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The Evil Seed - Joanne Harris

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Genre: Fiction / Author: Joanne Harris / Edition: Revised Edition 1st Printing / Paperback / 448 Pages / Book is published 2008-09-11 by Black Swan

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      02.03.2012 23:14
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      Worth a look, but just be aware it is her debut and 20 years old.

      I haven't read any Joanne Harris novels for about ten years, having read most of her novels in one go after watching Chocolat on the big screen. I was browsing in the library, and saw this novel and picked it up thinking it was a fairly recently published novel. It turned out it was actually the first novel that Harris actually wrote.

      I was familiar with Harris as her mum was a lecturer in Sheffield where I went to University, but the foreward gave a bit more background to her early writing days when she was living in a house in Barnsley. Harris came across as being a little embarassed of this novel in her introduction, and I can sort of see why as there is less charm and polish present here, but this is a good novel and an interesting read.

      When I started reading it, I have to say it was completely different to anything I have ever read by Harris before, and I am not sure about it still. She is definitely a talented writer, more so in her later work, but this is less raw than some authors first attempts at novels. I think that the main thing that challenged my assumptions was because this is in a completely different genre to her other more romantic fiction, yet still retaining something of the style she uses. I could tell it was her work as it was really well written, with lots of imagery, but it was also something experimental and not recognisable in later novels I have read. Hard to describe really, but definitely a novel worth checking out if you have already read her work or you are a fan of the vampire genre that is so popular nowadays. It may be 20 years old, but it is still very readable.

      The main character is a lady called Alice Farrell. She has split from her long term partner, and is now living alone working as a painter in Cambridge. Her ex-partner, Joe, gets back in touch as he needs somewhere for his new girlfriend, Ginny, to stay. Although reluctant, Alice lets Ginny stay, and she is soon drawn in by Ginny's dual personality. Meek and needy when Joe is around, and then very outgoing and confident, staying out all night once Joe goes home. Alice is keen to get to the bottom of it as she is still very fond of Joe. At first she thinks that Ginny must be taking drugs, but she eventually starts to put some disturbing facts together which makes her realise Ginny is actually a woman called Rosemary who lived in Cambridge many years earlier.

      The novel flits between past and present, with a strong link as Alice gains access to a diary written when Rosemary was alive. Alice gets drawn in perhaps deeper than she intended, and it turns into a battle for her own survival as Ginny is not sweet or naive at all.

      I quite enjoyed the way that this novel was written, with many contrasts between the two different times covered but also many similarities. Now this genre is so popular, I think some authors tackle the subject of vampires in a way that is too predictable. That is not something that applies her.

      As I was reading, I kept thinking to myself that it was not the best work from Joanne Harris, which is a little unfair as if it were from any other author I would have probably been more in awe at how the plot unfolded. Here, I did feel that it was a bit of an experiment for her, and she could write this if she were doing it in the 2010s decade much better than in 1989.

      It is a hard one to classify as it did feel a little old fashioned for a modern audience of vampire fans, but then again, it would not have that much appeal for fans of Harris after reading novels like Blackberry Wine and Chocolat.

      Harris was skilled enough even in 1989 to have a chill running up my spine as I read this as I was unsure how far it would go. I think it is well written and she did a good job as a new writer, but I would expect better from her now.

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      19.08.2009 16:08
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      I really enjoyed this, once I got over my surprise

      Plot:
      Alice is a painter still smarting from a painful break-up with her long-term boyfriend, Joe. When Joe appears with a new girlfriend, Ginny, in tow, wanting a place for her to stay, however, it is a mixture of left-over affection, concern, and morbid curiosity that drives Alice to agree to put Ginny up for a few nights. Aware of this, Alice does her best to keep her suspicions about Ginny at bay, despite the growing evidence that Ginny is not the innocent almost-child Joe thinks she is. When she finds Daniel Holmes' dairy hidden in Ginny's room, however, she can no longer ignore that Ginny is dangerous - and her latest victim is looking like being Joe.

      Opinion:
      As all the reviews say, this book is radically different to some of the later, more popular and well-known novels such as 'Chocolat' and 'Lollipop Shoes'. On the whole, I much prefer this darker, more gothic side of Harris. Although it is written in what is clear a style which is still developing, and lacks some of the polish of later novels, it is also much less frivolent, with a more subtle philosophy informing the story and motivating the characters.

      The story has more in common with the atmospheric ghost stories of the later nineteenth century - the 'Turn of the Screw' and 'Carmilla' both spring to mind - than to more gorey or explicit modern horror. It is the ambiguity which makes this a great work of gothic horror: the danger is never named and the sin is only hinted at. Although the evil clearly centres around the desire of men, it is more subtly evoked than, for example, the slightly pornographic vampires of Anne Rice or even the archetype, Stoker's 'Dracula'.

      Although it has been criticised as being less than 'realist' due to the setting in Cambridge University, amongst students, academics, and hangers-on left over from University careers, this was an aspect which I found shockingly realistic in its portrayal. In some ways, this particular story could not have been as effective in any other setting: just as this is a story about desire, it is also a story about what happens if you let life slip away from you, living in suspended animation, out of touch with the things that make you human. Ginny is able to hunt and haunt in Cambridge because there are an abundance of lost souls for her to prey on, and this is a Bilsdungsroman in which Alice reclaims her purpose and her spirit as much as Joe ultimately loses his to his desire for Ginny. For this reason, I loved the slightly other-worldly feel of the city setting, which fits right in with the graveyards and fairgrounds.

      On the whole, if you are a fan of atmospheric horror (think 'The Orphanage' or the short stories of M. R. James), this is definitely worth a try. Likewise, if you are a fan of Joanne Harris' other books, give this a go if you want a feel for what she is capable of when she turns her hand to darker materials.

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        28.07.2009 11:34
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        This is another book that I got from Bookcrossing.com, and it was in a bookring. This means I have received it free. But, when I've got the money, I shall be off to Waterstones or someplace else, where I will buy this book, as it made that sort of impression on me!

        I had never ever heard of Joanne Harris. But I had noticed this book in the shops and I've been uming and aring ever since I saw it. I just wished that I had bought it then, rather than waiting, but anyhow. This was the first novel that Joanne Harris had released and she had written many other books before hand but none were getting published. Joanne Harris, finally ended up finding a publisher with this book, and after releasing quite a few books under that publisher, she decided to re-publish this book, based on the fact that there was many fans asking her to do so. And therefore she did, with minor adjustments.

        My review is on the new book (the one which was re-published) and so, who ever has actually read this book but the other one, might notice in my review that certain things were added/improvements.

        This book is about somebody called Alice who stumbled across a grave that said "Something inside me remembers". She is an artist and therefore she got inspiration from that grave and painted a picture. But then the phone goes, and it's her ex-boyfriend, Joe, who hasn't spoken to her for ages. After a few normalised chats, Joe ends up coming out with the real reason why he has called Alice. And that is because he has got a new Girlfriend called Ginny (short for Virginia), and Joe asks Alice if Ginny can stay at hers, considering Ginny is living in some horrible place that Joe doesn't like.

        Alice decides that Ginny can stop over, but Alice is jealous, and she's repelled by Ginny - an ethereal beauty with a sinister group of friends, who Joe doesn't know about. Then Alice stumbles across an old diary hidden away in Ginny's suitcase. Alice always had her suspicions about Ginny, and therefore she is forced (mentally) to open the diary and hopefully to unlock her secrets, and to be able to prove to Joe that she isn't who she really is. Only when she starts reading, it's about a diary by Daniel Homes, and one, we readers have been reading since the beginning. It's about Daniel and his friend Robert and a mysterious woman who bewitched them both - Rosemary Virginia Ashley.

        Eventually both stories intertwine; past and present are merged into one. And Alice discovers that her hatred towards Ginny is nothing to do with jealousy and she ends up tunnelling and plunging down into a darkened nightmare filled with obsession, revenge, horror, seduction - and blood.

        This story captured me in seconds, and I was wrapped around it in a nightmare myself, one which I had to read otherwise I'd lose the story forever. The chapters also amazed me, because they weren't normal chapter that increase the more you read, oh no! They were in one, two, one, two, etc. and only once did I find a three which put me off balance. The chapters are done this way so that you can separate past from present. I really liked this idea, and I think Kate Long should've done the same thing with her book: "A Bad Mother's Handbook", as I could imagine this story being just as complicated as Kate Long's book was. Also there was another chapter that threw me and that was the one near the end that is entitled with "One/two". And so that messed up my head a bit, but I pulled threw it and it wasn't at all complicated.

        Joanne Harris' writing style is a really good writing style. It's hard to say, but it captured me in seconds and I read a 450 paged book in 6 days, which is super-quick for me, this book would have normally taken me at least 2 weeks! This just goes to show that she is a good author, but she shall not follow the footsteps of Stephenie Meyer, and enter my top ten authors, just yet, as I want to explore more of her books before I make a rash decision. The reason for this is all about the words that the publishers have put on, and that is: "Her haunting debut novel". To me, that says, that it is her only horror book, and that the other novels are different.

        In this book there is an author's note (based on the fact that this is re-published). Now I don't want to write it down, because A) it will make my review extra-ordinarily long, and B) you may not be interested, and C) it was what made me eager to read the book! Anyhow I shall point out that in this Author's note, she stated something that I would have otherwise not realised, and that is, that she included both a vampire and a ghost, without actually calling them by their names. You could say that I've put this thing down before in my Neil Gaiman "The Graveyard book" review, only this story better hides the words and you can't possibly use those words to describe those people, because they are not like the way in which they are known. If that didn't make any sense; I'm sorry.

        I fully enjoyed this book and I seriously can't wait to read more novels from this fantastic author! I thank you for reading and I hope I have helped you making up your mind about this book!

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          05.07.2009 19:49
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          I couldn't work out why Alice wanted to save Joe. Let him rot, I say.

          I picked this out when I was choosing my Christmas presents, mistakenly believing it to be a new Joanne Harris novel. In fact, this was her first book and for me, it reads quite unlike others such as Holy Fools, Coastliners or Five Quarters of The Orange. Written in 1989, it was republished late in 2008 after nearly 20 years.

          Alice Farrell is a former Cambridge student, still living in the city with her cats and making a living as a painter. A painful split from her former boyfriend Joe has left her feeling alone and you can sense that life has stood still while other generations of students move past. When she unexpectedly receives a phone call asking her to meet with Joe and his new girlfriend, she seizes upon the chance to at least rekindle friendship for the sake of their shared history.

          Joe's new girlfriend, Ginny, is young enough that their relationship seems almost creepy to begin with. She is a decade younger than him, only a teenager, with a background of mental health issues and a hard luck story. It swiftly emerges that he is a self-centred Peter Pan whose primary interest is his 'band' and my immediate thoughts were that Alice was well rid of this pathetic king of the kids. Even Alice's lovelorn description of him is somewhat unfavourable; pasty and pudgy, with watery eyes behind wire-rimmed glasses, it seems as though he was punching above his weight with mousy Alice, let alone the beautiful Ginny. Unbelievably, she is pushed into letting Ginny stay with her, while he makes preparations for the new love nest.

          Back in 1948, Daniel Holmes is another clinging and lonely academic whose dull and sheltered life takes an unexpected turn. He is forced by circumstance to become everything he ever dreamed of; an admirer, a spurned lover, a hero. Writing it all in a journal from the safety of the past, he leaves this for another generation, for Alice.

          Although she makes every effort to understand Ginny, Alice quickly has doubt put in her mind about Ginny's intentions towards the vain and stupid Joe - rather than Joe being the predator, he may well be the prey. It's hard to say whether it's her protective instinct towards Joe or her own curiosity, but once Alice starts to take an interest in Ginny, a horrifying story from the past emerges and she realises the danger they are in.

          I'm not normally a fan of horror; (once you step away from classics such as Conan-Doyle or Edgar Allen Poe) so many modern horror books are little more than trashy gore, screaming at you from wire and plastic stands in airport newsagents. I have no love of hefty but dull tales where a solitary crusading man fights the unexplained or just unbelievable. This was different for me, a well-written and descriptive book with fleshed out characters and every effort to find a plausible and educated explanation before the supernatural possibilities could creep in.

          I found The Evil Seed to be perfectly paced and every bit as atmospheric as the Joanne Harris's other books. Sleepy graveyards and moonlit back streets were perfectly described and the blood-fuelled anticipation was offset by emotion. There was none of that cheap cardboardy feel and despite a fair few scenes of violence, the reader is neither sickened nor bored.

          The flicking between past and present makes this as much thriller as horror and through Alice and Daniel, the reader can easily piece together the story and enjoy the contemporary slant and morals each character applies to the situation I can see the similarities between geeky Dan and lonely Alice, lost in a horrible twisted fairground ride of fear and black magic.

          It is though, for all the good points, a vampire novel and there are places where a stereotypical 'Lost Boys' approach creeps in. The thread goes a little as Harris dresses the evil dead like they've just been to a Placebo gig and then confuses them with gypsies by linking them to the fair. It might lose some originality in this, but it does at least escape the clichés of windswept moors and stakes through the heart, while still giving a feeling of gothic horror.

          There is a sense that she draws heavily on her personal experience as a student, which is to be expected given that this is her debut novel and she was only twenty-three at the time of writing it. Both the main protagonists are academics, as are those who surround them. The vampires themselves generally hang around in dishevelled houses smoking cigarettes and drinking wine as though they themselves are just studying the occult. If you prefer stories about down to earth characters with gritty reality, this is not for you.

          Overall, I prefer this to airy but shallow novels such as Chocolat. Harris's style of writing has no doubt improved hugely since writing this, but it's a shame to me that she didn't stick with themes as dark and interesting. If you don't like this, don't let it put you off her other books - it's completely different.

          After finishing the book I felt a sense that it was incomplete and that the ending had somehow disappointed. Who is Ginny? How did she come to being? If Alice dumped Joe, why does she even care? I'm still curious, as though I didn't get all the answers. It's not a deep or demanding read, but fairly compelling and worth a look.

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