Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Gothic New England

New York: HarperCollins, 2007. (reprint)

This is the first book I've read for the RIP III Challenge. I really like Barbara Michaels' gothic tales, and I enjoyed this one so much that I went straight on to read another, Wait for what will come, which was set in Cornwall and was wonderful.

This book, however, was set in New England, another region which Michaels does very well. The basic premise is this:

Joanne's older sister Mary has just lost her first child through miscarriage, and is convinced she is hearing crying in the woods at night. Mary's husband and his doctor friend are sure she is having a nervous breakdown so call her sister home for moral support. When Joanne arrives, she begins seeing shadowy figures in the woods and outside the house at twilight, and then she hears the crying herself. Is Mary going mad or is there really something out there, getting closer and closer...?

This story is one in which there really is a haunting; many of her books conclude with ambiguity. This ghost story is very creepy (even creepier on reflection), and culminates in a spooky seance and the sudden brief appearance of the ghostly figure responsible for all the creepiness. Once again, Michaels returns to her familiar motif of hauntings being attached to families and/or family houses. I love it; the only problem with her novels is that they were mostly published in the 70's, so there are some real prefeminist plot elements. The men are usually cantankerous and rough, sweeping the women into kisses and telling them what to do. Sometimes it is appealing and sometimes not so much. In this one, the doctor friend, who is clearly the love interest from the moment we meet him, is only moderately chauvinistic. He eventually does admit his mistakes and take our heroine's advice. The problem for me is that when there is eventual recognition of love between any of her characters, marriage automatically follows, and when the heroine is twenty-one it can be a bit jarring to my more modern sensibilities. However, it has never stopped me from reading any of her books, my favourites among gothic stories. There are still a couple I have not read, so now I am motivated to track them down and complete my Michaels run. Lots of fun reading to be found once you begin with her books.

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