Tuesday Terror! Haunted Houses by Charlotte Riddell

Entertainingly shivery…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

For those who prefer a rather more gentle haunting experience comes this delightful pair of novels from another “forgotten” Victorian, the Irish-born Charlotte Riddell.

The second novel, The Uninhabited House, seems to be rather better known than the first, Fairy Water, and I would agree it’s the stronger of the two, especially in terms of the ghostly aspects. But Fairy Water is full of charm with a delightful first-person narrator who grows ever more likeable as the book progresses.

Fairy Water

Charlotte Riddell

Our narrator is Mr H Stafford Trevor, a bachelor of independent means who has made it his life’s work to dine out. His natural habitat is the foggy London of good society but he often visits his cousin’s country house, Fairy Water, especially in strawberry season since he’s rather fonder of fresh strawberries than he is of his cousin. Mr Trevor is a delightful combination of self-satisfication and self-deprecation – a man who claims to live for pleasure only, but whom we come to realise is a staunch friend to those he loves. His voice is what makes this story special – he is deliciously snobbish and a little wicked about the society in which he moves…

Old friends welcome me for the sake of Auld Lang Syne, to speak in the hideous idiom of a people whose accent I detest, and whose ways are abhorrent to me – one degree less abhorrent only than their primitive ballads, always suggestive of the screech of a bagpipe. Young couples welcome me for the sake of the dead and gone; people whose position is assured, because, like dear Lady Mary, who plays a little part in this story, it is quite safe to whisper secret scandals, and the latest and most wicked bon mot in my ear; and the nouveau riche, because, poor wretches, they believe I must be somebody.

When the rather boorish, bullying cousin marries a girl young enough to be his granddaughter, Stafford finds himself befriending her; and later, when the cousin dies, he becomes a kind of surrogate father to Mary, the young widow, and unofficial guardian to her several children. He is also attached to a young man, Valentine Waldrum, the son of a woman he once loved. Valentine has become the owner of Crow Hall – the haunted house – following the tragic death of his father who had been driven mad by the ghostly presence there. To help Valentine, Stafford will attempt to rid Crow Hall of its resident spectre.

The ghostly stuff is very mild and often humorous, and is something of an add-on to the story of poor Mary, left in a difficult position because of the iniquitous will of her dead husband, and Valentine, who fears his father’s insanity may be hereditary. The perceptive among you may suspect that romance ensues – I couldn’t possibly comment. But while Stafford tries to do his best for the young people, he still has time for plenty of humorous commentary on the various characters involved in the story. Scare factor very low – entertainment factor very high!

The Uninhabited House

This time our narrator is a young man, Harry Patterson, who works as a clerk in the law firm of Mr Craven. On their books is River Hall, the property of a young girl orphaned when her father took his own life in the library. The girl’s aunt, Miss Blake, is a great comic character – rude, somewhat uncouth, and an opportunity for Riddell to poke fun at her own Irish background. Mr Craven keeps letting the house, but tenants never stay long. Eventually one aggrieved tenant complains bitterly that he should have been warned that the house was haunted. With his reputation at stake, Mr Craven is reluctant to continue letting the house, but our intrepid clerk offers to live in River Hall himself and lay the ghost, if he can. (The perceptive among you may wonder if he’s inspired by feelings of romance for the young owner – I couldn’t possibly comment.)

….It is as well to confess at once that I was for the moment frightened. Subsequently I saw many wonderful sights, and had some terrible experiences in the Uninhabited House; but I can honestly say, no sight or experience so completely cowed me for the time being, as that dull blackness to which I could assign no shape, that spirit-like rapping of fleshless fingers, which seemed to increase in vehemence as I obeyed its summons.
….Doctors say it is not possible for the heart to stand still and a human being live, and, as I am not a doctor, I do not like to contradict their dogma, otherwise I could positively declare my heart did cease beating as I listened, looking out into the night with the shadow of that darkness projecting itself upon my mind…

The spookiness aspect of this is stronger than in Fairy Water but still of the mild shiver variety rather than the hiding behind the sofa kind. It’s soon clear there’s also a mystery surrounding the haunting, and as the book goes on it actually becomes as much a mystery novel as a ghost story. Again our narrator is extremely likeable – brave but not to the point of arrogance, and as amusingly observant of society’s eccentrics as Mr Trevor in Fairy Water. The storytelling in this one is more direct, giving it a better flow overall, and while the mystery might not be the hardest in the world to work out, it gives an added element of interest to the plot.

I found both of these to be highly enjoyable page-turners, with enough spookiness to entertain but mild enough for the scaredest of scaredy-cats out there. The quality of the writing is excellent, with a touch of Victorian sentimentality but not too much, and the warm humour makes both books pleasingly amusing. Apparently Riddell wrote lots of short ghost stories too, and I look forward to seeking them out.

Fretful Porpentine rating: 😱 😱

Overall story rating:          😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

The porpentine was amused too…

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, the British Library.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link (I’m afraid it’s not due out till April 2019 in the US)

TBR Thursday 170…

Episode 170…

I went off all confident to my TBR spreadsheet, sure that it would have gone down again. Imagine my surprise to see it’s gone up by THREE since the last time I reported, to 227! How did that happen? Still, there’s nothing like a surprise bounce to start the day with a bang…

Here are a few more that should jump off soon…

Classic Fiction

From my Classics Club list. Time to delve into one of the few books on my list that really don’t appeal much. I added this to my TBR years ago, thinking I’d try once again to learn to like Wilkie Collins. But the fact that it’s lingered there untouched for so long says it all, really. With such low expectations, I can only be pleasantly surprised, right? (It’s No Name, in case you can’t make out the tiny title.)

The Blurb says: Magdalen and her sister Norah, beloved daughters of Mr and Mrs Vanstone, find themselves the victims of a catastrophic oversight. Their father has neglected to change his will, and when the girls are suddenly orphaned, their inheritance goes to their uncle. Now penniless, the conventional Norah takes up a position as a governess, but the defiant and tempestuous Magdalen cannot accept the loss of what is rightfully hers and decides to do whatever she can to win it back. With the help of cunning Captain Wragge, she concocts a scheme that involves disguise, deceit and astonishing self-transformation. In this compelling, labyrinthine story Wilkie Collins brilliantly demonstrates the gap between justice and the law, and in the subversive Magdalen he portrays one of the most exhilarating heroines of Victorian fiction.

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Fiction

Courtesy of Penguin Fig Tree via NetGalley. I’ve never read anything by Claire Fuller before but have often been tempted, and I found the blurb of this one very appealing…

The Blurb says: From the attic of a dilapidated English country house, she sees them — Cara first: dark and beautiful, clinging to a marble fountain of Cupid, and Peter, an Apollo. It is 1969 and they are spending the summer in the rooms below hers while Frances writes a report on the follies in the garden for the absent American owner. But she is distracted. Beneath a floorboard in her bathroom, she discovers a peephole which gives her access to her neighbours’ private lives.

To Frances’ surprise, Cara and Peter are keen to spend time with her. It is the first occasion that she has had anybody to call a friend, and before long they are spending every day together: eating lavish dinners, drinking bottle after bottle of wine, and smoking cigarettes till the ash piles up on the crumbling furniture. Frances is dazzled.

But as the hot summer rolls lazily on, it becomes clear that not everything is right between Cara and Peter. The stories that Cara tells don’t quite add up — and as Frances becomes increasingly entangled in the lives of the glamorous, hedonistic couple, the boundaries between truth and lies, right and wrong, begin to blur. Amid the decadence of that summer, a small crime brings on a bigger one: a crime so terrible that it will brand all their lives forever.

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Fiction

Courtesy of Random House Cornerstone via NetGalley. I really wasn’t a fan of Birdsong, but I feel I should give Faulks at least one more opportunity to dazzle me. The blurb is appealing, the cover is gorgeous… what could go wrong? Unless he tries to write another sex scene*shudders*

The Blurb says: Here is Paris as you have never seen it before – a city in which every building seems to hold the echo of an unacknowledged past, the shadows of Vichy and Algeria.

American postdoctoral researcher Hannah and runaway Moroccan teenager Tariq have little in common, yet both are susceptible to the daylight ghosts of Paris. Hannah listens to the extraordinary witness of women who were present under the German Occupation; in her desire to understand their lives, and through them her own, she finds a city bursting with clues and connections. Out in the migrant suburbs, Tariq is searching for a mother he barely knew. For him in his innocence, each boulevard, Métro station and street corner is a source of surprise.

In this urgent and deeply moving novel, Faulks deals with questions of empire, grievance and identity. With great originality and a dark humour, Paris Echo asks how much we really need to know if we are to live a valuable life.

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Horror

Courtesy of the British Library. The evenings are getting darker and it’s nearly time for the Fretful Porpentine to come out of hibernation, so this should start the spooky season off with a shriek…

The Blurb says: From the once-popular yet unfairly neglected Victorian writer Charlotte Riddell comes a pair of novels which cleverly upholster the familiar furniture of the haunted house story.

In An Uninhabited House, the hauntings are seen through the perspective of the solicitors who hold the deed of the property. Here we find a shrewd comedic skewering of this host of scriveners and clerks, and a realist approach to the consequences of a haunted house how does one let such a property? Slowly the safer world of commerce and law gives way as the encounter with the supernatural entity becomes more and more unavoidable.

In Fairy Water, Riddell again subverts the expectations of the reader, suggesting a complex moral character for her haunting spirit. Her writing style is succinct and witty, rendering the story a spirited and approachable read despite its age.

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads, Amazon UK or NetGalley.

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So…what do you think? Do any of these tempt you?

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