Book Review: Ghosts of Manor House by Matt Powers

“Old houses are never truly quiet.”

Ghosts of Manor House is Powers’ debut thriller and horror novel, about Edmund and Mary Wilder, a married couple shattered by the loss of their young son. Mary receives an invitation for the family to become guests at Manor House, an apparently quaint hotel, but Edmund soon realises all is not as it seems.

My Photo [Ghosts of Manor House]

In his author’s note, Powers explains he “wanted a story that fits with my memories of watching The Haunting, The Changeling and The Shining.

This horror genre is definitely conveyed; the opening of Ghosts of Manor House was enjoyable and suitably unsettling – I won’t give any spoilers away – but it peaked my interest in the story.

I really like haunted house stories; this book delivered all the conventions that you may expect from one – mysterious voices, creaky floorboards, and an ominous housekeeper.

Mary and Edmund’s grief at the tragic death of their son, and their desire to bring him back, to me, echoed Stephen King’s Pet Sematary, a horror novel about a burial site that holds the power of life, even after death. Admittedly, I read Ghosts of Manor House not long after finishing Pet Sematary, so King’s story was still fresh in my mind. This this may not have been an intentional echo, it may have been my own interpretation.

Although a fictional story, Powers does his best to keep his characters and situations realistic. For the most part, this is effective. However, I don’t think Edmund or Mary were developed as well as they could have been, though this may be the constraint of writing a shorter book.

The use of the present tense to narrate the story throughout was an… interesting choice. To me, this made some of the writing feel clunky and amateurish because I didn’t know what purpose this served. The use of flashbacks to reveal what truly happened to the family was a good technique, but until these started, I at times got lost in the various narrative strands – it was very difficult to place where the characters were, though this may have been Powers’ intention.

Edmund’s over-personifying of Manor House frustrated me as well; I liked the concept of a haunted house coming to life, but if every description of the house is personified, it loses the subtlety great horror has.

On the whole, Ghosts of Manor House is a quick read and a reasonably enjoyable haunted house story.

Star Rating: 3/5 Stars

Ghosts of Manor House is available to buy as an e-book, paperback, or audiobook from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.

– Judith

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Book Review: A Visit from the Goon Squad

A Visit from the Goon Squad is a Pulitzer Prize-winning fiction by Jennifer Egan. It’s a collection of thirteen, interconnected stories with a huge set of characters. All the characters are, in some way, connected to Bennie Salazar, a record company executive, and his assistant, Sasha.

Most of the characters are self-destructive. For example, Sasha in ‘Found Objects’ struggles with compulsive stealing, Jules Jones in ‘A to B’ has been in prison for attempted rape, and Rob in ‘Out of Body’ is a survivor of suicide and takes drugs recreationally.

A Visit from the Goon Squad isn’t really a novel, but nor is it a short story collection – though each chapter does read like its own, individual story.

It’s difficult to get my head around Goon Squad. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed the different stories, the different people, the different lives – following how they were each impacted by a variety of circumstances, and how they continue to influence others’ lives without even realising.

However, there isn’t a chronological narrative as such, because Egan flits between the past, the present, and the future – not necessarily in that order, which might not appeal to some readers, and took me a while to adjust to. Yet this style highlights the motif of time, and how time affects us, and impacts our lives.

Egan uses a variety of writing techniques – from first-person to third-person to using PowerPoint diagrams to tell stories – something I can safely say I have never seen before in a work of fiction!

To help me understand Goon Squad a little better, I spoke to friend and fellow blogger @fawbell who not only likes Goon Squad, but gave it to me for Christmas (on purpose so I could write this review, nice).

Florence explained, “It’s so evocative of the most banal actions and places and feelings; I read it and was in awe. On a sentence to sentence level, it’s just so well written. Structurally, it’s very exciting – almost like a modern Canterbury Tales because each of the chapters has a different form.”

“I think an interesting way to read the book is as a collection of memories; even when it’s written in the present tense, it’s a recollection of weirdly transient yet banal moments in people’s lives that they don’t remember for any particular reason.”

I asked Florence what she thought Goon Squad was about, because this is what I struggle with most. It’s a fascinating read, providing insight to a wide array of people’s lives, but I struggled (and still struggle) to see the point, because it’s so vastly different to books I normally read.

She joked, “What is anything ‘about’?”

Ha.

Florence then said, “I think it’s about the fleetingness of modern life and how, over time and by getting to know different people, our lives are all connected and the sensation of that, and what that feels like.”  A good answer.

I can’t claim to have the same passion for the book as @fawbell, but I didn’t dislike Goon Squad either. It intrigued me. Read it for yourself and see.

Verdict: Undecided.

– Judith

Book Review: Brave New World

In the not-too-distant future, genetic science and applied psychology have bred an ideal society. There’s no disease, no-one ages and everyone is perfectly content, conditioned to serve the greater World State. Everyone, that is, but Bernard Marx.

‘”How can I?” he repeated.

“No, the real problem is: How is it that I can’t?”‘

Similarly to Orwell’s 1984, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley is about an all-powerful state, that controls the behaviour and actions of the population to preserve its own stability and power. It is set in a futuristic London, where citizens are engineered through artificial wombs and indoctrinated into predetermined castes.

There are three main characters: Lenina Crowne, popular and sexually desirable, Bernard, a lower-caste man who is not popular nor desirable, and John the Savage, a man in exile because he was conceived and born naturally.

Each perspective reveals an aspect of this new world to the reader.

‘”You got rid of them. Yes, that’s just like you. Getting rid of everything unpleasant instead of learning to put up with it.”‘

Bernard is initially heroic, inwardly critiquing the regime and encouraging individuality of the self. Lenina is treated like a piece of meat, and doesn’t seem to notice or care because ‘every one belongs to every one else, after all’. That is, until she becomes confused by feelings of desire and attraction. John is horrified by the thoughts and actions of the citizens, whose sexually promiscuous, drug-induced, shallow and self-centred behaviour clashes with his own views.

Brave New World was really quite weird to read.

The first chapter opens on a tour around a Willy Wonka-esque factory, except it is not chocolate that is being manufactured, but humans. The unusual scientific jargon continues throughout the book, so it was difficult to follow everything that was happening.

The themes of control and consumerism are portrayed in a striking and unsettling way. Instead of faith systems, there is instead a high reverence for technology, sex, and drugs – known as Soma – which clouds citizens’ thoughts and memories to reinforce the belief that life is good.

‘”What you need, is something with tears for a change. Nothing costs enough here.”‘

This is abundantly clear in the replacement of the name of God with the Henry Ford, the founder of the Ford Motor Company. As characters utters exclamations such as ‘My Ford’ and the ‘Year of our Ford’ – and it is no coincidence that ‘Lord’ and ‘Ford’ rhyme – this underlines the real issue of this new world; not that religion doesn’t exist, but that any free-thinking and all forms of belief have been eradicated and controlled by the state.

Brave New World has startlingly violent moments designed to shock, rather than satirise – particularly in the ending. I think it is one of the most horrific dystopian novels I’ve read.

I still don’t fully understand this book, but if you want to be horrified and intrigued by dystopian literature, I suggest you try Brave New World.

– Judith