Books About Houses

Dinner at Dracula's

Dinner at Dracula’s

I suppose it’s no secret at this point that I love books about houses. I’ve always been fascinated by ‘the haunted house’: its walls with secrets and history etched into the wood, dark cellars with rodents and mystery, chests full of memories… the monsters in the cupboards…

The popular interpretation of houses in dreams and literature is that it represents the self, which – to me – makes them even more fascinating: what secrets do you have stashed in the attic? What secret chambers? A banshee at you door…? A well-crafted house in a Gothic novel can be as complex and multilayered as the human psyche it (often) reflects. An abandoned house is a ghost in itself: the shell is there, but the inhabitant is gone, leaving only traces behind.

Catherine at the window, Wuthering Heights (2011)

Catherine at the window at Wuthering Heights (2011 movie adaption)

Your house is your home, your safety zone – until its not. Ghosts and goblins can break into your kitchen, just as unwanted thoughts and bad memories can take up residence in your mind. Houses and people are very much alike…

The house is an important player in my yet-to-be-published novel ‘Sugar Dragon’, and also in my newest WIP: ‘Water Lilies’ (working title), where all the action is either inside or in close proximity to the house. When a character leaves the house, he or she is off the island. The house is the stage in this one, complete with special effects and its very own phantom lurking in the wings…

Here are some of my favorite books where the house is a character in its own right, essential to the book and the humans populating it:

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson – What can I say? I felt insane for three days after reading this book. The symbiotic relationship between Elanor and Hill House is perfectly executed, the disturbances in the house haunting and surreal enough to make you look twice in your own nooks and crannies. I didn’t like Elanor at all, but she was still recognizable and unforgettable – just as the house she bonded with. This is a classic. Utterly perfect.

Hill House from the 1963 movie adaption

Hill House from the 1963 movie adaption

 

The Witching Hour – Lives of the Mayfair Witches #1 by Anne Rice – This is by far my favorite Anne Rice novel. Not only is it a book about a house, it’s also a book about witches. The house on the corner of First and Chestnut is rife with family secrets and mysteries. The combination of inhuman horrors and old lace is priceless – it’s a decadent bouquet of garden roses and insanity. Rowan and Michael are good protagonists, but it’s the house and the family history that makes this story fly. And the brown clad man, of course… especially him…

I enjoyed – but didn’t love – the rest of this series. I think unraveling the mystery diminished the story somewhat – even if it was a fascinating resolution. ‘The Witching Hour’, however, is strong as a stand alone. I still reread it from time to time when in the mood for something purely Gothic.

mayfair

The real house on the corner of First and Chestnut, Garden District, New Orleans

 

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier – “Last night, I dreamt I went to Manderley again…” is a classic quote, and Manderley an iconic Gothic mansion. This book has it all: the great house, the shadows of the past, the sinister housekeeper and the murder mystery. Part Jane Eyre, part Bluebeard, narrated – very intimately – by an unnamed protagonist, it’s a haunting story that deserves its place among the classics.

From the Hitchcock movie (1940)

Our heroine at Manderley. From the Hitchcock movie (1940)

 

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë – Another haunted house in a haunting book. Wuthering Heights was the love of my youth, and I still worship and adore it. I think it’s the violence, the ruthlessness and brutality paired with the wild passions of youth that grabs be so tightly. The house is haunted not only by the dead (Catherine), but by the living too: the decay of the mansion reflects the destruction of Heathcliff, and his desire to punish the living for deeds done by the dead was terrifying to me as a young adult. And in the midst of it all; the sheer pain felt by all involved; at times almost suffocating – at times twisted and beautiful in its intensity. A masterpiece of rage and passion – always at the top of my “desert island necessity list”.

Top Withens, possibly the real life inspiration for Wuthering Heights

Top Withens, possibly the real life inspiration for Wuthering Heights

 

Dracula by Bram Stoker – A castle has room for more secrets than a house, and Dracula’s castle is rife with unpleasant surprises. Jonathan Harker is way out of his league as a repressed Victorian in a strange land, caught like a fly in the web – and in the clutches of those sensuous she-vamps Dracula keeps downstairs… Dracula is the ghost haunting his own home; his mind and schemes as twisted and dark as the massive labyrinth he dwells in. Deprivation and decay (both castle and man) are the consequences of age – and the long-brewing bitterness that comes with it. The horror of Dracula is taken up a notch when evil leaves the house (his prison) and enters the real world – threatening the living with death, soul deprivation and sexual promiscuity. It’s all about the blood, baby…

 

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski – In this book the book is the house is the book – and also terrifying. When the measurements of the house in Ash Tree Lane suddenly defies natural laws, and the building takes on a (mind bending) life of its own, it tickles your brain in all the right(?) places. The formatting is as strange as the story, and it requires quite a bit of gymnastics to get through it. It is worth it , though. The story is good – but the wrapping makes it even better, challenging our ideas about what a book ought to be and what it’s supposed to look like. Also: it challenges the mind, it’s not always easy to keep track of the story and puzzle the pieces together. Utterly weird, and originally an internet phenomenon – it takes the horror of ‘the house’ to a whole new level.

Interior, House of Leaves

Inside House of Leaves

 

For more books, see Books About Witches.

This entry was posted in Books and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s