The India Fan by Victoria Holt
Doubleday, 1st edition, 1988
Genre: Romantic suspense, historical romance, Gothic romance
Synopsis & Review: Vicar’s daughter Drusilla Delany grows up in the shadow of Framling, a magnificent country manor inhabited by the local family of note, the Framlings. From the age of two she feels a special connexion with the family, when matriarch Lady Harriet’s son Fabian Framling kidnaps her, adopting her as his own child for a fortnight–and he only seven years old at the time. After that occasion, she also finds herself welcomed to Framling as a companions to the younger sister, the beautiful and spoiled Lavinia. When Drusilla is six and Sir Fabian twelve, he commands that she and Lavinia play a game with him. He will be Caesar, and they are his slaves, and as his slaves, they must perform tasks. Lavinia he sends to the haunted Nun’s Room for a silver chalice, and Drusilla is to fetch a fan of peacock feathers. But when her theft is discovered, there is a commotion. the fan belongs to Miss Lucille, a Framling haunted by tragedy. When she was in India long ago, her fiance bought her the feathered fan, a thing of ill omen in that country. When surprising Miss Lucille by enhancing the gift, he was shot and killed. The incident turned Miss Lucille’s mind, and she became convinced that the fan was a harbinger of evil. And since Drusilla has taken the fan, and had it in her possession, the curse will pass to her.
Sir Fabian goes off to school, and Lavinia and Drusilla continue growing up together. Lavinia grows wilder and lovelier and more arrogant, and Drusilla grows clever, but is considered plain by some. When Lavinia’s sensual nature gets her in trouble with a stableboy, the two girls are sent to a fine boarding school, Meridian House. There Drusilla excels in her studies and finds favor with her teachers and fellow students, while Lavinia, stunning but not bright, gets into more trouble, and is asked to not return. Then Lady Harriet Framling arranges for the two girls to be sent to finishing school in France. It is there that Lavinia finds herself in a scrape she cannot bear to confess, extricating herself only with the help of Drusilla, a fellow student Janine, and Drusilla’s old nurse Polly. Lavinia’s secret will shadow her through her debutante season in London, and when she makes an excellent match–with Drusilla’s erstwhile suitor–a murder complicates things further.
Two years later, Lavinia sends for Drusilla, who travels to India to act as a companion to Lavinia and governess to her two young children–while escaping an unappealing but convenient marriage. It is in this mysterious, exotic world, a world troubled by rumblings of mutiny and the end of the East India Company that Drusilla will find love.
Oh man, this was one of the first paperbacks I thieved from my Uncle Jack, but it stands the test of time much better than Nightwalker did. Though at nine I had already had some introduction to historical romance, The India Fan introduced me to a more genteel, history-oriented brand of romantic fiction. And I loved it. I still do, despite its flaws. Read the rest of this entry »
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
originally published 1898
Buccaneer Books, 1993
Genre: Horror, Gothic novella
Synopsis & Review: Over the Christmas holidays, a man tells a ghost story he’s kept to himself since it was told to him years ago. A young governess, swayed by a handsome employer, goes to a remote country house to take charge of a young orphaned girl. The house and child are beautiful and pleasant, and the housekeeper who is her closest co-worker is a nice, comfortable woman. But when the young boy is expelled from his school without a word about why, the governess must also care for him, and the atmosphere becomes ominous.
The governess soon discovers that both the children’s previous caretakers are dead, and that they were involved in an unsavory way. She also begins to see strange people where they shouldn’t be. And worst of all, the children seem aware of the unwholesome presences–and even to welcome them. Beneath the peaceful facade of the house and the innocent faces of the children lies an immense, unspeakable evil.
The second book I picked up for Dewey’s Read-a-Thon would also have suited RIP IV–but reading it at work was a dreadful mistake. Though many nights at work are very quiet and I can read undisturbed for hours, last Saturday was a nightmare. I don’t think I managed to go even five minutes without a disturbance of some kind. And reading Henry James under such circumstances was maddening. At least it was only eighty-seven pages. Read the rest of this entry »
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
Little Brown & Co, 5th printing, 2005
Genre: horror, suspense, Gothic, historical fiction
Synopsis & Review: Rooting among her father’s bookshelves, a sixteen-year-old girl stumbles upon a packet of letters and a book—and a historical mystery her family has been pursuing since long before her birth. While traveling Europe, he begins telling her the story of the packet and how he came to be involved in the mystery, one that seeks to unravel the truth about Dracula. When he is away on trips, the girl begins pursuing her own studies, reading the letters and researching Vlad Tepes and Transylvania, despite the danger he warns her of.
The story splits into three lines: that of the narrator in 1972, that of her father and mother in the Fifties as they search for Professor Rossi, and that of Professor Rossi as he began his researches in the Thirties. In the two earlier storylines, the story is told through letters and other documents.
When her father unexpectedly leaves a conference to go abroad once more, the narrator finds more letters, these from her father regarding his hunt for her long-lost mother. Desperate to find her beloved father—and possibly the mother she has never known—the narrator sets off across France in pursuit of them both and their shared past.
I avoided The Historian when it came out, because that’s just how I roll, but it was always there on the fringes of my consciousness, much as Dracula tickles the edges of his pursuers’ minds, even years after they’ve given up the chase. Though he seldom appears in the novel, Kostova makes her Dracula a terrible and menacing figure with historical fact and her deft hand with atmosphere and scholarly intrigue. The Historian just oozes atmosphere, from the beautiful and inspiring descriptions of cities and monuments all over Europe and Near Asia, to the hush of libraries and archives, and even occasional eerie dread. So I thought of RIP IV, girded my loins, wished for autumnal weather, and ordered it from the library. Read the rest of this entry »
A Long Fatal Love Chase by Louisa May Alcott
Random House, 1st edition, 1995
Genre: potboiler, romance, Victorian pop literature
Synopsis & Review: Eighteen-year-old Rosamond Vivian lives on a remote island off the English coast with only her eremitic, indifferent grandfather for company. Longing for something, anything of note to happen in her life, she recklessly declares, “I often feel as if I’d gladly sell my soul to Satan for a year of freedom.” And so she very nearly does, for on the heels of her declaration, Phillip Tempest enters her life, a thrilling and sinister, but devilishly charming, man enters her life. Rosamond soon succumbs to the temptations Tempest offers, falling in love with the first attractive, virile man she’s ever met–and with the visions he paints before her of sailing the world on his yacht Circe, and seeing everything she’s only read of in books. When she finally admits her love for him, Tempest dares her grandfather to wager her very being, and so wins Rose’s hand in a game of cards. Before they set sail, Tempest offers Rose one final chance to live with him and be his love, damning society, but she refuses and insists that he marry her or not have her at all.
A year later, in the pleasure gardens of Valrosa, Rose learns that those who dance must pay the fiddler as Tempest proves that he is the blackguard and libertine he always insisted he was with deceit, treachery, and even murder blackening his soul. Not only does Tempest do away with her little page Ippolito–who may be something else entirely–but he is married to another woman already. desperate, Rose hastens away through the night, unable to share her life with a man so heartless, as much as she may love him. And so begins the long fatal love across Europe, from convent to asylum, garrets to country manors. Each time Rose thinks she has escaped his grasp, Tempest appears once more in her life, beguiling her to join him again, and the farther and faster she runs, the more he desires her.
She took to writing sensation stories, for in those dark ages, even all-perfect America read rubbish. So wrote Louisa May Alcott of Jo March in Little Women, but she might as well have been writing about herself. To support her family, Louisa May, too wrote blood-and-thunder tales and thrillers under a nom de plume, and wildly successful ones, at that. A Long Fatal Love Chase was one of those, written after her European travels. Destined for serialization, it was ultimately rejected, even after extensive rewrites, for being “too long and too sensational,” and remained unpublished till 1995. Read the rest of this entry »
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
Originally published 1847
Scholastic, 20th printing, 1962
Genre: Gothic romance, literature
Synopsis & Review: Jane Eyre is a penniless dependent in her Aunt Reed’s home. She is tormented by her cousins, disliked by her aunt, and barely tolerated by the servants, and she is all of ten years old. Through the auspices of a sympathetic outsider, Jane is sent to the Lowood School, a charitable institution for poor girls. Though the school is at first nearly intolerable, a typhus epidemic and subsequent student deaths soon bring to light the maltreatment suffered by the students, ushering in a regime change for the better. Jane spends six years at Lowood as a student, and teaches there another two years before deciding to make her own way in the world.
Upon advertising for a position as governess to young children, she is invited by a Mrs Fairfax to teach at one Thornfield. The situation proves pleasant; Jane has but one student, a French dancer’s by-blow, and Mrs Fairfax is good company. Soon, however, Thornfield’s master Mr Rochester returns, and the sardonic and brooding Byronic hero soon enthralls Jane. Fortunately for her, our heroine, who he often compares to fairyfolk, similarly enchants Mr Rochester. All seems to be going well despite Jane’s misgivings, when Mr Rochester dark secret is uncovered, and Jane flees alone and friendless into the world.
At death’s door from exposure and starvation, a family of siblings, the Riverses, a brother and two sisters takes in Jane. After being nursed back to health, St John Rivers finds her a place teaching a small local school, and Jane begins settling into a quiet life of obscure usefulness. Fortune intervenes, and Jane’s longlost uncle Eyre dies in faraway Madeira, leaving her a large inheritance. This revelation falls in hand with the disclosure that the Riverses are also relatives, being the offspring of her father’s sister. Ecstatic at the prospect of being part of a family for the first time ever, Jane shares out her fortune with the Riverses, and endeavors to live peacefully with them.
St John, admiring Jane’s fortitude and intelligence, demands that she marry him, and accompany him to India as a missionary. She is nearly overwhelmed by the force of his personality, and wishes to please him, but the prospect of a loveless marriage appalls her. She insists that she can only travel with him as a sister, and as they argue, she feels an urgent call to her from a distant place. Feeling that it must be Mr Rochester, of whom she has heard nothing since her leave-taking, Jane hurries to Thornfield, only to find it in ruins. She fears the worst, but soon learns that he now resides as a small manor called Ferndean, though he is now grievously injured. Upon her arrival, Jane finds Mr Rochester as devoted to her as ever, though more so now that their positions are reversed and he is a dependent, while her independent means for the first time match her personality. And, they marry. click here for more about Jane Eyre
The Curse of the Blue Figurine by John Bellairs
Originally published 1983
Bantam Skylark, 10th printing, 1986
Genre: gothic, horror, children’s
Synopsis & Review: Johnny Dixon loves ghost stories and listening to radio mystery programs and reading Egyptology books, and the three seem to combine when he finds unearths a small Egyptian figuring and a scroll reading “Whoever removes these things from the church does so at his own peril… Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord . Remigius Baart.” in a church basement. Soon after he removes the figurine, however, Johnny begins suffering nightmares and small gray spiders infest the house. He meets a mysterious man who offers him a ring, and from there on, Johnny becomes more and more tightly enmeshed in a tangled web that seems to extend beyond the grave. Unable to confess his problems to his grandparents or his friend Dr Childermass, Johnny worries less about being bullied and more about whether he’ll live another week. click here for more on The Curse of the Blue Figurine