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: 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

 

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