Almost immediately after finishing The Haunting of Hill House (my review found here) I picked up Shirley Jackson's other novella, We have always Lived in the Castle. Again, I would not characterize this story as "horror" - but it is definitely a suspenseful thriller. I think it is Ms. Jackson's way of developing odd characters that somehow evoke sympathy from the reader, while at the same time concocting a storyline that keeps the reader on the edge of his/her seat that makes her writing so intoxicating! The gothic setting is still another element of the story that immediately draws the reader in and keeps the reader entranced; it is almost as if the houses (Hill House and the Castle) are characters themselves. This story opens with two sisters living alone in the house with their elderly uncle. Constance is the older sister who stays at home tending the garden, cooking the meals, and nurturing Uncle Julian. Mary Catherine (Merricat) is about ten years younger and somewhat of a wanderer. She is the one who goes into town twice a week to pick up the necessities, but she also entertains herself by playing pretend with her cat and burying household objects in the backyard. The reader is left wondering why Constance never leaves the house - and why Merricat is still forbidden to do certain tasks (making tea, for instance) or visiting certain parts of the house.
Early in the story the reader learns of the catastrophic event that keeps the towns people leery of the two sisters, and explains why the two sisters prefer to stay alone at the castle. Soon, however, a long-lost cousin enters the picture and once Charles shows up the reader knows that he is up to no good. This is a fast-paced story that will keep the reader's attention throughout the 160 pages and can easily be read in an afternoon. I plan to make it a new October tradition to re-read both of these Shirley Jackson's short stories.
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley is an entirely different sort of thriller. The protagonist, Flavia Luce, is a precocious 11 year old girl who has an affinity for chemistry; and while the Buckshaw manor provides a required gothic setting, the overall tone of this piece is more humorous and light-hearted than anything Shirley Jackson might write. I truly wanted to LOVE this book - and many in the blogosphere have. But for some reason I was not totally enamored with it. I liked it - don't get me wrong - and I look forward to reading the further adventures of Flavia and seeing how her character develops (I believe Alan Bradley is under contract to write at least two more in the series and there is an entire website devoted to our young detective). But for some reason this one did not leave me begging for me. I think perhaps it is my lack of chemistry understanding (this course and pre-calc were the bane of my existence in high school) that perhaps led me to believe that an 11 year old was smarter than this reader (I still suffer from some low self-esteem issues), and hopefully I will mature as a reader as Flavia matures as an amateur sleuth. In the meantime, if you wish to read a very well-written review in praise of this debut novel, please read Carl's review here.
The one book that I started for this challenge, but simply could not bring myself to finish, was Angelica by Arthur Phillips. I do not necessarily think that this is a fault of the author, however. The story is definitely gothic in nature and did capture my attention in the beginning. But somehow I just couldn't stay focused long enough to get through the first portion. There is an unnatural closeness that Mrs. Barton feels for her young child - and the reader is unnerved by this relationship from the start. The Goodreads summary for this book compares it to the Haunting of Hill House and Turn of the Screw, both novels which I thoroughly enjoyed. I just think that my recent book buying sprees (and therefore plethora of reading choices) kept me from focusing on the book like I should. I think I might try this one again for the RIP Challenge 2010.
Finally I have enjoyed reading a few short ghost stories from two different anthologies. I found a copy of the Victorian Ghost Stories: an Oxford Anthology on sale for a $1 about a year ago, and I am very glad that I jumped on that bargain. I have read several stories from this anthology already, namely An Account of Some Strange Disturbances in Aungier Street by J. S. Le Fanu, Miss Feromette and the Clergyman by Wilkie Collins, and At Chrighton Abbey by Mary Elizabeth Braddon. I look forward to reading several others, particularly those by Charles Dickens, Henry James, Sir Author Conan Doyle, and R. L. Stevenson.
I also picked up a copy of Victorian Ghost Stories by Eminent Women Writers compiled by Richard Dalby from the library and have read a handful of these amazing narratives as well: Napoleon and the Sceptre by Charlotte Bronte; the Old Nurse's Story by Elizabeth Gaskell; and The Cold Embrace by Mary Elizabeth Braddon. It was this collection of ghost stories that inspired me to visit the Kindle store and discover the wonderful "complete works of" series by Mobile Reference.