"All, all of it I remember. Then I relived, my heart pounding again as I stood at the window and through the fog-blanketed darkness heard the sound"All, all of it I remember. Then I relived, my heart pounding again as I stood at the window and through the fog-blanketed darkness heard the sound again. Deep under the earth, inside its cardboard coffin, shrouded with the layers of white paper, the china doll with the jagged, open crevasse in its skull was crying."
The atmosphere in Dolly is so heavy and intense that it's almost its own character, perfectly at home in its loneliness. Dolly recalls pieces of Burnett's The Secret Garden, but twisted. It's like the marshy underside of the Secret Garden, where you would expect fairytale things to be waiting in the bog.
After the death of his aunt, a man, Edward, recalls his childhood staying at Iyot Lock, her manor house decaying out in the middle of the moor. The house is straight out of a gothic novel and nobody much enjoys being there save for the aunt, and especially not Edward's cousin, Leonora. He tries to get along with Leonora desperately, but sometimes she just turns into an evil stranger with no warning or transition, and Edward becomes afraid of her. The aunt buys Leonora a baby doll that she breaks, and afterward the doll becomes kind of... vocal, but only late in the night when it's only Edward there to hear it.
I really appreciate the oddness of the characters. Edward and Leonora have a weird dynamic - they start off like you'd expect they're going to end up being best of friends. They hate each other on a subtle level from square one, even for the moments they get along. I think that they had always enjoyed seeing each other miserable, and that's probably why, even though Edward wasn't insufferable as Leonora was, they are both doomed to be bound to each other through horrible occurrences that they can't explain to anybody else. Their relationship is surprisingly bleak for being children through most of the story. Like the manor is a decrepit version of the one in The Secret Garden, Edward and Leonora are sort of shadow selves of Mary and Dickon, only Leonora never learns to be appreciative and Edward is vindictive.
Calling this book "a ghost story", which apparently a lot of Susan Hill's books are subtitled, is misleading. It is... and it isn't. The threat and dread that is felt in this book is something a little more ambiguous than a ghost. There is the doll itself, but whether or not it's even the doll that's abnormal is left up to the imagination. The ghost in question is more of a curse, not even necessarily anything of human origin. Depending on the type of mind you have, one could view what happens to Edward and Leonora as just karma, a strain of bad luck, or you could see it as a stray demon they've picked up in the marsh that's taken a home in the doll as well.
Dolly has met some criticism for not being "ghostly" enough. That's rather unfair, I think. The way it was handled is so much more inventive and ultimately creepier than if it had been your run-of-the-mill, classic house-haunting ghost. Hill plays off of the universal fear of fate and unknowns that will destroy a person, a child even, with zero provocation. That's just its role in nature to be evil. Tension runs like mercury in Dolly - the pacing is slow but at the same time impending with every new detail. I personally loved it, and don't really understand the amount of dislike that this book has gotten.
The Parasite is definitely something different. For some reason I was under the impression this was more science fiction, as Conan Doyle did actuallyThe Parasite is definitely something different. For some reason I was under the impression this was more science fiction, as Conan Doyle did actually dabble in sci-fi, such as The Maracot Deep, but this novella is more along the psychological thriller edge with vampiric overtones. A skeptic doctor becomes the target of a hypnotist, whose motives are not entirely black or white but are backed with an obsessive drive.
You'd think the way this book flows would be a paradox, being both molasses slow and intense somehow. It's not bad, if you're interested in early psychological horror but the pacing is shifty and kind of annoying, which detracts from a lot of the great ideas at work here. The Parasite is in public domain for free and is fairly short, so is worth a read.
As an aside, I'm rather surprised that The Parasite was never adapted into a silent film, at least not to my knowledge. It's eerily reminiscent of "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari", also an innovator in cerebral storytelling in its own medium that came out a few decades later. It might've been an inspiration, but from what I know I don't believe it was. Still something interesting to consider....more
The Haunting of Saxton Mansion has a pretty atmosphere and engaging suspense, but holy goodness, it needs a thorough, surgically precise typo scrub.The Haunting of Saxton Mansion has a pretty atmosphere and engaging suspense, but holy goodness, it needs a thorough, surgically precise typo scrub. There are really frequent typos that detract from what otherwise is a promising gothic suspense novel. They’re more malapropisms than misspellings, things that Spell Check alone wouldn’t catch, so I can see how they slipped through. But still, there’s such a number I don’t see how some weren’t noticed. In one instance, it causes an accidental paranormal moment where two men seem to be having a psychic conversation with each other.
If the editing was glossed up, I feel like it would’ve been quite beautiful. It’s still not a poor story underneath its surface flaws. Saxton Mansion has an original premise and it reminds me rather nostalgically of Fear Street. The plot revolves around a man and his wife who purchase a strange mansion in rural Florida that was a strong but somehow forgotten part of the man’s childhood. It’s slow burning rather than visceral, which works for it, and the twist ending is rewarding. I probably would read the second to see where it takes me, but I really wish they had cleaned up the grammar. It’d do a world of favours to its world of ghosts.