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The Drowning House

2.87  ·  Rating details ·  2,326 ratings  ·  383 reviews
A gripping suspense story about a woman who returns to Galveston, Texas after a personal tragedy and is irresistibly drawn into the insular world she’s struggled to leave.

Photographer Clare Porterfield's once-happy marriage is coming apart, unraveling under the strain of a family tragedy. When she receives an invitation to direct an exhibition in her hometown of Galvesto
Hardcover, 268 pages
Published January 15th 2013 by Nan A. Talese / Doubleday a division of Random House, Inc.
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2.87  · 
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 ·  2,326 ratings  ·  383 reviews

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Jan 19, 2013 rated it did not like it
Shelves: did-not-finish
The book jacket synopsis describes a story about a heartbroken woman returning home to Galveston after suffering an unspeakable tragedy and the deterioration of her marriage, and a hundred-year-old mystery about Stella, who lived in the old mansion across the street and was found hanging with her hair wrapped around the chandelier in the aftermath of a devastating hurricane in 1900.

I made it to page 132 before abandoning it. Up to page 132 there are infrequent references to Stella, so infrequent
Jan Pelosi
Apr 30, 2013 rated it it was ok
I didn't want to HIDE my review, but there are some spoilers here, so STOP reading now if you don't want to see them.

I so wanted to love this book. I am fascinated with the 1900 Great Hurricane, and my husband is from Galveston (a BOI) so we spend a lot of time there. I wish Elizabeth Black would have sent this out for some sort of reading focus group (if they even exist) and then tweaked her story a bit. It really could have been a great book, but it's just not.

Elizabeth's Black's writing styl
Dec 20, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: amazon-vine-book
I elected to read this book because I love the city of Galveston and the rich history of the island. I looked forward to a mystery surrounding the 1900 hurricane. Instead I read a sad tale of dysfunctional families and unfinished stories.

Black is advertised as an exciting new literary voice. I can see why Gay Talese is excited about the writing of this first time novelist. Her writing is compelling and lyrical. Her writing style is the sort that critics and publishers of literary fiction seem to
Feb 16, 2013 rated it it was ok
This book was hyped for its dual story of Clare, a photographer who, after a personal tragedy, returns to Galveston to direct an exhibition and begins to question the story of a girl whose body was found after the 1900 Great Hurricane, her hair entangled in the family chandelier. Intriguing, right? Wrong. Elizabeth Black devotes her words to descriptions of Galveston rather than characters, dialogue, or plot. Her descriptions are beautiful but anything related to character and plot is vague and ...more
Jan 26, 2013 rated it did not like it
Shelves: 2013
Here is a story that had a lot of potential, but words got in the way. Elizabeth Black managed to describe every little detail and emotion possible in a book's setting.

Here is a sample: "There was no sidewalk in the sense that most people understand it. Smooth concrete might extend for thirty feet, only to erupt suddenly where old, broken slabs thrust upward like the prows of sinking ships, the spaces between them lively with weeds. There were stretches of homemade pebble aggregate pocked with b
May 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 4-star, islanders, fiction
This book is filled with ghosts. It's no Turn of the Screw, where unaccountable figures appear and create an aura of dread, or "Ghosthunters", where intrepid investigators try to provoke taps and disembodied voices. This book is filled with the kind of spectres most everyone has to live with. Something terrible happened in the course of an ordinary day – was there anything you could have done to prevent it? Everyone else in the world proceeds through such commonplaces with no misfortune – how co ...more
Jan 23, 2013 rated it it was ok
This review contains spoiler alerts.

When I picked it up, I figured I would love this book -- but what I read about the book on the inside front flap was very different from what the book turned out to be.

At first I thought, Okay, so here's a narrator with serious marriage issues (separated from husband after loss of their child). I was on board; the passage about the death of their daughter was very moving. And then I realized she had mommy issues, very complicated daddy issues, long-lost boyfr
Oct 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone who loves carefully crafted prose
I'm reading The Drowning House for the second time, something I rarely do - at least in the realm of contemporary fiction, but this book merits a second go. This time I'm reading a little more carefully and acquainting myself with the things the author uses to capture the atmosphere of Galveston so evocatively. One example: in the opening pages the narrator, a photographer, is preparing for her return to the city of her youth where she will be curating an exhibition of Galveston photographs:
Heather Fineisen
Nov 12, 2012 rated it liked it
Elizabeth Black is a poet. I suspected as much reading descriptions such as, "Around her, I felt as though every minute was already full, that all the air in any room that contained us both had already been used up." and "that the air and water are often so close to body temperature you sometimes feel, if it weren't for the accident of your skin, you could melt into either one." She can evoke all of the senses with her lovely words. Black describes Galveston so the reader experiences the island. ...more
Aug 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Elizabeth Black’s haunting suspense novel, “The Drowning House” follows photographer Clare Porterfield as she journeys back to her home of Galveston, Texas. Clare is tormented by the death of her young daughter in a tragic accident. Struggling to gain a foothold on life she accepts an invitation by wealthy businessman Will Carraday to direct an art exhibit chronicling the history of the island.

Back home after a decade away, Clare relives painful memories of her past that often circle around the
FABulous, fabulous writing. Too bad the story couldn't hold up. Elizabeth Black was everywhere, just all over the place, and it made me sad to see all the strings fraying instead of wrapping up in a nice tight blanket. Still, the writing.

"And finally I had to accept that we would never recover the place that had been ours, the private territory of our adolescence. It too was gone."

"I went back to the kitchen and pulled open the cupboards and drawers, making the glasses ring and the silverware c
Jaime Boler
Dec 29, 2012 marked it as to-read
Book Review: The Drowning House by Elizabeth Black

The Drowning House by Elizabeth Black (Nan A. Talese; 288 pages; $25).

“If there was a sign, I missed it” begins Elizabeth Black’s highly publicized debut, The Drowning House. Yea, if there was a sticker on the front of this book proclaiming it tired and tedious, I, too, missed it.

Photographer Clare Porterfield has suffered a huge blow, and her hometown of Galveston has called her home. Clare battles some tough inner demons, as she grapples with
Elaine Colwell
Oct 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing
In Elizabeth Black’s atmospheric Drowning House, the City of Galveston does, indeed, play as large a role as any individual does. This is not the kind of novel, however, peopled with predictable characters everyone has met before. Galveston is complex--graceful and gaudy at the same time, a small city with a big, almost looming past. As many fine novelists have, Black plumbs the chemistry between the place and its inhabitants. In this case, the question of whether you live in Galveston or it liv ...more
Alesha Leveritt
Apr 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
If you are a reader who loves the masterful use of language and the power of the well-placed word, this is the novel for you, and you will be shocked that you are reading a "first-time novelist." But this book isn't for everyone. It isn't a "thriller" will carefully planted leads, and it isn't a ghost story that will leave you on the edge of your seat. There are plenty of ghosts...but they aren't that kind.

It IS an incredibly beautiful story about identity, that which is determined by our origin
Fungi From Yuggoth
Nov 06, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Fungi From Yuggoth by: Great Minds Think Aloud
Review of The Drowning House
Reviewed for Great Minds Think Aloud
4 stars

I call this in the category of “women’s lit” or “beach reads” and no, not just because the majority of the novel is set on Galveston Island. It’s the kind of slow-paced novel with multiple characters and multiple plotlines which makes the reader want to take it slow and just enjoy-perfect for a vacation or “beach” read. There’s a lot of history in this novel: history of the island and of the community; history of the historic
Oct 05, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Kurt by: Amazon Vine
This debut novel perfectly communicates the culture of Galveston in the summer of 1990, while it also tells a compelling mystery story that delves into the nature of adult homecomings. Plot-wise, the story follows a young photographer who returns to her island home for a new work project after a family tragedy strains her marriage past its breaking point, and, as protagonists tend to do in this kind of story, she uncovers some mysteries, both in her island's past and in her family's present. For ...more
The Drowning House
By Elizabeth Black
4 stars
pp. 268

I was compelled to pick up Elizabeth Black's novel The Drowning House with the setting in Galveston and which claimed to investigate family secrets going back to the great hurricane of 1900 which claimed so many lives, one being Stella Carraday whose body was said to be found hanging by her hair from the chandelier. Since reading Isaac's Storm by Erik Larson, I have been interested in anything I could find about it and I love the idea of uncoveri

Dear Reader,

Wow. This book was nothing like I expected. I thought it was going to be a story about the history of a girl who had drowned during a hurricane, he hair entwined in a chandelier. That is what the book’s description led me to believe! However, it was NOTHING of the sort. It was a story about a woman who had lost her young child, and of her journey through finding understanding regarding the rest of her life, particularly her rather messy childhood.

I have to admit, I
Lori L (She Treads Softly)
Jan 17, 2013 rated it really liked it
In Elizabeth Black's debut novel, The Drowning House, photographer Clare Porterfield's life is in turmoil. Her six-year-old daughter has died. She is immersed in inescapable grief and her marriage is drowning under the weight of her sorrows. She accepts an invitation to return to her hometown of Galveston, Texas, in order to select the material for a photography exhibition funded by the wealthy Will Carraday.

Clare has been gone from the island for many years and, along with others, is questioni
Aug 12, 2012 rated it it was ok
When I first read the synopsis for Elizabeth Black’s The Drowning House, I was immediately intrigued. It sounded completely like my cup of tea, with the synopsis focusing heavily on a Galveston resident hung by her hair from a chandelier during the Great Hurricane of 1900. If this was the primary focus of the book, that would be great, but Black is all over the place with her writing…so much so that things get boring after awhile.

The Drowning House tells the story of Clare Porterfield, whose mar
Many reviewers describe this as "atmospheric" and that is certainly true. The setting is Galveston and the place is felt in every sense. It's very Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. I had no idea of the history and quirks of the island and the author really brings it to life.

In the end, I think that's the problem. Galveston dominates and overshadows the characters. I didn't care about Clare's journey or her past. Her loss and her crumbled marriage are so abstract as to almost not be believ
Mar 13, 2013 rated it it was ok
I really wanted to like this book. I did enjoy all of the information about Galveston in the early 1990's. If this had been a travel brochure I would probably give it all 5 stars. I also enjoyed the author's style and felt she wrote quite well, and the book was well edited, in that there were no glaring grammatical or spelling errors that prevented me from actually staying with the story.

Where this book fell apart was in telling a story that was of any real interest. The plot "twist", such as it
Diane S ☔
May 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
3.5 This author has a very unique and distinct writing style, rather elegant yet matter of fact. I read Isaac's Storm not to long ago, about the Hurricane that devastated Galveston and this book covers the history of Galveston from the viewpoint of the residents that lived there than and live there now. Galveston is a much the main character as is the photographer Claire. Ghosts and mysteries from the past meet up with the now adult Claire, trying to clarify for herself, things she does not unde ...more
Feb 07, 2013 rated it it was ok
This book fell very flat to me. It started off strong and then continued its' slide downward. I expected much more from it than it really delivered. I expected a creepy, paranormal type of book with how the jacket described the book, or minimally a darker family past, and it was much more about family secrets than anything else. I must say, on a positive note, that I did like the writing by this author and would give another book of hers a chance.
Oct 14, 2013 rated it did not like it
I had high hopes for this novel but sometimes book descriptions can be so misleading. The characters are unlikeable; there is too much navel gazing, too much angst and way too much drawing room drama for this reader.

Ugh. I struggled to stick with this one to the end. I did finish it and the reveal was not worth my dogged determination. I did enjoy reading about Galveston so I will take that knowledge of an island I knew nothing about with me.
Kerryn (RatherBeReading)
This story felt very undeveloped and quite frankly I found it a little bit boring. I didn't find the story mysterious, suspenseful, thrilling or particularly gothic in feel and overall I just didn't really care about the story.

Unfortunately, just not for me.
Feb 20, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Aug 03, 2018 rated it did not like it
The book jacket begins describing this novel as a “gripping suspense story” well it isn’t. I struggled to read the last 50 pages because the tragedy of the main character’s past still had not been revealed, she hadn’t solved the historical mystery of what happened to a local girl during the great hurricane of 1900 and she still needed to locate her boyfriend from high school. All of these things were poorly wrapped up in the last 40 pages.
If you are a reader who loves the masterful use of language and the power of the well-placed word, this is the novel for you. You will be shocked that you are reading a debut author. However, this book isn't for everyone. It isn't a "thriller" with carefully planted leads and it isn't a ghost story that will leave you on the edge of your seat. There are plenty of ghosts...but they aren't that kind.

Many reviewers have covered the plot, so I don't feel like I have to go into too much into that. Th
Dec 15, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: for-review, mystery
This review was originally posted at The Bawdy Book Blog


Of only moderate quality; not very good: “a mediocre actor”.

Which perfectly describes The Drowning House by Elizabeth Black. After suffering a personal tragedy, Clare Porterfield decides to meander across the country back to Galveston Island, Texas, in her decrepit station wagon, leaving her husband behind in Washington, D.C. She’s been offered the opportunity to direct a photography exhibit about the Island, and uses t
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Mansfield Public ...: The Drowning House Review by Julia Joseph 1 2 Jul 09, 2013 11:54AM  

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Elizabeth Black is a professional fund-raiser for a national nonprofit organization and holds degrees from Vassar, Yale, and the University of London. She has published poetry in Kansas Quarterly, KARAMU, and Southern Humanities Review. The Drowning House is her first novel.