I read a lot of books. Not as many as I’d like to – but that’s mostly because of my high ambition level when it comes to reading lots of books rather than a lack of reading.
Sometimes I read books which teach me things, and sometimes I read books which make me think. But sometimes I just like to read a good story. No messages, no agenda, just a good story.
One of my favourite books is “Haunted” by James Herbert. It doesn’t pretend to preach any message, nor to stimulate any intellectual debate. It’s just a great ghost story.
However, I’ve found other James Herbert’s books disappointing. The sequel to “Haunted” – which is so forgettable that I’ve forgotten its name – was terrible. As was “The Secret of Crickley Hall” which I just finished reading.
I’ve literally taken this book around the world with me. I’ve carted it in my suitcase to provide reading on a long-haul flight home many times, and never started reading it. Until the middle of last week, that is. One evening, I just decided that enough was enough, and the cover had been staring at me for too long – I had to read the damned thing!
And so I did. And now wish I hadn’t.
The story itself is OK. Pretty standard stuff about a haunted house and a family who move there. But the way the story is told leaves nothing to the imagination. There is no attempt to present imagery and emotion; simply 600 pages (yes, really!) of factual description of what’s happening. Facts are flagged up by incongruous statements in the middle of a description passage. There’s no attempt to conceal which facts are later relevant to the plot, and which are merely background. There’s no thought involved and absolutely no twists in the tale at all.
“Gabe was a man. He was an engineer. He makes clever things which go in the sea to generate energy. He rents a house to live in whilst working away from London. There are ghosts. Some people who you thought are dead are not dead. Nothing really happens for 500 pages or so, except a few things moving around in a spooky house and ghost noises echoing on stone stairs. Then there’s a rather anti-climactic ending and an overly soppy emotional bit in the last 50 pages. Then an unnecessary epilogue which any decent author would’ve written up as the closing chapters of the book.”
The whole book has an unfinished feel to it. It reads like the rough draft James Herbert put together to define the story. Like a sculptor who fashions a block of marble into the rough shape of a man before taking a smaller chisel and spending years on the detail. James Herbert didn’t bother with the detail, and simply sent off the rough cut to his publisher.
I like books which take me with me to the locations involved. I want to be able to close my eyes and picture where the characters are standing, what they look like and how they sound. I want the climax of the book to grip me so that I actually care what happens to the characters. I want the book to make me smile, and maybe make me cry. This book did none of that.
I finished reading the book for two reasons. Firstly, I hoped that it may improve; that something may happen unexpectedly and inject some feeling into the experience. And secondly, my natural curiosity wanted to have some resolution to the story. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much of that, either!
So, all in all, I feel let down. A book which has been staring at me for years finally read and I really wish I hadn’t bothered. Such a shame.