In honor of the best holiday ever (Halloween, obviously), I’m sharing my reviews of 6 classic horror novels: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, Terrifying Tales by Edgar Allan Poe, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen, and Ghost Stories of An Antiquary by M.R. James.
My reviews of the individual titles are below.
The Haunting of Hill House
True haunted house horror that doesn’t rely on gimmicky bumps in the night. Many of the scares come from within a series of intangibles; the questionable history of the house, the unusual and unsettled minds of those who show up. Most of all, and what best sets the story, is Jackson’s unique command of prose, which makes otherwise unlikeable characters sympathetic, and sets every seen on edge, while also giving it dimension. Real horror at its finest. 5 stars.
This is a great collection of stories from Poe, each showcasing his varied talents in storytelling. While I typically prefer his stories which more of a horror-bent (Telltale Heart, Pit and the Pendulum), his gift to literature is the strong ability to get inside your head, both with his writing style and with his love of description. Was great to revisit stories I already knew, and discover some new to me. 5 stars.
I have to say… I read this book as a kid, forgot about it, and then subsequently allowed popular culture to drive my impression of this old tale. The truth is, the pop culture version is far less interesting. THIS is compelling literature. A classic. Unlike the tropes in the typical Frankenstein movies out there, this is a true horror story, from beginning to end. Chilling. Horrifying. This is what horror is supposed to be. I only wish I’d revisited this sooner. 5 stars.
The Picture of Dorian Gray
I have a love/hate relationship with Wilde’s writing. It is some of the most lush, dimensional, colorful prose I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading, while also being, at times, a painful slog. His observations on society and humanity, as seen through the eyes of his characters, are fascinating and well-fleshed. Harry, in particular, makes so many interesting, thought-provoking observations (if not entirely self-indulgent), that you could write a book about him alone.
My one complaint about this book is the very element I also loved about it; it is roughly a third too long, and some of the meatier themes are buried in pages and pages of description that add minimal to the story, bordering on purple prose.
That said, there are few stories, then or now, that could hold a candle to the thematic masterpiece of The Picture of Dorian Gray. 4 stars.
Great God Pan
I can no doubt see how this disturbing short tale inspired many a horror writer, including Lovecraft. From the composition of the story, to the shocking ending, the only fault I can find in this tale is that I wish it had been longer. Will definitely read more from Machen. 5 stars.
Ghost Stories of an Antiquary
I am a sucker for a good ghost story… especially one which comes in the wrappings of a 19th century British scholar and the assertion the tales are real events he’s come across in his studies. I loved all the stories, but The Mezzotint stayed with me the longest. I’ve even gone as far as to research the print. 5 stars.