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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Film Review: Hush

A deaf writer who retreated into the woods to live a solitary life must fight for her life in silence when a masked killer appears at her window.

Hush’s protagonist, Maddie Young (Kate Siegel), is a writer who is both deaf and has vocal paralysis – the after-effects of having meningitis as a teenager. As a result, Maddie’s perspective is one I’ve certainly not seen in film before and poses new problems within this horror scenario: she can’t cry* for help and she can’t hear her attacker approaching. So what does she do?

*A lack of screaming worked strongly in Hush’s favour; it was so refreshing not to have to watch another boring “helpless woman runs through the forest frantically screaming” film.

Maddie is a strong female who, despite a few silly moments**, mostly used logic and common sense to defend herself, avoid her attacker and plan her survival.

**I was screaming at my screen: “Why would you do that?” “No!” “Don’t go there!”

My Photo [Hush 1]

This was most evident in the scene where she has a dialogue with herself, allowing the audience to understand Maddie’s chain of thought even though she is mute. Again, this is a refreshing change from the helpless victim status women in horrors are often awarded.

“If you can’t run, hide, or wait, what does that leave?”

I thought the character of Maddie was developed well; we learn that she has a sense of humour as well as clever, caring and independent  in just a few opening scenes. I found myself genuinely caring about the survival of Maddie and genuinely fearing the murderer who stalked her. This is another positive about Hush; the protagonist feels like a real character, unlike another stereotyped, standard issue horror victim.

A minor spoiler: there is blood and there is gore in this film  – more than I had expected of a film rated 15 – and so I had to hide my face or cover my ears at certain points because of my squeamish nature.

My Photo [Hush 2]

However, the real horror “feel” in Hush was not generated by gore or by screams, but by creating and maintaining tension throughout. The dark colour palette of the film mirrors the dark tone of the story*** and the sound design – a mix of sound and silence to show both what the killer can hear and what Maddie can’t – was well done, and reminded me of Danny’s tricycle from Kubrik’s The Shining. Another intertextual reference was how the killer’s mask echoed Jason’s from the Friday the 13th franchise, and this made for a chilling entrance.

***Although, this darkness creates atmosphere for a horror film, it also makes things quite difficult to see!

Of course, there were a few jumpscares that anyone familiar with the horror genre could have predicted, but even these were well-executed and used few and far between.

I had some problems with Hush however. The Apple product placements were obvious and tedious, future weapons were clumsily foreshadowed at the beginning of the film, and  there were unnecessary close-ups of items (a book blurb, for example) to provide characterising information about Maddie – information we were already given a few scenes prior.

However, despite my grumbles, I really enjoyed watching Hush. Even after the resolution of the film, I still wanted more of the story because I was simply not ready for it to end.

 

– Judith

Opinion Piece: It Discussion With The Blog From Another World

This is part of another collaborative series with Patrick, from The Blog From Another World. Stephen King is one of my favourite authors, and he wrote one of Patrick’s favourite novels, Carrie. With the upcoming release of a new film adaptation of the iconic horror, IT, it seemed like the perfect opportunity for us to discuss both the book and original film.

Patrick said, “What I loved about the book when I read it was the detail. King puts a lot of effort into his character development.” I also loved IT’s length – King provides brilliant detail of the characters’ lives as the plot switches from the perspectives of Bill, Ben, Bev, Richie, Ed, Mike, and Stan as both children and adults.

“The novel deals with the passage of time and the impact that traumatic childhood events have on our adulthood.” Patrick explained, “For this reason, I think the dual time period narrative is very fresh and gives the story a real weight which certain other King novels are missing.”

This style of narration submerges the reader and effectively conveys just how terrorizing It is to each character. IT cemented my positive opinions about Stephen King; he writes thrilling and / or scary material incredibly well – be it in the simple description of a child’s feelings, or about the many forms It takes. Whilst not every passage contains a ‘scare’, enough detail is always given to put the reader on edge.

Pennywise the Clown, the most common form of It, is certainly a fantastic monster. Patrick said, “As an idea, he is terrifying, and sticks in my mind even now.”

“A great horror monster often makes more of an impression that the heroes, and Pennywise is no different. Norman Bates, Michael Myers, Jason, even Darth Vader – these characters are cultural icons more beloved than the lead characters in their respective films.”

However, no book is perfect. Patrick commented, “IT has an overabundance of the clichés which feature heavily in most King novels.” Examples of this include one-dimensional bullies, an alcoholic writer, and a disappointing resolution.

Despite my love of King, the more of his novels I read, the more I see these tropes reappearing – in particularly the English teacher / author who struggles with alcohol. Another significant example of this character type is Jack Nicholson from The Shining. Whilst this is drawn from King’s own experiences (and we are so often encouraged to write about what we know), I can understand why a repetitive reuse of these tropes would come to grate on readers.

IT was adapted into at TV miniseries in 1990, starring Tim Currey as Pennywise the Clown. It was made, at the height of, as dubbed by Patrick, “the Stephen King adaptation craze”.

I thought the film was alright. Visually, the appearance of Curry’s Pennywise was exactly what I had envisaged as I read the book, and I liked the fact there was an adaptation of such a good novel available.

However, for me, Curry’s actual performance often flip-flopped between mildly scary and pantomimic.

IT suffers from a lot of the problems which plagues the miniseries – too much time to fill, and not enough money to make it really frightening.” Patrick explained, “A lot of the performances are very goofy, especially Tim Curry as Pennywise. He’s just so flamboyant and crazy that he doesn’t really scare me.” He continued, “IT hasn’t aged well and some of it is unwittingly hilarious – I’m looking at you Talking Head!”

Finally, Patrick summarised his thoughts on the book and film with a phrase that every book lover longs to hear: “If you want the unadulterated IT experience, read the book.”

***

Thank you for reading!

– Judith and Patrick