Faces look ugly when you’re alone

we-have-always-lived-in-the-castle

 

It figures that a book about people who are happy in their isolation would resonate with me. Shirley Jackson’s self proclaimed “paean to agoraphobia” gives of a sense of unease even during what should be the most mundane domestic scenes.

Mary Katherine “Merricat” Blackwood, her sister Constance and their ailing uncle Julian are the surviving members of a once prestigious family. The surviving Blackwoods are hated and ridiculed by the surrounding villagers due to an incident which resulted in the death of Merricat and Constance’s parents, brother and aunt (Julian’s wife). Constance has not ventured past her garden in six years and Julian is too ill to go out, leaving Merricat to brave a twice weekly trip into town for groceries and library books. She faces the scorn of the villagers wherever she goes. Despite this, the three of them are content in their isolated routine. Things are soon disrupted when the girls’ cousin Charles Blackwood shows up at their door and begins to ingratiate himself to Constance.

The unease that pervades the book as soon as cousin Charles arrives is palpable. The reader knows that nothing but disaster can come from the arrival of this interloper. And when disaster comes (spoiler?) it’s almost a relief to have it over and done with. Jackson clearly understands isolation and social anxiety and turns out a classic of modern psychological horror.

“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown”

the house on the borderland

 

I’m a pretty big horror fan. I graduated from Christopher Pike novels to Stephen King before I hit my teens. Naturally, I’m pretty familiar with the works of H.P. Lovecraft. So when I came across an author who Lovecraft named as a major influence on his work, I naturally had to give it a read. The similarities are apparent from page one. It has many of the ingredients of classic Lovecraft: cosmic horror, strange locals, unnamed horrors. It’s a must read for anyone who is a fan of Horror or just H.P. Lovecraft.

The story begins with two English gentlemen named Tonnison and Berreggnog who are taking a fishing trip to a remote Irish village. During their trip, they come across the ruins of a strange old house next to a lake where they find a partially dilapidated journal of someone whom they call The Recluse, who apparently lived in the house some time ago with his spinster sister and his faithful dog, Pepper. The journal details the increasingly bizarre and horrifying events occurring in the house and ends abruptly. The journal accounts for most of the book. After reading it the two men, already unnerved by the atmosphere around the old house agree never to return the the area.

The book does a good job of maintaining the feeling of unease and dread throughout the story. Even when the men have returned to the village proper, one is not completely at ease. The House on the Borderland is a pioneering classic of the cosmic horror genre.

A Surprising Adventure

the woman in white

 

 

I added this book to my TBR pile because it was described as an early example of Gothic Horror combined with psychological realism. The description is spot on. I started reading with the expectation of a spooky little Victorian thriller. What I got was over 600 pages of intrigue, madness, and of course, a love story. The Woman in White is a surprising work of fiction that needs to be made into a PBS miniseries, stat.

Though the story is centered around the fortunes (and misfortunes) of Laura Fairlie, she is not a particularly interesting character. Those that surround her and move the action forward, Walter Hartright, Marian Halcombe and even the insidious Count Fosco, are infinitely more interesting. It is them that move the story from London, all across the English countryside and even to the madhouse (the Victorian repository for inconvenient women). Though there are a couple of slow spots, The Woman is White is, overall, a pretty thrilling read that kept me up later than I should have been on more than one work night.