Sunday, 3 October 2010

Locus Focus - the Scary Settings Challenge

Locus Focus is a meme hosted every Saturday by Enbrethiliel at Shredded Cheddar. "We all know of books that make their settings come alive, and this meme is a chance to write about them and share them with others." Visit her blog and link up!

This week the Theme of Locus Focus is Scary Settings, so I want to tell you about the scariest setting of all:

The Human Mind!

There are lots of books that have the human mind as a very scary setting, but I want to tell you about the first book I read that made me see the human mind as a scary place to be:

Out of Mind by the Dutch author J. Bernlef

(note on the title: The dutch title is 'Hersenschimmen', which translates directly as 'Brain Specters', but a less direct translation would be 'Figments of the Imagination'

This story is about an elderly man afflicted by Alzheimer's disease. The book is written from the viewpoint of this man so as a reader you slowly get lost in his deteriorating mind. What makes the story even more claustrophobic is that the lead character is a Dutchman who moved to America. While his memory is failing him he begins to lose his knowledge of the English language, falling back on Dutch, which isolates him even further from the world around him. By the end of the book his (and therefor also the reader's) world has become so small and different he doesn't even recognise himself anymore when he looks in the mirror. The first time I read this book I really felt trapped at the end of the book and was overcome with relief when I closed it and could open myself to the normal world again. Not a happily ever after story I can tell you, but beautiful and touching in its sadness.

The book was made into movie as well, but it isn't as strong and scary as reading the book in my opinion.


Alice Audrey said...

I can see this being a valuable reading experience, but I'm more interested in books that make me feel expanded than crushed.

Belfry Bat said...

oh dear! Alzheimer's is sad enough on the outside; at once I can't imagine that anyone who isn't living it could understand well enough to portray it truthfully, but also the prospect itself is rather terrifying. I only know one relative who suffered it --- a great aunt, not a direct ancestor --- but who knows! I do spend an awful lot of time in my own head...

Paul Stilwell said...

"The first time I read this book I really felt trapped at the end of the book and was overcome with relief when I closed it and could open myself to the normal world again."

Yes, sometimes a crushing read can be good; to make one appreciate what one has. Not being able to recognize oneself in the mirror (mirrors seem to crop often in the world of horror) is truly scary.

Enbrethiliel said...


Sully, I agree with you that to be trapped in your own mind--or worse, in someone else's mind--is one of the most horrific fates ever. What a tragedy, though. I guess there wasn't really a happy ending? =( Except, you know, for the reader who gets to put it down?

Your setting is also intimately related to the "house of mirrors" setting I blogged about. I'm glad Stilwell has pointed out that mirrors crop up in Horror quite a lot--because we seem to have a nice little theme going.

Sullivan McPig said...

It is written very realistic, Bernlef sure knew what he was writing about.
And it indeed doesn't have a happy end, but I can still recommend this book as I think it's beautiful in its sadness and scary recognisable.