I started reading this novella with fairly low expectations—I was reading it for participation in a group (Cult Books) and wasn’t convinced it met the criteria for inclusion in the group’s discussion at all—it does, I suppose, but that says almost as much bad about the title as good about it. In any case, …
Isis Villiers, the novel’s protagonist, after an idyllic childhood on a sun-drenched American island, moves with her family to Cornwall and a remote mansion before her father goes off to support his family through his role as an arms merchant or some other war profiteer. The estate, which screams this-is-a-Gothic-novel, is surrounded by stone walls which include the Villiers’ family tomb. Oh, the estate also is visited annually by a dark, dreary storm season followed by a sunny, barefoot season, as different as night and day and which reflects the changing mood swings of Isis’ laudanum imbibing mother.
In spite of the dire warnings Isis hears about the dead being recalled to life, the local history replete with examples of the dead’s returns taking forms very different from the intentions of those who called them back, Isis is unable to resist the temptation to call back someone particularly close to her. Sound predictable so far? It is. It’s when Isis’ own call-back appears that the story takes the form of Mitch-Albom-does-a-Twilight-Zone-episode and this reader’s expectations bottomed out. Holy Shit! This cannot end like this! This totally sucks! But then, the joke was on me, Clegg doesn’t totally sell out with his ending—he comes dangerously close, but he does resist the cliché one starts to expect.
So I’m puzzled about the rating; I won’t decide until I actually post the review—something between 3 and 4 stars, I’m just not sure. Did I like it? Kinda. Can I recommend it? I can recommend it to genre-readers. Horror fans might not find it horrific enough; fantasy fans might not find it fantastic enough; Gothic novel fans—well, who the hell knows what it is they like? I’ve read Gothic novels I’ve liked better Northanger Abbey, for example. To its credit, reading it is very fast. The illustrations are fitting.
The back cover has this heading: Praise for Isis
and Douglas Clegg. Below that heading are quotes from R.L. Stine, Dean Koontz and Peter Straub. If you find that list impressive, you might well like this book. If like me, you find that list entirely lackluster, you might want to read it anyway (I don't regret it). I hope that if you do read it, you react more favorably than I have and perhaps share the experience that some of my GR friends have had. If nothing else, you'll have the knowledge that someone, somewhere, thinks you've read a 'cult classic.'