Book Review: The Haunting of Henderson Close by Catherine Cavendish

I acquired this book for free in exchange for a review via NetGalley and Flame Tree Press, an imprint of Flame Tree Publishing.

The Haunting of Henderson Close is a ghost story, with elements of supernatural and historical fiction, by Catherine Cavendish about the escape of an evil, demonic presence in the heart of Edinburgh.

I was intrigued by the classification of The Haunting of Henderson Close as a horror, mystery and thriller novel, as I love to read books in these genres.

I liked the hints at ghostly activity presented at the start of the book. Gradually, these ghostly hints seem to point towards a more malevolent, demonic activity, suggesting the threat is more serious than a simple haunted museum. At times though, it felt as if Cavendish was trying to write a historical murder mystery rather than a supernatural ghost story, as a lot of the story focuses on Hannah, the protagonist, investigating a Victorian murder case, rather than directly investigating demons, ghosts, and legends of hauntings.

Cavendish’s use of flashbacks provide interesting visions of the past, which brings to life the history behind the museum in which Hannah now works. It’s interesting to know that the streets the protagonist gives historical tours on are the same streets the ghosts once walked on. However, at points, these flashbacks to the past seemed too sudden and jarred with the present-day narrative, so perhaps narrative cohesion and clarity could be improved in the future.

The use of setting was one of the main strengths of the book, as the descriptions of 19th century Edinburgh were detailed and made it easy to imagine just what Victorian Scotland used to look like.

The ending of the book was darker, more serious, and more sad than I had originally anticipated. This is not a criticism however, as I’m not of the opinion that all books must have a happy ending.

Overall, The Haunting of Henderson Close is a reasonable ghost story with an interesting historical concept behind it.

The Haunting of Henderson Close is released today! It is available to buy as a paperback, hardback, or e-book directly from Flame Tree Publishing.

Star Rating: 3/5 Stars

– Judith


Book Review: The Help

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The Help by Kathryn Stockett is fantastic.

It’s a novel consisting of a collection of fictional first-person perspectives about black domestic servants working in white households, in 1960s Mississippi.

I studied the American civil rights movement at A-level so before reading, I had some understanding of the historical events and prevailing social attitudes at that time. However, The Help is not written like a textbook or documentary. Whilst a work of fiction, The Help was undoubtedly inspired by real events and real people. It’s personal, raw, emotional and shocking.

Stockett’s writing perfectly reflects the different characters’ personalities. There are three main narrative perspectives; Aibileen Clark and Minny Jackson are both maids in white households, subject to constant racial prejudice. Eugenia Phelan is a white woman who realises the shocking racism in her town and seeks to expose it.

My favourite character was Aibileen, who works for Elizabeth Leefolt . She’s incredibly loving towards the child in her care, humble, respectful. The strength she demonstrates in working dutifully in the face of the many racist comments made about her by her employer – is remarkable.

Given the subject matter, The Help is obviously quite dark and serious in places. Yet, there are some light and funny moments as friendships grow between different characters.

I also found it interesting to read about Minny’s perspective, who works for Celia Foote.

Miss Celia, as Minny calls her, lacks the ‘Stepford Wife’ personality to fit in to society. She doesn’t even know how to cook and is scorned by the other women; she’s never invited for afternoon tea or card games and seems to be truly alone. and she feels truly alone. However, Minny and Miss Celia seem to bond somewhat, in their shared experiences of feeling like an outcast.

Whilst The Help is clearly designed to highlight and condemn racial discrimination, it also draws attention to the varying social prejudices that existed (and still do exist) in communities as well.

I strongly recommend this book; The Help is a gripping read and I didn’t realise quite how much I’d enjoy it.

– Judith

Book Review: The Scarlet Letter

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne is an American novel of pseudo-historical fiction about Hester Prynne and her illegitimate daughter Pearl. Following Hester’s extramarital affair while her husband is overseas, she gives birth to a child, and is condemned to wear a scarlet A stitched upon her clothing as a sign of her sin.

According to my research, Nathaniel Hawthorne, read extensively about Puritan history – that much is evident by religious language and references – and may have based his novel on the story of Mary Bailey Beadle, a live-in housekeeper for a minister. Gossip spread about them living together, and the pair were fined.

The Scarlet Letter begins with an introduction and preface; I skipped both. I don’t think I missed much.

It becomes quickly becomes apparent the message Hawthorne is either satirising or endorsing: women who have extramarital relationships are fallen and they alone are responsible for the sin. I suppose the phrase ‘It takes two to tango’ hadn’t yet come into usage by 1850.

My reading of The Scarlet Letter is that Hawthorne intended to mock Puritan society. There’s just too much irony for this not to be a satirical work:

  • It’s ironic that the townspeople who judge Hester for her sinfulness for being sexually deviant mark this judgement plain by staring … at Hester’s bosom, where the scarlet letter just so happens to have been stitched.
  • It’s ironic that Pearl’s father refuses to admit his paternity, so as not to besmirch his reputation, yet is on the committee of people querying whether Hester is a fit mother, wondering whether to remove Pearl from her care.
  • It’s ironic that over the course of the novel, Hester lives a quiet, penitent life whilst Pearl’s father becomes overcome by his guilt and shame.

It was sad that there was so much hatred and judgement for Hester – especially as this was all passed on to little Pearl too, who has done nothing wrong except, in the eyes of the townspeople, be born.

I really liked the supernatural elements of the book. I love anything with Gothic or horror undertones, and Pearl is often suspected of being an elf or demon by the townspeople because of her wilder, unruly nature; she wasn’t conceived within a Puritan marriage, you see, so of course she can’t be well-behaved.

I liked the Gothic descriptions of Hester and Pearl, and the way in which Pearl’s father is suspected of black magic or a supernatural illness due to his deterioration in physical and mental health. Of course, his decline in health is really caused by his guilt at witnessing Hester take all the blame upon herself.

The Scarlet Letter was a short book to read, but for me, it began to drag 2/3 of the way in. There doesn’t seem to be much action; the focus is largely on Hester trying to move on with her life, Pearl’s father wrestling with shame, and the “revenge” plot of Hester’s husband which, in my opinion, wasn’t an exciting subplot at all.

It wasn’t as sensational as I thought it was going to be – although perhaps for the time it was.

However, the final chapter was an exciting ending; all secrets were revealed, and characters were confronted with their wrongdoings.

Did everyone face justice? Well, you’ll have to read it and find out.

– Judith