So these two books round out my catching up on lost reviews. I feel like I’ve read a hundred books that I’ve had to force myself to review, because I either didn’t like them enough to form opinions, or couldn’t organize my thoughts well enough to fairly elucidate them. But, now that the pressure of playing catch-up is over, maybe I’ll do a better job going forward.
11. We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson (3 stars)
Merricat Blackwood, her older sister Constance, and their uncle Julian live in an expansive house that sits apart from a small village. Constance is confined to the house, where she largely cares for her wheelchair-bound uncle. Six years prior to the events of the novel, tragedy struck the family: the girls’ parents, brother, and aunt (Julian’s wife) were all murdered by arsenic poisoning. Constance was blamed for the murders, but was acquitted. The villagers still blame Constance, and the family now lives apart, ostracized and condemned. Merricat is their sole contact with the outside world. But things are largely going well for the Blackwoods. Until, that is, Merricat’s cousin Charlie shows up…..
You guys love this book. It’s been reviewed 8 times, and has an average rating of 4.50 stars.
I just…..didn’t. I don’t know that I’ve ever – since joining this community – been so indifferent to a book so well-loved.
I mean, it had a nice atmosphere. And the vaguely unsettling treatment of Merricat by the townspeople was reminiscent of H.P. Lovecraft’s The Shadow Over Innsmouth, only, thankfully, without the racist subtext. But….I just didn’t care. I didn’t care about Merricat. I didn’t care about her sister. I didn’t care about her uncle. I didn’t care about what got them to the state in which they have found themselves. And (maybe I’m alone in this), I didn’t think the ending was terribly shocking. Swipe for spoilers Merricat never came off as a good person. That she killed her family, not her sister, was terribly obvious. Was I supposed to be surprised by this? I don’t know.
I do want to read The Haunting of Hill House, and Jackson was a very good writer. This book did nothing to dissuade me of that. So, I’ll give that a thumbs up, at least.
13. The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova (3 stars)
Though I’m not entirely sure why, I had high hopes for this one. I love history, and I love horror, so I thought it’d be a great amalgam. Instead, it was a portentous yet ineffectual musing on a tired trope that little interests me: Dracula.
But instead of Dracula, we get letters written by a man who’s barely in the novel, describing his adventures to uncover the man behind the legend. These letters, in turn, drive the narrator to continue the search started by her father and his mentor. These three characters comprise the three interwoven accounts of the novel, and cover the 1930s, 1950s, and 1970s.
And it’s all so….I spent the whole novel thinking about Chekhov’s gun, and wondering when it was going to go off. When it finally does, and Dracula is revealed, I stopped caring. I thought this was maybe going to be a kind of Waiting for Godot inspired novel, but no. It’s just a novel that spends way too much time focusing on things that aren’t interesting.
This book, I can’t stress enough, just went on….and on…and on. For 700 pages. 700 pages of sifting through books in the library and traveling around countries in eastern Europe. 700 pages of people looking for books on Dracula (is that a thing? Have people never read this book?) I didn’t feel as though Kostova was really building towards anything. The great denouement not only feels anti-climactic, but 300 pages too late.
But the kernel that is driving this book: that Dracula is still alive, and these three researchers spent generations trying to uncover the man behind the legend….it’s a fairly interesting one. It’s just too bad the book was so interminably long and directionless.
Finally, at 700 words, I’ve written a review as long as The Historian. Why? No reason. I just wanted to show how many pages I had to sift through to get this rambling review.