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.
Whenever I see white complexion / glittering eyes / femme fatale, I think 'arsenic and/or belladonna'. It does make one's daily use of a spot of sunscreen and/or moisturizer seem a little dull by comparison! I do like Wilkie Collins a lot - really must read this one now.ReplyDelete
It's good trashy fun, The Countess is a bad woman with a very shady past...Delete
I have such a soft spot for The Haunted Hotel as it was the book that got me back into reading after my first year studying English at uni. Having to read so many books a week really changed the way I felt about reading for enjoyment but I picked this up and never looked back. And for that reason, I will always love Wilkie.ReplyDelete
I never fancied studying English for that very reason, my degree was History of Art so fiction remained a happy escape from set texts but I re-discovered Collins at much the same time as you and have loved him very much ever since.Delete
Is this a short story or a novel? I recently read the woman in white and really liked the author and I didn't know about this book. :)ReplyDelete
It's a novella - just over a hundred pages long and published by Oxford World's Classics with two others ('Miss or Mrs' and 'The Guilty River'). I think they're all available free as e-books, whichever format you prefer it's worth reading.Delete