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The Tenth Girl Slow Read chapters 6 & 7

I can’t believe I’ve gotten this far without saying, OMG this cover! I love it so much. It may be what first piqued my interest: the school with its deep roots that are somehow rootless anyway. Birds flying above and below, and up close, the background is full of computer coding/gibberish. And all of it in the cool blue of fracturing ice. It’s just excellent. And designed by Jeff Miller, it looks like.

The downside to slow, deliberate reading is that I am easily distracted. By pandemic. By work. By my own glitchy brain. Apparently, my reading style is either “All at once, now now now!” or “huh, I know I was reading something, wonder what it was, oh well,” and picking up a different book* to burn through.

*btw Michelle Birkby’s The House at Baker Street is a good read for those of us who adore Sherlockiana: this case is a mystery solved by the team of Mrs. Hudson and Mary Watson. The tone is spot on, the mystery is gripping, the characters feel well fleshed out, yet recognizable as the characters Conan Doyle created. Holmes and Watson are nicely themselves even if they’re mostly swept off the page. I will definitely read more books by Birkby. This book was right up there with Lyndsay Faye’s The Whole Art of Detection.

Anyway, back to The Tenth Girl.

Chapter 6: Angel 2020-200 : Angel shows up at the breakfast, realizes that she is the only ghostly presence there, and takes the opportunity to eavesdrop on all sorts of conversations. As a method of giving the reader information we weren’t privy to from Mavi’s POV, it’s excellent.

Again, we get the invocation of the mysterious, increasingly ominous “Tenth Girl”—this time when Morency (the unpleasant head of household with her baseless grudge against Mavi) brings the girl up to Carmela as a bad idea–part of Carmela’s greater cause.

We learn more of Angel’s past; we meet her sweet-natured younger brother Rob, her older, arrogant half-sister Liese, the jerk that Liese married. It’s a family disaster waiting to happen, and if Angel’s committed some terrible act of violence, I have a candidate I’m willing to nominate to be her victim.

As an aside, I think this is why I’m not as hooked into her character as I am Mavi’s. These disasters are already in Angel’s past. They’ll be revealed to us, but they’re already done. Mavi’s problems, however, are currently happening which gives them an urgency. Of course, really, Angel’s story is the current one and Mavi is in 1978? I don’t know. My brain persists in thinking that Mavi is current and Angel is the past. Books with characters from two times are always tricky for me. The last one I read that worked well for me was Simone St. James’ The Sun Down Motel.

Unsettled by her memories, Angel decides to teach Mavi’s bratty students (who remind her of her own family bullies) a lesson by haunting them. Some vicious, strong Others nearly drop a roof on the girls. Angel sees the Others and sparks out—the ghost version of blacking out? Or did the Others yank her life energy away from her?

As much as I am not sold on Angel’s character, I am 100% sold on Faring’s writing. This opening section has so much wonderful imagery in it that it’s just flat-out pleasurable to read. There is Angel’s musing that food to her is “now as edible as crumbling plaster moldings”, or the alarmed quiver that strikes her “jelly-thick as an electric eel”, or the amazingly predatory description of Carmela de Vaccaro’s mouth as she withholds information from her loyal minion.

Faring has a way with making villains super-unlikable with one or two lines. First, I hated Domenico de Vaccaro for mocking Mavi’s appetite, and now I hate Angel’s brother-in-law. Not only does he smack Angel around, but he tells her to “learn your place, kid” and holds gratitude over two orphans’ heads. It’s an economic trifecta of terrible.

I’m trying to figure out what the numbers on Angel’s chapters represent. The first one was 2020-0, the second was 2020-100, and this one is 2020-200. So presumably the year plus…? Right now the tag numbers remind me of class levels. Basic haunting, haunting 101, midlevel haunting…

Chapter 7: Mavi, Argentina, March 1978. Mavi meets up with sympathetic fellow teachers at lunch. She and Yesi play a very similar game to the mean-spirited students. Instead of playing “What might have become of the tenth girl, Miss Quercia?”, Mavi and Yesi play, “What is Carmela’s real motive for opening this horrifically isolated school?”

But their game lacks viciousness—they don’t intend their target to hear it, and their imaginings are more absurd than violent.

At the core though, it’s still the same game. Another teacher—Mole, as Yesi dubs her—flattens the fun by giving telling them Carmela has lost her daughter to an unnamed illness and has retreated from the world to mourn.

 Mavi grades her students’ English essays and the reader gets snippets of five of them; it’s quickly clear that there is a lot of unpleasant stuff going on in her students’ home lives. Plus, the cracks are beginning to show in the de Vaccaro family façade: Carmela treats Morency with casual contempt, despite her devotion, belittles her in front of the school as head of household and a third-generation family servant. For Morency, who prides herself as a partner, this is cruel. Domenico has nothing to do and spends most of his time stoned and hateful.

At dinner, Mavi presses for answers on the tenth girl and gets shut down by the loyal, aggressive Morency. But Carmela says she’s been ill and will arrive shortly. Given this in conjunction with Carmela’s dead daughter, I find myself wondering if the Tenth Girl is Carmela’s daughter. In the world of haunted houses and time ghosts that feed off the past living, why not?

Mavi, for reasons that elude me and feel a little contrived, decides to follow Domenico to his rooms (even though he’s been nothing but hateful to her and any sensible girl would treat him like a scorpion and avoid him). But it’s great from a plot point because Domenico has secrets and troubles like whoa.

He seems aware that he’s being watched and followed and says:

“Don’t follow me. Don’t touch me.” …..

“I know what you are, and you disgust me,” he says, “You’re hollow at the core. But having me won’t help you. I’m nothing but a bad memory given shape by a disgruntled God.”

And he shuts the door.

p. 105

And oh Domenico, there’s a lot to unpack in his little rant. It feels like he’s talking to the ghosts, more than to Mavi—though poor Mavi takes it personally. Apparently Domenico has a strange self-image. It’s one thing to have a bad self-image, to consider yourself a mistake or an abomination or whatever terrible thing we might label ourselves. But a bad memory? That’s a strange label to apply. I can’t wait to see what’s going on with him. That’s the plus of him being so unlikable; I’m interested in his situation, but not concerned.

Mavi slinks off to seek solace with Yesi, but Yesi is working. Mavi ends up lost in her own memories: revisiting the moment when she learned that her mother and her mother’s guerillas were responsible for the death of one of Mavi’s classmates— a young girl who resembles one of her current students.  Yet another type of horror; the emotional haunting of a bad memory constantly revived by a young girl who can have nothing to do with the original event.

So that’s chapter 6 & 7. I’ll be honest, I’m a little further ahead than that, but I don’t want these slow read accounts to be endlessly long. But there are some strange changes ahead to discuss!

The Tenth Girl Slow Read: chapters 4 & 5

So obviously, I should say, SPOILERS. This isn’t a review, but a read along, and appreciation (so far!). That means I’m going to talk about the events with varying levels of details.

That out of the way, let’s talk about chapters four and five!

Previously.

Chapter four brings us Angel’s POV again, and I’m assuming at this point we’ll get alternating viewpoints until the end.  But straight off the bat, we learn two things: Angel is in a sort of hell space spiritually after an act of violence—on an undisclosed someone, maybe herself? (There’s something about the phrase “a moment of violence by my own hand” that is hard to parse.) And also? She’s there to feed on the living people at the school. As Charon says, “You’ve got to suck one of the meat bags bone-dry before you jet out of here for the night. You’ve got to shuck its pretty little skull like a corncob.”

Eek!

As an aside, Charon makes me feel like one of those annoying reviewers who likes to leave one sentence reviews on goodreads that say things like, “This book had too much swearing in it, I couldn’t finish it.” Or worse! The reviewer who says something along the lines of “Oh, the writer shows obvious skill, ’tis a pity she can’t refrain from using such foul language.” It always makes me roll my eyes and grit my teeth at the same time.

That said, Charon really does have a foul tongue, and it’s strident against Mavi’s restrained voice. Jarring, still. I’ll get used to it. I think it’s not actually the swearing; it’s the hostility he seems to emanate. He makes me nervous. Which, I suppose is the point.

The writing is, as before, really precise and effective.

I shouldn’t call her that [ghostfucker]. I shouldn’t. She’s Yesi. … But I know it would be easier to feed if I branded her as one single thing and disconnected—choosing simplicity of thought over curiosity in the complexity of human nature. The less aware I am of her nooks and curves—the more I view her as a paper cutout of a human being—the easier it is to flatten her into nothing, all for my agenda. Flick—there goes the paper doll, smoothed to nothing at all. I’ve been the paper cutout before. I guess now I’m the flicker.

p. 57, The Tenth Girl

Nice psychology on the page, excellent imagery, and oh that little twist of being a flicker—both the act of careless dismissal, and the flicker of light that brings ghosts to mind.  Love it.

And things get worse. Angel goes to feed and sees that Yesi’s already being fed on. Like a buffet, the Others are swarming Yesi. It’s creepy as hell.  Good job, ghost story! You made my skin crawl.

We also see that the Others can steal the stolen energy from Angel, even as she’s stealing it from Yesi. It’s a whole horrible parasitic sort of creepiness. The chapter ends with Angel slipping into Mavi’s room to watch her sleep. There are suggestions that Angel knows Mavi’s future, but whether it’s just the near future of being fed on by spectral scavengers, or whether Angel actually knows Mavi’s personal history is not yet clear. Either way, Mavi, unlike poor Yesi, sleeps peacefully and unmolested.

Chapter five is hard on poor Mavi. It starts auspiciously enough–a well-laif banquet, sunlight, friendly faces of fellow teachers (and weirdos)–but it plummets quickly. On her problem-riddled arrival, a young man had looked out the window, seen her stranded outside, and sneered at her. Now, she learns that he is Domenico de Vaccaro, the spoiled son of the school’s owner, and that he’s even more horrible than she thought. His mother, Carmela, isn’t much better–abstractly menacing, superficially polite, and yet….

Here, we get the tenth girl of the title. Carmela tells Mavi she will have ten girls in class, but only nine arrive (nearly half an hour late, lacking all respect). When Mavi asks about the remaining girl, the nine girls tell mocking, contradictory stories about where the girl is: some rude, some violent, all unkind. Mavi gives up, more worried about another revelation: she was told the students were novice English speakers; instead, they’re at the same skill level she is. And she’s going to have to teach them. There’s another weird type of horror for you–the “oh god, my imposter syndrome is actually true!”

A bad start for Mavi, but a great chapter for me, reading this.

These few chapters in, and I have to say, I definitely enjoy Mavi’s chapters. She’s so sympathetic. I’m not sure how I feel about Angel, yet. Maybe it’s that Mavi’s fears and problems are so concrete: she needs this job, the students are trouble, the whole set up is trouble, yet she came from worse, so she won’t walk away. Mavi is the classic hero of the haunted house novel—the one who stays because they lack the resources to go elsewhere. Angel? She’s sympathetic, but also morally weak, and her world is much more shapeless than Mavi’s. A ghost world for a time ghost girl.

I am having some trouble keeping myself to a couple of chapters at a time. But I will persevere! For one thing, I’m really enjoying thinking about each chapter after reading it, instead of blindly rushing forward on a wave of story emotion.

Slow and Steady: Reading The Tenth Girl

One of the downsides of being an aggressively voracious reader is that you tend to read quickly. Words tend to flow in a certain way, after all, and so it’s too easy for me to grab the important bits of a sentence and move on. It’s not quite skimming, but it’s a lot like gulping a meal: you can lose the taste even if you still get the nutrition.

So I am going to experiment with deliberately slowing down. I have The Tenth Girl by Sara Faring in my hands. (thank you public library!) For whatever reason, I’ve been wanting to read this book for a while. But I am not going to read it in one sitting or even one day. I am going to read it a few chapters at a time–for one thing, the writing deserves it. For another, this book is going to be a different read than I expected. The blurb made it seem like a fairly straight-forward haunted house saga. It’s not.

To keep myself honest about not rushing through, I’m going to blog the chapters piecemeal.

There’s a prologue. I have mixed feelings about prologues. Sometimes they just feel like the equivalent of cold opens on formulaic tv shows. This is especially true of the serial killer thriller genre. I always skip those prologues. I also skip a lot of the YE OLDE EPIC FANTASY prologues where the events take place thousands of years before and involve a prophecy. I’m certain I’ll hear about them again.

But the prologue to The Tenth Girl is an elegant, enjoyable little snippet. Is it necessary? Not strictly so, I don’t think. It mostly just tells us that there’s a school that was shuttered and is now opening again. But it’s got lovely original feeling details – the giant-handed matriarch who eats a dozen raw eggs every morning, the school on a shelf of rock where ice fields meet salt mountains – it’s all evocative. And it’s short! I liked it, and it made me relax into the book. The author, it seems to say, knows what she’s doing with her words.

Chapter one introduces us to Mavi, the main character (according to the blurb) and her dire straits. And they are dire! Her mother one of los desparecidos, a citizen abducted and murdered by her own government. Mavi is being sought. She’s 18 and effectively friendless, so she lies and takes a job as the 20-something English teacher at the reopening Vaccaro school. Here, again, Faring show us the tone of the book. Matters, she shows us, are going to be endlessly difficult. Mavi is dropped off at the wrong dock, climbing the wrong steps, arriving unnoticed, and unwelcomed. Trapped outside the school. We haven’t even gotten to the haunting and here are three separate horror stories: the government turning on its own, turning citizen against citizen; the horror of unexpected loss, her mother vanished with no hope remaining; and the weird nightmarish sensation of being locked out and alone.

Even when she gets inside, she faces the lesser conflict of an unsympathetic administrator, and is sent to bed hungry–a childish punishment for an adult. Her introduction to the school is nightmarish even before the atmosphere of the house kicks in. I love it! The writing is lovely. So many little perfect details, and Mavi’s personality shining through.

“…The door is an iron wall as impenetrable as a bank vault, and the door knocker is shaped like an unsmiling woman’s head–she’s understandably upset, I suppose, that visitors will slam her head for all eternity. I paste a jagged, fake smile on my face and knock with her. Then knock again. Politely.

… I chuck pebbles at the carious windows as the gargoyles chuckle at me; they know I’m a runner with nowhere to run to, pitiful prey.

It’s the truth: …my safe havens only exist in memory, and my memory’s poor, a winding montage of half-repressed sights and smells, pulled from a life I feel no ownership of. But I better kill that thought. If I think about my past too long, my mind unravels.”

The Tenth Girl, p 8-9

Then comes chapter two, and suddenly this is a very different book than I thought it was. We jump from Mavi in 1978 to Angel in 2020-0, though she’s more spirit than flesh and she’s a witness to Mavi’s arrival in 1978. We’re getting topsy-turvy with time. Angel is old and the United States is a wreck and global warming has wiped away the Patagonian ice sheets (and presumably the school perched before them.) Angel says she’s old but she sounds like a younger woman, which kind of bugs me, but I’ll see how it plays out. Angel is very full of pop culture references – whitewalkers, RPGs, He-who-must-not-be-named.

She flits through the past like a mostly-benign ghost, but is conscious of Others lingering malignantly in the shadows. Another young teacher at the school senses her, and she flees–afraid that Yesi won’t be rightfully afraid of the Others if she interacts with Angel.

Angel is a conundrum. While Mavi seems to have trauma making her mental state somewhat chaotic, Angel seems to be more unreliable. Even her name is fractured. She’s Angel, calls herself El, remembers her mother speaking to her as “Maria Eugenia”. Those could all be her names, but as a reader, I’m always on the lookout for a character with multiple names. They’re usually complex.

So, yeah, ghost novel, with time-traveling spirits guided by Charon to poke around in an old school that has, actually, been cursed. That’s new!

I allowed myself one more chapter after the surprise of chapter two. I wanted to see if I was going to get another POV or what. But we’re back to Mavi and her troubles. More of her traumatic past is revealed–and an ideological rift between her and her mother who was using her position as a professor to draft students to her guerilla cause. Even if the cause is just, there’s something Mavi finds unethical about adding to their ranks from the young students.

Mavi meets Yesi who shows her where the snack foods are and gives her the low down on the scene. Prosaic information but delivered in an appropriately atmospheric way. Anyway, I can set the book down for the night, because yay, Mavi made a friend.

Monday Miscellany 072919

Mostly a book recap this week because really all I’ve done this week is either write books, critique books, or read books.

Four, count them FOUR!!! Highly recommended books.  It’s been a very good week for reading.

First up: Alexis Hall’s The Affair of the Mysterious Letter.  Just so much fun.  It’s a Sherlockiana story twisted into full fantasy, where Sherlock is Shaharazad Haas, sorceress, and John Watson is John Wyndham, um, soldier.  Either way, it’s quirky and delightful and fun.  Look for a full review of it on Speculative Chic soon.  If you read it before then, come on over and tell me what you thought!

 

Melissa Caruso’s The Tethered Mage.  I mentioned that I had started this book before and ran out of time, bought it on ebook, and found myself stalling because I wanted it in book form. (If books strike me really positively, I want them in actual paper.)  I checked it out again and zoomed through it.  It’s wonderful. Actually, it’s so wonderful and so much of the type of fantasy that I wish I wrote that I had to take a day or two off writing to sulk about how good this was.  Well, and order the next two in the series.

The other two books didn’t quite reach these heights, but were both fun and engaging reads.

The Reign of the Kingfisher by TJ Martinson.  Technically shelved in urban fantasy (at my library at any rate), and yeah, there are glimmerings.  But mostly this is an interesting crime novel based around a vanished superhero and the people left in his wake.  If you want the superheroics, this is not the book for you.

 

Andrew Pyper’s The HomecomingAnother book that kind of misleads, but pleasantly.  It starts off as a fairly straightforward family drama with the promise of horror, and ends… in a very strange place.  Very readable.

Tuesday Miscellany 072319

Where did Monday go?  Oh yeah, where the whole week went–to an allergy stupor.  The amazing part about modern medicine is that allergy shots are a thing.  (YAY!)  The nightmare part of modern medicine is that to take an accurate skin test you have to stop taking allergy medicine for five days prior.  I did not die though there were moments I wanted to.  I went through three boxes of tissue. If I ever had doubts about my allergy medicine’s effectiveness, I no longer do.  I am allergic to everything around me!  Except dogs and ragweed.

I’m planning on moving my home office from one room to another, and before I can do that, I have to declutter the chaos of said home office.  It’s terrifying how much mess one writer can accumulate over ten years.  One of the (procrastinatory) ways I’m tackling this is by reading through my TBR shelf.  One of the TBR shelves, let me be honest.  There are multiple ones throughout the house.  And that doesn’t include the digital one (oh, ebooks, how I love/hate you).

So I read Grimspace by Ann Aguirre.  I liked it all right, but not enough to read through the rest of the series.  The world-building just kept shifting too much.  It felt like she was whipping something new out every time the story flagged.  On the other hand, Aguirre has awesome characters.  But that cleared five books from my shelf (because I’d bought the first five books in the series at the same time).  They’ll go to a more appreciative home.

And I am currently reading Walter Greatshell’s Mad Skills.  This one is a weird one.  The blurb is one of those where it’s technically accurate but makes it sound like a completely different book than what you actually get.   I think they must have corrected it, because each edition online has a different blurb; the latest ones, the more accurate.

 

“This is Flowers for Algernon, gene-spliced to La Femme Nikita, the Bourne series, MacGyver, and The Prisoner ….” –Adam-Troy Castro’s review from SCI-FI magazine.

The revision continues.  Right now, the heroine is about to have her grand plan overturned for the third time in as many days. Poor Silene. And her new friends are driving her nuts.

The new monster hunter book scene-sketching continues. Right now, the monster hunter is sulking because his boyfriend didn’t want his help and his sister is picking on him. Life is hard when you’re not actively hunting and killing things. Sometimes you have to stop and have feelings.