The Fall by Bethany Griffin
The Fall by Bethany Griffin is based on the classic The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe. I really enjoyed this, it’s well written and told in a way that builds the tension slowly and very satisfyingly. I guess you could call it a slow burner really and I think for me personally the pleasure that I derived from the book was also added to by the fact that I’ve read the original (albeit many years ago) and also had a fixation on watching Hammer Horror and other such films and so have also seen a film version of this starring Vincent Price.
Anyway, to the story. The original story was narrated through a third party, a friend of Roderick’s. The Usher family are supposedly cursed stemming back over the centuries. The very house they live in feels sinister and they all seem to die young. What I really liked about this reimagining is that Madeline is the narrator. Madeline and Roderick are twins and the last in the current line of Ushers. Their parents died whilst they were relatively young – sucumbing to the curse themselves – and the house, which is sentient, seems to have chosen Madeline as it’s latest favourite (not really a good thing as it involves inheriting the curse and dying young). The fact that Madeline is now telling the story lends her a little bit more likability which I don’t recall from either the original book or the film version.
The main characters are Madeline and Roderick. Roderick is sent away to school at a fairly young age by his mother who is desperate to save him from the ‘curse’ – you’ll note that Madeline isn’t sent away, she may be the house’s favourite but she certainly isn’t her mothers. Roderick is the favourite of their mother and indeed sending him away from the house does seem to lessen his own illness. At first of course he feels compelled to return – the ‘twin’ link being strong, but eventually he returns less and less leaving Madeline to the machinations of the house – and the doctors who are supposedly looking after her well being.
The other character is the house of course. It seems able to instill feelings into the people who merely touch it. It takes them over, controls their actions, bends them to it’s desire. And, what it most desires is the continuation of the Usher line (even if that seems to have undesirably incestuous implications!)
Now, what you have to remember here is that the original book trod a very fine line between sinister curse, creepy house and mental illness. Having a curse hanging over the Usher’s in fact means that they put every downfall to that very thing. Not to mention, mind over matter. Even the house lends itself to a certain induced madness. With this retelling Madeline gives a much more convincing job of how the house feels to her, which is not, of course, to say that this isn’t in her mind! Manifesting itself in all sorts of unpleasant forms whenever it appears to be displeased by the actions of the inhabitants. Again, though is the house sentient, is Madeline cursed or is she slightly unhinged living in an uncared for house that is simply crumbling into the foundations and going a little crazy due to inertia, boredom, loneliness, misery?
Upon completing this story – no, I wouldn’t say this is creepy, in terms of get yourself behind a cushion and be afraid to read on. I would more say that this is a story that slowly reveals itself and then takes a hold of you. It’s written very well and the author manages to instill a certain gothic feel – from unexplored, dustry rooms in the house to strange monsters that inhabit the tarn that surrounds it. The chapters alternate between the different ages of Madeline interspersed with sections that have been found in one of her ancestor’s diaries. I liked this form of storytelling although at first I hadn’t quite grasped the relevance of some of these chapters and now feel as though I should go back and read it again. A hint here: the chapters jump backwards and forwards and also include diary excerpts but although these may feel random they are all, in fact, linked and events that you read from Madeline at a younger age are then readdressed or become more meaningful in later sections. I think I read that Poe was a master of making everything in his stories relevant and Griffin seems to have also mastered this technique.
In terms of criticisms – I didn’t really have any. You could be forgiven for being put out a bit about a retelling, this being a classic after all – but I personally think this is well done, it strongly reflects the original and as mentioned I enjoyed having Madeline’s side of events.
I enjoyed this very much. I wouldn’t say it’s an all out creepy read, or more to the point it’s not really ‘horror’ so if you’re expecting or wanting all out horror then this may not be for you. It definitely achieves a gothic and slightly aged feel and certainly portrays a story of the life of a rather sad, lonely and insular young female whose life is monopolised by the strange curse that surrounds her family.
On reflection I wish I’d read the Poe book first so that I could more accurately compare the two but I suppose hindsight is a thing of beauty!!
I received a copy of The Fall from Orion Publishing – for which my thanks. The above is my own opinion.