THE HOUSE NEXT DOOR (Anne Rivers Siddons)

104217This one got a massive plug from Stephen King in 1980’s Danse Macabre. The story of a house built by an enthusiastic young architect, narrated by a next door resident, is masterful and original. Its closest relative being another entry on that short list, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House.

Walter and Colquitt Kennedy are the most self-satisfied, smug, privileged snobs of the highest order you can imagine. They know it, though they don’t flaunt it. They are living in their own bubble, with their equally well-heeled neighbours. I think it’s refreshingly different to see how people so insulated from tragedy, discord, and especially the paranormal, respond when it’s suddenly dropped in their laps.

For some reason this still seems to spoil an otherwise perfectly good story for a lot of readers. Perhaps the real scares of this book come from its ability to bring out a deep-seated, jealous hatred some folk have for anyone they see as rich, educated, “better than thou.” If you’ve got some resentment against the rich, you might want to skip this, because it’ll definitely raise your blood pressure. Personally, I find the rich to be very interesting to read about.

As Colquitt and her husband observe over some years, the house is inhabited by three families who all leave under peculiar and tragic circumstances. Meanwhile they have become close friends with the young architect. As time goes on, the Kennedys first suspect, then know that the house is evil, that it destroys its inhabitants morally and psychologically. And they begin to dread that there might be a particular source for this evil– and what should they do about it?

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Siddons real coup here is that she plays with structure and narration in ways few straight horror writers would bother to try. The woes of the house next door’s victims are strictly modern, common – and yet ultimately cannot be explained away by the book’s heroes, who finally emerge from their isolated, upper middle-class paradise with an act of tragic heroism. Some of the dialogue gets a little precious at times, but this is a real achievement from an author who obviously didn’t need to bother with this genre.

With regards to the story itself, it can be interpreted in a two ways: 1. That everything that happened to people in the house was due to a curse or something supernatural. or 2. Colquitt and her husband are in fact crazy, and also murderers. Nothing supernatural occurs. The story of the three families that lived next door are all very tragic, but it could have been all coincidence. Colquitt was very close to the families and knew the story, but who knows what goes on behind closed doors?

The novel is very well written , in clear and vivid prose, by Ms Siddons– very different from the eerie, poetic writing of Jackson– but this makes the horror of the ending all the more powerful. As in Jackson’s novel, we are left unsure whether a protagonist or protagonists are correct in their dread, or are they merely unhinged? For in this novel, narrated in the first person, has the house claimed even the narrator as a victim?  A one of a kind book!


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Comments

  1. Read this a couple of years ago along with Richard Matheson’s “Hell House” and Shirley Jackson’s “The Haunting of Hill House”. Of all of them, I thought Jackson’s was the best in terms of prose, overall story, etc. But the Siddons novel was the most atypical, the most arcane and insidious. Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you! That’s a nice summing up of the difference between Jackson and Siddons. “Hell House” disappointed me though. Maybe because I’d seen the film first.

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