This reads like an old fashioned haunted house book – which may or may not be your cup of tea – and its plot and characters are probably more in line with that type of book rather than standard paranormal lesfic novels. The author is definitely using The Haunting of Hill House (the book, not the movies or the series) as her inspiration. I have a very soft spot in my heart for that book which may be why I enjoyed this one so much. There are similar themes and circumstances as in Hill House, but Greene takes the story and updates, expands and makes it her own. The basic story surrounds a group of five academics who are invited to spend a summer at Gnarled Hollows by the new owner, a distant relative of a reclusive American author who was a lesser known member of the post WWI “Lost Generation” of artists. What could possibly go wrong? Hmmm …. lots.
Greene captures the atmosphere necessary for a good haunting story – there’s a nice eerie vibe throughout with odd things happening that the cast of characters spend an inordinate amount of time trying to rationalize as they gather for cocktails in the late afternoon. Add to that some unexpected thrills and chills as something in the house tries to kill off the guests and I was quite happy. Greene even includes a creepy as f*** housekeeper and her groundskeeper husband (omigod … what is a haunted house story without a creepy housekeeper who keeps letting everyone know she doesn’t stay past dark). As the book progresses, everyone but Emily is becoming slightly unhinged at the events but they press on (because, that’s what academics do – publish or perish) to find out the Gnarled Hollow’s secrets. The backstory behind the house and the family who lived there is revealed in pieces with some red herrings and some rather horrible revelations. Greene doesn’t fall into the trap of having to explain away everything odd happening – the damned house is haunted – and lose the creepiness of the story as a result. Nor does she let the backstory fall to pieces by going too overboard – you can match what happened in the past to what is happening in the present.
I’m iffy on the characters – at times they seemed inconsistent and not fleshed out. But if you read this like an ode to The Haunting of Hill House, the focus is on the atmosphere rather than the characters, and the main characters in that book were Nell and Hill House itself – with the House seducing Nell to stay. Emily is definitely a Nell character – beaten down, insecure and really a mouse – but unlike in The Haunting of Hill House, Greene gives Emily a more proactive role and she manages to grow in self-assurance and escape the seductive grasp of the house. Gnarled Hollow also seems to play a rather prominent role – with the characters themselves starting to realize that the house doesn’t want them to look too deeply into why things are so odd in the house.
There is a romance of sorts between Emily and Juniper which made me happy – in Hill House, Nell, the insecure and unsure heroine, becomes entranced and obsessed with Theo, the flamboyant flirt. There’s so much subtext in that relationship – but in Gnarled Hollow, Emily is attracted to the Juniper, the flamboyant flirt, and they actually hook up. Yay! But the relationship is odd – Emily’s insecurity and jealousy seems to be fed by Juniper’s continued flirting with Chris and neither of them acknowledging to the others that they are sleeping together.
Overall an enjoyable read and quite different from the usual type of books that fall into the lesfic paranormal category.
And if you want to read a phenomenal haunted house story that sets the bar for all the books that have come after it – read The Haunting of Hill House.
Oh yeah, Cheri reviewed Gnarled Hollow as well. She didn’t like it as much as I did; but, she’s pretty much a poo-poo head. 🙂
(We’ll see if that last sentence stays in as she also has admin rights to edit all posts)