Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Haunted House edited by Charles Dickens, A Book Review

I was excited to read this one for the Readers Imbibing Peril challenge. The short stories in here include work by Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell, and Wilkie Collins, some of my favorite authors ever, and, judging by the title, it fits the challenge perfectly.

The Haunted House is a collection of works first commissioned by Dickens for one of his famous Christmas annuals, this one for All Year Round. It has work by Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Elizabeth Gaskell), and by lesser-known (to me, anyway) authors Hesba Stretton, George Agustus Sala, and Adelaide Anne Proctor. Promising!

It didn't quite fulfill my hopes. For one thing, it is not really RIP material. The frame story establishes early that the house isn't really haunted. The "ghosts" the guests face are those of memory or make-believe and fairly benign.

The stories also failed to live up to my literary expectations which were, as I said, high. Consider: Collins is the author of Moonstone and Woman in White, two books I cannot rave enough about. His other books don't move me to raving, but I've still enjoyed them. Dickens inevitably manages to suck me into his stories, even when I want to remain aloof (Esther in Bleak House irritates me to no end. Does this stop me from getting drawn in? It does not.) Gaskell wrote Cranford, another of my favorite books. I didn't know the other authors, but was willing to meet new winners. But... not here. Of the authors, only Colllins troubles to make his tale at all suspenseful. George Augustus Sala writes a humorous dream tale that failed to amuse. The others were lackluster to irritating. Hesba Stretton wrote a "frivolous woman reformed" tale that had me gritting my teeth (Victorian literature is full of such tales, and they are often irritating). Gaskell's tale of the judge haunted by a long ago choice was the only one that at all deserved the epitaph "haunting."

Conclusion? Read something else by Dickens, Collins, or Gaskell and give this a miss.

1 comment:

  1. Sorry to hear this didn't live up to your expectations, always so disappointing. As for Collins, I read the Moonstone a while back and loved it...I have Woman in White on my to-read list.