I love unsettling stories, any time a book hints at something sinister going on under the surface narrative, it’s got me hooked. It doesn’t need to be in the classic horror genre, it doesn’t even need to be supernatural – it just has to have that creep factor. Nothing better captures that sense of dread than the eerie spectacle of the shuttered house at the end of the street, or the old manor-house standing abandoned and overgrown on the moor. Who knows what lurks in the dark corners within? Is there anyone inside, and what secrets are they hiding? I recently knocked on the great oak door and walked into the shadows of a few creepy literary houses – and here’s the verdict on whether you should do the same.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
Of course, my first trip had to be to Shirley Jackson – the great master of chilling tales. We Have Always Lived in the Castle is narrated by Merricat Blackwood (just take a moment to appreciate how creepy that name is!) who lives with her sister, Constance, and her Uncle Julian in the family’s old, dilapidated house. The family has become more secluded from the nearby village ever since the rest of the Blackwood family died from arsenic poisoning. When Merricat ventures down to the village to do the weekly shopping, the locals whisper and stare unapologetically, and the schoolchildren sing a taunting rhyme about the murder of the Blackwood family. Merricat’s voice throughout the book is suitably haunting and obscure – you know she’s not telling you the whole story. My adoration of Shirley Jackson knows no bounds – she is unrivalled in her ability to craft a spooky atmosphere.
Verdict: BUY to spend some time in a run-down, isolated house, complete with two reclusive sisters and their delirious uncle. Just be careful about what you eat at dinner-time!
Foxlowe by Eleanor Wasserberg
My next stop is to the remote trappings of Foxlowe. In this house lives the Family, a commune with a small number of people who attempt to live self-sufficiently, and who try to harbour the power of the solstice to ward off the “Bad.” The story of Foxlowe is told from the perspective of Green, one of the children of the Family, as she recounts the often twisted activities of the cult-like group. There is a lot of promise in this book, but sadly I didn’t fall in love with it, the premise is intriguing but I didn’t find the Family creepy enough. I thought the child narrator was really well done, and there was certainly a suspense and unease about the house and the commune – but I just don’t think the story really built to anything spectacular. However, I think there is a huge amount of people who would love this book, and if you like YA I would definitely recommend it. So, with that said –
Verdict: BORROW to get a taste of life with the Family. If you like it, then great, you can pack your bags and move to Foxlowe! But if the commune life isn’t for you, you have the option to move out.
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
If you are a fan of gothic literature, follow me into the once-stately house of Angelfield – the house that lies at the centre of The Thirteenth Tale. Angelfield is a place full of destructive family secrets and painful deaths; haunted by the lies and misdeeds of its past inhabitants. In this book the story-within- a-story narrative device is used to great affect; the narrative follows the elusive writer Vida Winter as she recounts the secrets of her hidden past to her biographer, Margaret Lea. This is a book all about storytelling, and muses on how the stories we weave help shape our lives; the author pays tribute to the her gothic predecessors with nods to Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White and Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre (amongst many others) in the novel. This is a book full of tension and mystery – the events leading up to the fall of Angelfield and the destruction of the family within will have you completely gripped.
Verdict: BUY for the opportunity to listen to Vida Winter finally uncover the story she’s been hiding all her life. The moment you hear her begin, “one upon a time there were two little girls …” you’ll be so drawn in you won’t be able to leave.