From October 1 to October 31, I read our collection of Halloween books to my kids. (Click here to see some of our favorites.) This year, I decided that I should adopt the same tradition for myself! Melanie Cole has been doing the same thing on her blog, and I love the idea.
I started with The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (read my review here) and followed that up with another Shirley Jackson novel We Have Always Lived in the Castle, which Melanie also read this month. This novel is about a small family of three: Constance, the eldest sister, who hasn’t left the grounds of their home in six years, Merrikat, the youngest sister, and their Uncle Julian, who is obsessed with the details surrounding the night that resulted in the deaths of five of their family members and put him in a wheelchair.
Constance was tried for the deaths and acquitted, but the citizens of the small town don’t believe it. Since Constance won’t leave the house and Uncle Julian can’t, it’s up to Merrikat to go into town twice a week to do the grocery shopping. The sidelong looks, the whispers, the cruel remarks spoken both in her presence and directly to her are all the more awful considering she is only 18 years old. However, she narrates in a voice that seems much younger, almost as if she has been suspended in time for the past six years.
When a cousin comes to town threatening the snow-globe-of-a-home Constance, Merrikat, and Uncle Julian have established, events are set into motion that result in another tragedy.
It’s a mystery, but it is also a heartbreaking tale of how damaging social ostracization and self-imposed isolation can be. Stuck in their own little world, Merrikat can create whatever reality she wants, and Constance, who won’t leave the house, indulges her and even joins in herself. These coping mechanisms have made it impossible for them to escape their situation. When horrific circumstances lead to the loss of almost everything they hold dear, they remain trapped in their bubble.
I wouldn’t classify it as scary or creepy, or even Halloween-esque, but I was definitely haunted by the cruelty of the townspeople towards this small family. This is definitely a good read.
I also read The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. I can’t remember where I read about this little ghost story written in 1898, but it promised ghosts, two creepy kids, and a governess rattling around an old mansion, so I thought I’d give it a try.
Henry James’ writing style is dense, convoluted, and dare I say, rambling. His sentences are all like this:
“But it was a comfort that there could be no uneasiness in a connexion with anything so beatific as the radiant image of my little girl, the vision of whose angelic beauty had probably more than anything else to do with the restlessness that, before morning, made me several times rise and wander about my room to take in the whole picture and prospect; to watch from my open window the faint summer dawn, to look at such stretches of the rest of the house as I could catch, and to listen, while in the fading dusk the first birds began to twitter, for the possible recurrence of a sound or two, less natural and not without but within, that I had fancied I heard.”
Yes, that is all one (boring) sentence.
The story is of a young woman charmed into taking the post of governess for two small children, Miles and Flora. Their previous governess died under mysterious circumstances, and Miles has recently been expelled from his boarding school under mysterious circumstances. It is as frustrating to watch the governess tiptoe around exactly what Miles did to get himself expelled as it is to close the book and still not know. All that is revealed is that he said something. What was said or to whom is never explained. While this may have been scandalous in 1898, it seems a little silly now.
There are ghosts that seem to want to possess the children, and there is the hint that perhaps the governess is going mad. She’s certainly in denial, frequently referring to Miles as “angelic” even though he was expelled from school and escaped onto the grounds in the middle of the night just to show her he could be bad if he wanted to.
The ending, meant to be shocking, is merely confusing.
If you’re a Henry James fan, you might like it. Otherwise, there are plenty of scary Halloween books out there that I would recommend ahead of this one. Like Interview with a Vampire by Anne Rice. Stay tuned for my review!