July 30, 2018

Book Review: Nightmare House by Douglas Clegg


Some houses go bad. Harrow was born that way. Claiming his inheritance, a young man unlocks long-buried secrets within his occultist-grandfather's house of infinite hauntings, awakening a nest of hungry ghosts. 

Don't be fooled by the rather pulpy, sensational title - Nightmare House is a well-written, old-fashioned novel which brought to mind Turn of the Screw by Henry James and Wilkie Collins.  I'm glad I decided to take a chance with it, clued in from the synopsis that it was not going to be a cheap thrill.  And when it opened to an epigram from "The Lady of Shalott," I quirked an eyebrow - this should be interesting.  There was a time in my life when I was obsessed with Tennyson's poem and the related Pre-Raphaelite paintings.  (I kind of still am, actually.)  I had to smile in appreciation once I saw how Clegg developed this theme throughout Nightmare House in a most ingenious interpretation. As far as I know, this novel stands apart in the "oeuvre."  

"I would never all a work of architecture evil; now would I suggest that a house could be anything but a benign presence. It is always the human element that corrodes the stones and the wood and the brick and the foundation. It is the human heart that bends the floors and burns the rooms and imbues the structure with the spirit of error and false remembrance."

Although it is set in the 1920s, Nightmare House is written in the style of a full-blown Victorian gothic. Clegg masterfully sets the tone with ominous foreboding when Ethan Gravesend arrives at Harrow estate, his inheritance. Of course not long after arrival, he makes a horrifying discovery whose mystery he tries to solve - leading him to the center of his worst nightmare.

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