Book Review: House of Windows by John Langan

“If you like your haunted house stories to ask questions, to deliberately obfuscate truth and to have a sparkling style, then House of Windows is the intelligent horror you’ve been waiting for.”

 

John Langan’s House of Windows is not just a literary horror novel but also a novel about literature. Dealing with thematic links alluding back to one of the genres earliest purveyors, Charles Dickens. This 19th-century connection to the plot creates a deeper level adding to the enjoyment. The novel is framed over two nights by literary grad student Veronica Croydon to her horror author friend while on a cottage retreat. The story she recounts twists and turns over the years. From her first intellectual battles with her professor to them falling in love, along with the fallout scattered along its path. Strange occurrences begin happening at Belvidere House, the marital home of the professor and his first wife then with Veronica when they are married. These paranormal events are weaved between flashbacks of how Veronica fell in love with the professor, his bitter divorce and the fractious relationship he has with his son Ted, a soldier serving in the first Gulf. A son that was once the professor’s raison d’etre, his personal project to mould a carbon copy of himself. The disappointment of his son’s apathy to literature and education gouged its own gulf between them.

The device of Veronica telling this story to a character in the novel and to the reader in a third layer is a clever way of adding distance of narration. Since her husband is missing and she has been suspected, even if only in their social circles, of having a hand in it, this secondary buffer really makes the reader unsure of the narrator’s reliability.

So, it’s always a guessing game as to where the truth is and if that truth is even honest.

Which leads to the paranormal activities reported. Most haunted house stories involve a ghost. But does it always have to be this way? What if the house itself is the ghost? What if it’s events in the past? What if they are fantasies wrapped inside guilt? These are the questions John Lagan asks in his novel. He also questions the ability of anger and resentment to become physical forms that can harm people. Especially after Roger Croydon’s fight with his son where he recants and whittles his words overnight in a cell until they are sharp enough to cause actual damage. Then the real question is asked- what is haunting except for an obsession that cannot be tamed or killed.

With this blame raging inside after Ted’s death, Roger devotes his life to constructing an elaborate map of the area where he died. This is not just geographical, but also a metaphysical atlas. A guide to where his son died and where a great part of Roger himself ceased to exist.

House of Windows is more than a typical haunted house story for this and many other reasons. It’s a tale of tragedies and obsession that reaches through the past with all roads leading to events which create their own history of horror. From the excursions into coastal towns that hint at desertion and loss. To the exchanges between Veronica and the previous owner that either confirms or gives her a devious affirmation. The obsessive paintings that recall the same madness and melancholy through fear link the past to the present as much as he words of Dickens.

House of Windows is a mystical, multi-layered novel. It’s a story full of literary perception, post 9/11 survivor guilt and loss that raises it above most shock and horror ghost stories.

For a book so abundant with references, threads and crossing arcs, House of Windows is a surprisingly easy read. This is obviously due to Langan’s great skill at telling a story that grabs you and squeezes you until the very last line. If you like your haunted house stories to ask questions, to deliberately obfuscate truth and to have a sparkling style, then House of Windows is the intelligent horror you’ve been waiting for.

ANTHONY COWIN

 

Publisher: Diversion Books
Paperback: (274pp)
Release date: 11 July 2017

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