Good Reading : October 2004
22 goodreading ‘But (it) might have some competition soon from the book I’m writing now called The Snow Witch, which is a grand Russian saga of magic and storytelling, with a firebrand of a female charac- ter at the centre of it all.’ Sophie, the heroine of Kim’s fourth book Angel of Ruin, is a freelance journalist who becomes dangerously fascinated with an old woman’s story about the three daughters of Milton and the fallen angel of his great poem. Moving back and forth between the London of today and the time of the plague and the Great Fire of London, Angel of Ruin casts a spell on the reader – in more ways than one. I loved every single one of these books.They are clever, sexy, witty, and very, very creepy.All of them have the power to chill your spine and make your skin crawl, which is why Horror World has called Kim ‘without doubt the most exciting writer of super- natural fiction working today”. With her two most recent books for adults, Kim has steered her craft in a new direction. Published as a triptych under the title ‘The Europa Suite’, The Autumn Castle, Giants of the Frost and the forthcoming The Snow Witch are all inspired by Northern European folk and fairy tales. I have always loved books which draw upon fairytales. Imbued with the gorgeous and the grotesque, they have the power to speak to us of our own fears and desires through the medium of meta- phor and symbol. It is no coincidence that so many psychological complexes have been named after fairytales. I have a particular warm spot for The Autumn Castle, which contrasts the grey, crumbling world of modern-day Berlin with a magical land called Ewigkreis where a queen called Mayfridh – stolen from our world as a child – reigns with the help of a shape-shifting wolf and a grisly old witch called Hexebart who is kept locked down a well. I am not alone in relishing this par - ticular creation: Kim has a rabid fan club, based in London, called Hexebart’s Well. The Autumn Castle is much more romantic than some of Kim’s earlier works, though Hexebart and a cruel faery hunter called Immanuel Zweigler keep its edges whetted – and Kim is always aware of the price that must be paid for the consolation of a happy ending. It is this romantic element, as well as the fairytale quality, which makes The Autumn Castle my all-time favourite of Kim’s books. I have another, more personal, reason for loving this book. On page 361, Kim has quoted three lines of my poem ‘Autumn’ as a preface to Part III, putting me in the same glorious company as the Brothers Grimm, Percy Bysshe Shelley and ETA Hoffman.There is no greater compliment to give a poet and shows, I feel, great dis - cernment. (Imagine a smiley face here.) With her latest book, Giants of the Frost, Kim has continued with a softer, more fantastical feel. ‘I think I was just ready to change gears and do something that was more sophisticated and subtle,’ she says. ‘It probably comes from growing a little older. I find that I just don’t have the stomach for violence any more, especially since becoming a mother. I want to spend as much time writing about what is beautiful as what is strange.’ With a compelling love story at its heart, and some of Kim’s most lyrical and moving writing, Giants of the Frost definitely fulfils this desire. ‘There is something missing from love,’ the novel’s heroine Victoria says in the opening chapters. ‘Love should be stellar and lunar and pull your breath from your body and make your teeth ache and your nerves sing; but I have not felt that.’ Yet. ForVictoria, scientist and hardened sceptic, is about to expe- rience love and fear and desire, the great driving emotions of humankind, and along the way discover that the world is a far more mysterious place than she could ever have imagined. Victoria is a fascinating character.With degrees in mathematics and geophysics, she is an insomniac who obsessively calculates the dimensions of the world around her, from every step taken to how many fingers and toes were in the room at one given time:‘139 – Carsten was missing the pinky off his left hand (which made) an average number of digits per person (19.857142 recurring).’ Fleeing a failed love affair,Victoria takes a job at a weather station on a remote island in the Norwegian Sea. She finds meteorology utterly compelling, part of her need to obsessively understand and control every aspect of her life. But her work on Othinsey will shake all that up, forVictoria is troubled by a night- marish sense of déjà vu.Then she meetsVidar, a beautiful and enig- matic man to whom she is instantly and illogically drawn … ‘The ideas for Giants came from reading Old Norse mythology books,’ Kim says. ‘Odin has a son who’s rarely mentioned, but who is very important in the fate of the old gods. I started to think about what would make a good con- flict, and decided that if he fell in love with a mortal woman that could really upset everybody’s destiny.’ Giants of the Frost was the most challenging of all her books to write, Kim says, and not just because she was writing a novel set in a remote Norwegian weather station while living in a sun- drenched Brisbane flat. Heavily pregnant during the writing of The Autumn Castle, she had turned in the manuscript only two days before her son Luka was born. ‘There’s this note in my diary about how glad I was to be able to have some time off before the baby came … (but) he came two weeks early,’ she laughs. ‘I worked on the research and planning (of Giants of the Frost) while I was breastfeeding in the early weeks. I’d have Luka in one arm, and my notebook on the sofa next to me, scribbling away. I found the 2 am feed a really creative time! It was also the reason I made the main character Victoria an insomniac. I was so intimately acquainted with the darkest hours of the night.’ As Australia’s queen of gothic literature should be. author profile ‘I’m still waiting for someone to describe my work as Stephen King collaborating with the Brontë sisters,’ Kim says wryly.