Why is it that late Autumn feels like such a good time for a good bit of Victorian melodrama and sensation? I've been dipping in and out of all sorts of books over the last week or so (some good stuff arrived in the post and I'm very excited by all of it) which is not a reading habit I like - if I don't concentrate on one book at a time I tend not to finish any of them and that would be why it's taken me more than a week to read my way through two novellas. If I sort myself out in good time tonight I hope to read a third before I fall asleep. It will be 'The Guilty River' and it sounds like a peach.
Living in a first floor flat without children I miss out on the whole trick and treat thing (I'm not sorry about this) and the decorative elements of Halloween represent so much money that could be spent on books (much as I like a carved pumpkin it's not as good as a book) so a not very horrible horror story is about as far as I go. 'The Haunted Hotel' was a perfect choice, in it a reassuringly foreign woman (The Countess) with a start white complexion, glittering black eyes, and unsavoury reputation accosts an eminent doctor. She wants to know if she's ill or mad and then she starts to divulge some of her recent history... His conclusion is that she's perfectly healthy but quite evil, a conclusion that her fiancé's family whole heartedly share. The fiancé has meanwhile behaved extremely badly ditching a very nice girl in favour of this foreign temptress, the Countess herself is convinced that the jilted girl is destined to be her nemesis. There then follows a death in mysterious circumstances, a suspected insurance swindle, and all manner of lurid hauntings before the tale is wound up. It's all good stuff; the supernatural goings on are the sort that I can safely read in bed without fear of a sleepless night and the mystery was twisty enough to be satisfying.
What I found interesting here was the insistence on fate rather that free will. When the story opens the Countess hasn't,as far as the reader knows done anything particularly wrong. Collins implies scandal but not, I think, criminality. She believes that it's her meeting with the other woman (Agnes) that turns the tide of her life, that's the moment that she becomes evil and it's Agnes that will later expose her, throughout the rest of the novella she seems powerless to resist this fate. I also found it interesting that the man in the middle of all of this isn't particularly likeable. The only person who really cares for him is Agnes, the Countess states that he's blackmailed her into marriage and none of his family seem to think much of him at all - it somehow gives the story a bit more depth.
All in all this was a thoroughly enjoyable read, I've had it on the shelf for quite a while (my copy is considerably older than the edition in the picture) as a treat for a suitable occasion - now the occasion has arisen it didn't disappoint. Happy Halloween.