Rating: 4.5 Stars ★★★★★
I first saw Hundreds Hall when I was ten years old.
Dr Faraday lives a quiet, unassuming life, when he is called to a patient at Hundreds Hall. He first fell in love with Hundreds as a boy, when he saw it in its glory days. Now, the Ayres family is struggling with keeping the house from falling apart. Their time, the time of squires and great Houses, is coming to an end. But is it just that they’re struggling with or is there something much more sinister at work in Hundreds Hall?
Soon Dr Faraday is deeply involved in the strange affairs of the family.
This book was such a great Gothic novel, I’m not even sure where to begin. There’s a couple of things that make this book great: the characters, the atmosphere and the supernatural element.
Let’s start with the atmosphere. The book is incredibly well written and the words perfectly conjure up the atmosphere. The story starts on an oppressively hot day and later takes us into winter and every scene is on point.
The air was cool, but curiously weighted; one was aware somehow of the great house above – aware, even, of the creeping chaos of nettle and weed that lay just beyond it.
Throughout the book, we get this atmosphere of opression and uneasiness. The feeling lingers that something is just not right.
The characters are great, too. They are very complex. We’ve got the Ayreses, a family that is struggling with the house and their loss of importance. At first, they came off as rather arrogant.
“My mother, my sister and I tend to manage without doctors as a rule. We muddle through with colds and headaches. But I gather that neglecting the servants is a capital offence these days; they’re to get better treatment than us, apparently.”
On the other side, we have our main character and narrator, Dr Faraday. He was such a fascinating character. In the beginning, I really liked him. I felt sorry from him. The son of a poor family that struggled to get him to medical school, he still struggles with feelings of inferiority whenever he meets other doctors or members of another class, such as the Ayreses. His mother was a nursery maid in Hundreds Hall, so that adds to it.
He was the sort of man, in other words, I had once naively imagined I might myself become; but the fact was, he was thirty-three and already head of his department, while I, several years older, had achieved nothing much at all.
But the more the book progresses, the more I grew to like the Ayreses – and dislike Faraday. Because you see, after a while you notice that Faraday has a inferiority complex and he is totally obsessed with appearances.
He’s also really not as nice as I first thought.
And as I gazed at her fingers, rubbing my thumb over the blackened nails, I said, with a tremor of desire and daring, “Look what you’ve done to yourself. You perfect child! There’ll be no more of this sort of thing, you know, once we are married.”
And he is creepily obsessed with Hundreds Hall. He befriends the Ayreses but I always had the feeling that he didn’t care so much about them as he did about the house. They way he describes it, it’s like its his lover. He loves the house more than any of its inhabitants.
I never got my first glimpse of the house without a thrill of awe and pleasure, for against the white, white ground it looked marvellous, the red of its brick and the green of its ivy more vivid, nd all its imperfections softened by a lacework of ice.
And what characters they are. We’ve got Caroline, considered plain, and, at twenty-six, a spinster. She was doing great during the war but was called back to Hundreds to care for her brother. All her life, she had to put family first.
Then there’s her brother Roderick. He was with the RAF during the war, but an accident left his navigator dead and him severely scarred. He struggles to keep the house from falling into ruin, but he won’t accept help from anyone. He’s the first to feel the sinister force.
“Nothing’s going on. I’m all right now.”
“All right? Look at you!”
“It’s the strain of – of keeping on top of it. It wants me to buckle, that’s all. I shan’t give in to it. It knows that, you see, and keeps trying harder.”
Last, but not least, there’s Mrs Ayres. When Faraday was young she was the beautiful lady of the house and she is still a perfect English Lady. But she struggles with the way her family lives now and she is still grieving over the death of her first daughter. She was only six when she died and it was long before Caroline was born, but Mrs Ayres is not over it.
All this combines to the supernatural element. The house feels oppressive, as if something sinister is crawling in its walls. And then things start happening. Strange marks appear in the weirdest places. Bit by bit, it gets more and more dangerous.
There’ll be tricks tonight, he had said to me, with dreadful coyness; and I’d looked from him – hadn’t I? – into the shadows of his room, and seen the walls and ceiling of it marked – almost swarming! – with those unnerving black smudges.
It was really creepy. What was best was that the book kept me guessing. I never could decide whether to believe in a sinister ghostly presence or whether to believe that the family was simply going mad.
Whatever it was, I wanted the family out of that creepy house. I wanted to scream at them to get out of there. Just sell it, give it up, run as fast as you can from there. But it wouldn’t be much of a creepy story if they just did that, would it?
An amazing Gothic novel, full of complex characters. It’s highly atmospheric and deliciously creepy.