Book Review: Gethsemane Hall by David Annandale

13220384Title: Gethsemane Hall

Author: David Annandale

Genre: Horror

Age Group: Adult (18+)

Rating: 3 stars

Purchase: Amazon

The skeptics think they know what’s going on at Gethsemane Hall. So do the religious. So do the spiritualists. They’re all wrong. Richard Gray, grieving over the loss of his wife and daughter, learns that his ancestral home holds the secret of what lies beyond the grave. And all of a sudden, everybody wants a piece of Gethsemane Hall.
Louise Meacham wants in because a fellow CIA agent committed suicide there, and she has to put the ghost rumours to rest to get her career back. Anna Pertwee wants in because she’s determined to save the ghosts from the unbelievers and the debunkers. Patrick Hudson wants in because he has to save Gray’s soul.
So Gray will let them all in, these people who think they’re coming for the truth. What they don’t know is that the truth is coming for them.

Gethsemane Hall could best be described as gothic horror meets gore and torture in a slow-paced, although chine-spilling tale. The book starts off slow by introducing us to a variety of characters, some more relatable than others. There’s Richard Gray, lord, owner of Gethsemane Hall, the house he often visited during his childhood, who is grieving the loss of his wife and daughter while he was in Africa, trying to help people. Gray is actually the easiest character to relate to – which is saying a lot considering he was also descending into madness.

Then there’s Meacham, a CIA agent who has to clean up the mess after a fellow CIA agent and hobbyist ghost hunter killed himself at Gethsemane Hall. The whole CIA angle didn’t really work. Meacham doesn’t have the characteristics one would suspect of a CIA agent, and honestly, the whole book could’ve done without the CIA angle, which gives it more of a conspiracy-vibe than a ghost story. There’s also a magician, although God knows why Meacham decided to bring her along – except maybe to debunk tricks? Although, she already had a renowned scientist for that who had debunked several “ghost” phenomena. Then there’s a team of ghost hunters desperate to believe, Gray’s best friend who wants to bring him back on the path of God, and a whole town filled with people who have heard the “call” of Gethsemane Hall before.

This book is heavy on religion, in fact it’s one of the focus points. Gray loses his faith, and the haunting has a religious angle too that I don’t want to get into because I don’t want to spoil anything. I didn’t mind the heavy focus on religion, but just mentioning it here because I’m sure it’ll annoy some people.

There are also some extremely gorey scenes. I dont mind gore, but it’s rare to see it in a haunted house story – I did like that, though, as it was quite unique.

The story is enjoyable, and there was a lot of suspense, granted. Unfortunately the build-up ended in a huge let-down of gigantic proportions: the ending is rushed (quite a contradiction considering the rest of the book is slow), it doesn’t make much sense, a lot of things are left unexplained (for example: why did this horror/ghost decide to start tormenting everyone now, when there had been people living in Gethsemane Hall for years), and the ending was very dissapointing.

This is perhaps one of the most difficult books I’ve ever had to review. I immensly enjoyed the plot, up until three quarters when it all went downhill. Gay was an engaging character, and I could stomach Meacham, but I disliked most of the other characters – some of them lacked depth, others were so stereotypical they annoyed me. The writing was very compelling at times, and at other times, so overwritten I wanted to eat up the paper.

The story is good, and it’s an okay book, but it could’ve been excellent had the ending not been so rushed, more things been explained, and some of the characters had been cut, or had been less stereotypical. It didn’t scare me, but it did give me some shivers, so the suspense was well done at least. Read at your own peril.

Book Review: The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

584843Title: The Woman in Black
Author: Susan Hill
Genre: Horror, Supernatural Thriller, Ghosts
Publisher: Vintage
Publication Date: First publication in 1983
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Arthur Kipps, a junior solicitor in London, is summoned to Crythin Gifford to attend the funeral of Mrs Alice Drablow, and to sort through her papers before returning to London. It is here that Kipps first sees the woman in black and begins to gain an impression of the mystery surrounding her. From the funeral he travels to Eel Marsh House and sees the woman again; he also hears the terrifying sounds on the marsh.
Despite Kipps’s experiences he resolves to spend the night at the house and fulfil his professional duty. It is this night at Eel Marsh House that contains the greatest horror for Kipps. Kipps later discovers the reasons behind the hauntings at Eel Marsh House. The book ends with the woman in black exacting a final, terrible revenge.

I read The Woman in Black late at night, with the lights out except my reading light. Thank God, I wasn’t home alone. This novel was one of the scariest books I’ve had the pleasure to read all year. It made shivers run down my spine, and occasionally I risked a glance behind me to see if some supernatural creature hadn’t crept up on me from behind.

The prose of this book is delicious. It reminds me of Edgar Poe, of Austen and Mary Shelley, a fluent narrative that is both entrancing and exciting. The story itself is both unique and familiar. A young lawyer named Kipps needs to handle an estate out in the country, after its owner, an old woman, passed away. When he travels there, he finds out that the old woman’s paperwork is in bad shape, and he needs to spend a few days in her mansion in the moors to make an index of everything she owned. Local villagers aren’t pleased to see Kipps go to the moors. At first, Kipps isn’t sure why, until he spends a day at the Eel Marsh House and finds out a thrilling but terrible secret that rocks the foundations of his very world. Eel Marsh House is haunted. Kipps has to find out by whom and why, before she extracts her terrible vengeance on him as well.

So this story has the basic shape of every gothic ghost story. An abandoned house in the moors, a young protagonist who does not believe in spirits until confronted with them, whose also brave and resourceful, and a tragic secret of the past that’s the source of all this ghostly activity. What The Woman in Black does with these predefined elements of horror literature, is reshape them and rebuild them, mold them into a story that is truly horrible and scary, eerie in its very nature, a sort of climax of everything the gothic horror genre stands for.

The characters are colorful and different. They’re standard prototypes and yet they’re not. The descriptions are amazing, and instantly transport the reader back in time. The setting is both tranquil and eerie, a perfect fit for the story unfolding in the background. The protagonist is both charming and endearing, both skeptic and a realist.

I’ve read the book, and then watched the movie. The movie doesn’t entirely follow the plot of the book, and that’s a shame. The movie ending felt flat, even a little lame, a stupid ending as opposed to the truly horrific ending of the novel, in true gothic horror style. Even if you’ve seen the film and were disappointed, give the book a try. The prose alone makes it worth reading, and the well-developed characters and multi-layered story only add to that.

The Woman in Black is one of my favorite books ever. I recommend it to all horror and ghost story fans. Ideal to read late at night or during a thunderstorm.