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: Room

Jack is five. He lives in a single, locked room with his Ma.

Room is a fascinating book by Emma Donoghue.

‘Today I’m five. I was four last night going to sleep in Wardrobe, but when I wake up in Bed in the dark I’m changed to five, abracadabra.’

It is told from the perspective of Jack, a young boy who has had no experience of the outside world. All Jack has ever known is Room; it is the place he was born and the place he has grown up. To Ma however, Room is captivity.

As the book is told from Jack’s perspective, the childlike narration is instantly apparent. For example, everything is personified and viewed through the lens of a five-year-old’s imagination such as Room, Bed and Wardrobe. Some of the sentences purposefully lack complete grammatical sense, as Jack struggles to understand certain words, figures of speech, and abstract concepts. This brilliantly reflects not only children’s use of language, but how specifically a child with stunted development uses language.

I was at first worried this style would make it difficult to follow the plot, but I was quickly proved wrong – I struggled to put Room down and read it in just a few days.

“One of the most profoundly affecting books I’ve read in a long time” 

John Boyne, Author of The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas

Reading from Jack’s perspective was authentic and enriching. The switch between Jack’s reported speech and his private thoughts implicitly revealed information about how Jack and Ma came to be in Room. For example, Jack believes that while Ma was in Room, he was sent to her from Heaven, while the reader can quickly work out the truth of what happened. This implicit way of reporting certain events mirrors how parents at times avoid telling their children upsetting news, or the whole truth, to try and protect them.

My Photo [Room]
Room was adapted into a film in 2015, directed by Lenny Abrahamson and starring Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay. Photograph via letterboxd.com

Jack is such a creative individual; he loves reading, hearing, and telling stories that teach him not only about Room, but a semblance of what the outside world is like. Ma has told him about real people, make-believe people, real things and make-believe things in an attempt to help Jack understand. However, this creativity is underlined with sadness; working out what’s real and what isn’t becomes overwhelming and confusing when Jack learns the truth. He is forced to relearn things, as well as learn brand new things because it is apparent the reality of the world clashes with the reality of Room.

‘“You know how Alice wasn’t always in wonderland?”

[…] 

“Well, I’m like Alice,” says Ma.

[…] 

Why’s she pretending like this, is it a game I don’t know?’

Jack’s emotions and thoughts are always so clear and raw, and so watching the deterioration and sadness of his mother’s mental health through his eyes – who has been holding herself together in Room for so long for the sake of him – was incredibly sad.

Room was a tense, gripping and emotional read. Despite having seen the film, and knowing the outline of the plot, I was constantly kept on edge by Donoghue’s writing and couldn’t wait to read what happened next.

I strongly recommend Room; I’ve never read a book like it before, and I doubt anything else I ever read will come close.

 – Judith