These books, their stories, their characters lingered…. Oh, how perfectly haunting!
The Portrait of Jennie (Robert Nathan) — While the film version of this novella about a struggling artist who finds his muse in a rapidly aging girl is lovely, melancholy, and romantic, it does not convey the foreboding of time out of joint that Nathan’s writing does. Ray Bradbury said it best, “It touched and frightened me when I was twenty-four. Now, once more, it touches and frightens.”
The House Next Door (Anne Rivers Siddons) — One of the best evil house books I’ve ever read. This one packs a wallop as a new home claims owner after owner while the neighbors who witness their fates are brought to the brink of madness. Read it for the horror, and come back to it for its deliciously biting sub-text.
The Little Stranger (Sarah Waters) — A doctor is called to treat a young maid in the decaying English estate where he lived as a child. Gradually, he comes to suspect a malevolent spirit of invading the structure and targeting its inhabitants. With obvious nods to Poe (“The Fall of the House of Usher”) and James (The Turn of the Screw), this post WWII tale will keep you riveted. One note: much has been said and debated over the importance of a likable protagonist in fiction. Waters’s main character, Dr. Faraday, is neither immediately nor consistently likable. But, as a product of his upbringing, time, setting, situation, and flaws, he is, at all times, fascinating.
The Other (Tom Tryon) — Brilliant psychological horror about identical twins (you know I have a fondness for twin stories), with one exerting an increasingly dark and dangerous influence on the other. Oh, my…this one was the cause of many sleepless nights, during the read and after. You may want to save it for the daylight hours….
Mickelsson’s Ghosts (John Gardner) — A dense and multi-layered tale about an alchoholic philosophy professor who buys a house with a history. Fair warning: if you’re looking for a fast read, skip this. But if you want a novel you can dig into, Gardner’s book will reward you with intricate and complex characterizations, a wealth of images and symbols, significant allusions to Nietzsche’s Also Sprach Zarathustra (you may want to read or re-read Zarathustra after you finish), local myths, and, yes, ghosts, too. As close to a masterpiece as any book can come.