day every October. It’s horror, not romance, although there’s a bit of a romance, sort of, and a lot of comedy.

The setting is a village outside of London in the late 19th century. Our narrator and sole point-of-view is Snuff, a dog. Snuff is the companion of a man named Jack. Jack suffers from a curse that makes him have to “do much of his work at night to keep worse things from happening.” Here’s Snuff on page one:

We are the keepers of several curses and our work is very important. I have to keep watch on the Thing in the Circle, the Thing in the Wardrobe, and the Thing in the Steamer Trunk-not to mention the Things in the Mirror. When they try to get out I raise particular hell with them. They are afraid of me. I do not know what I would do if they all tried to get out at the same time. It is good exercise, though, and I snarl a lot.

Snuff and Jack are players in The Game. We are dropped into The Game when it is already well underway, and the purpose and rules of the Game and its players gradually come into focus, some early on and some not until the very end. All of the human players have animal companions, and these companions are the focal points of the story. They are introduced little by little, but I think it fair to say that the characters, but not necessarily the players, are:

Jack and Snuff (a dog)

Crazy Jill and Graymalk (a cat)

The Vicar and Tekela (a albino raven)

Rastov the Mad Monk and Quicklime (a snake)

Morris and McCab and Nightwind (an owl)

The Count and Needle (a bat who is a Vampire Bat in the sense of the company he keeps but  Fruit Bat in the since that fruit is his preferred food)

The Good Doctor and Bubo (a rat)

Owen the Druid and Cheeter (a squirrel)

The Great Detective and a male human companion

Larry Talbot

The Good Doctor

The experiment man

Watching these characters emerge and play their roles with twists and turns and alliances and betrayals is remarkably delightful, especially since almost everything is revealed through the interactions of the non-human animals who make their own alliances. 

There are 31 chapters in the book, leading up to the 31st chapter in which All is Revealed. Thus the tradition of commencing the book on October 1 and reading one chapter a day until October 31. I was too impatient for that last year and I read the entire book in one day. Doubtless all first time readers will want to do the same. However, I rather look forward to this year, and to the slow unfolding of who is doing what and why, and the development of the pace and tone of the book as the chapters progress. Opening chapters are very short and generally humorous. Final chapters are longer and have more explicit, as opposed to implied, horror. 

While the animals are often in danger, no lasting harm comes to them. There’s a very scary chapter that animal lovers may wish to simply skip (October 23). The book develops a strange bittersweet poignancy as friendships between human and human (Jack and Jill are quite fond of each other) and animal and animal (Snuff and Graymalk become good friends). Because of the nature of The Game, people on opposing sides, such as Jack and Jill, can become close before they have to take serious antagonistic action – but it is well known that whoever loses The Game suffers.

I adored this book so much that it would qualify for Squee did it not have some outdated, offensive tropes. The word “Gypsies” is lavishly used, and they are not associated with the good guys. Snuff likes to hang out with them for the music. Also one villain and one hero cross-dress which may once have added to the general weird tone of the book but now just seems bewildering in a “what were they thinking?” way. No one ever makes much of it, it’s just there. The association of albino coloration with evil is also problematic, and there are only two female characters. The book was written in 1993 and while that seems like a million years ago one hopes that even back then we knew better.

I recommend this with reservation for animal lovers who are also fans of Lovecraftian-inspired horror and the Victorian horror classics. People who like a mystery with a slow build, very dry humor, and point-of-view characters who have a limited point of view may also enjoy this book. It can be hard to find but my library came through and Amazon has some copies.

Between the Lines Book Club: Copy Boy Discussion Questions

Our book club this month will be held over zoom (link pending) on October 24 at 10:30AM. We are reading Copy Boy, and will be joined by the author, Shelley Blanton-Stroud.

Here are some discussion questions (they can also be found in the back of the book):

  1. Scientists suggest that our experiences and those of our ancestors live on in our DNA, affecting our and our children’s health and behavior. Is that true for Jane? Can she escape biology? Can any of us?
  2. What influence does Daddy have on Jane? What explains the way she circumscribes her loyalty to him? How do you feel about their reconciliation and his disappearance afterward?
  3. What do you think about Momma after learning what happened when she delivered the twins at fifteen years old? Does this sufficiently explain the way she treats Jane? Should Jane continue to tie herself to such a parent? Why or why not?
  4. Jane says the voice in her head belongs to her dead brother, Benjamin. What do you think? How else can the voice be explained? How does this voice affect what she does and who she becomes?
  5. What do you think about Jane choosing to raise Elsie? What kind of mother would Jane make? Would it have been better to leave Elsie with Momma?
  6. Does Jane really have to pretend to be a boy to succeed? Could she have earned the same opportunities as a girl? Why or why not? Does any part of her situation seem familiar today, or does it live in the past?
  7. What do you expect a masculine character to do and be? What do you expect a feminine character to do and be? How do the characters in the novel match or diverge from these expectations?
  8. Jane becomes a skillful liar about her parents generally, the fight that sends her to San Francisco, and her very identity. These lies lead to her lifelong career success. What do you think about her lying habit and skill? How does it help her, and how might it hurt?
  9. Grete Wright crosses boundaries to make the best, most moving, most powerful photographs, arguing that facts are less necessary than truth. Are documentary photographs or stories more useful with or without artistic framing? What do you think about the relationship between fact and truth?
  10. Some characters in the book concern themselves with basic survival in a time of poverty and hunger. Others work for worldly success. How do they get what they want? What are they willing to discard to win? Is it necessary? Is it worthwhile?
  11. Vee may be the only character who risks herself solely on behalf of others, trying to report the death of the hungry man. How do you explain what makes one person altruistic when others focus only on protecting themselves and their family?
  12. The Okies living along the side of the road are generally despised and blamed for local problems. How might ongoing generations of such families feel about field-working migrants today, and why?
  13. Though the active story ends in 1937, we learn that Jane will write for many decades, becoming an iconic San Francisco gossip columnist. In what way is someone like Jane particularly suited to weather the decades in such a field? What do you imagine for the stories she writes under a different name?
  14. How are the lessons of 1930’s California applicable today?

October Events: Find me on Zoom!

Photo by GEORGE DESIPRIS on

October is a busy month! I have several events happening, so please join me on zoom for these fun events!

October 10, 1PM: Romance Book Club!

Our book this month is Strange Love, by Ann Aguirre. This club is sponsored by the Sacramento Public Library and facilitated by myself and librarian Brendle Wells. Click below for login information!

https://www.saclibrary.org/Event/Special-Events/Book-Clubs

October 17, 2PM: Trivia of Terror: The Weird Lives of Mary Shelley, Edgar Allan Poe, and H.P. Lovecraft

Mary Shelley, Edgar Allan Poe, and H.P. Lovecraft were not only the creators of some of the most famous horror stories ever. They were also eccentric people who lived scandalous and complicated lives. Join us to get all the dirt on who slept with who at the famous party that led to Frankenstein, why Poe kept writing about pale women with bloody faces, and why H.P. Lovecraft hated dogs. What did Shelley think of Lord Byron? What did Poe die of? And was Lovecraft actually a vampire? Find out in this presentation!

https://saclibrary.evanced.info/signup/EventDetails?eventid=346802

October 24, 2PM: Introduction to Tarot

In this hour, Tarot Consultant Carrie Sessarego will introduce you to the Tarot, a system of divination using symbols and archetypes. You’ll learn a little bit of history and the structure of the deck, and have access to a suggested reading list. We will cover a couple of layout ideas and make sure you leave with plenty of tips so that you can start your own tarot journey!

https://saclibrary.evanced.info/signup/EventDetails?eventid=346803

October 24: 10:30 AM: Between the Lines Book Club

Our book this month is Copy Boy, by Shelley Blanton-Stroud. The author will be joining us for this special book club! Zoom Link will be posted nearer to the book club date on my Friday Between the Lines Book Club posts.

Between the Lines Book Club: Copy Boy by Shelley Blanton-Stroud

Happy October, Book Clubbers! My daughter and my husband both have October birthdays plus we get super excited about Halloween, so it’s a busy time at our house.

Our book this month is Copy Boy, by Shelley Blanton-Stroud. Set in Sacramento, San Francisco, and other locations in California, this exciting novel follows the life of a girl who left the Dust Bowl of Oklahoma with her family and who reinvents herself as a boy, working for a newspaper in San Francisco.

We will be discussing the book via zoom on October 24 at 10:30AM. I’ll be posting a zoom invite closer to the date. Happy reading, and stay healthy!