Monday, September 20, 2010

Elsewhere

Everybody has seen The Exorcist. A smaller number than everybody has read The Exorcist. An even smaller number than that has read Legion, the sequel (which is astonishingly good, by the way). An even smaller, more infinitesimal number than that has read some of William Peter Blatty's other works. Well, I count myself in that little group. I haven't read everything (as that's practically impossible due to books being out of print), but I've read all the major works. And now, finally, after waiting months for it from the library, I have read his 2009 novel, Elsewhere.




Elsewhere, the eponymous mansion, is supposedly haunted, and Joan Freeboard, realtor, is trying to sell it. She hires an English psychic, a parapsychologist from Columbia, and an outlandishly gay author, to stay in the mansion and prove it's not haunted.


The first thing that struck me about this novel is the sheer economy of description. In mere pages, Blatty sketches the character of Freeboard quite quickly, sketches tiny scenes that add up to a portrait. The overall feeling is one of professionalism. Here's a writer who's been writing for decades. However, Freedboard is the least interesting character among a small cast of uninteresting characters.


Once the cast gets to the house, the tension starts. Slowly but surely, Blatty creates an atmosphere, in the classic sense, and fills it with unmistakable dread. There's also some hints, and some references to quantum physics.


I figured out the end about halfway, and was disappointed once I had reached it. It's a fairly obvious ending, but the only thing that keeps it from being awful is Blatty's extremely clever twisting of the chronology.


The best bits of the novel are, of course, the atmosphere and the tension throughout the middle sections. Another highlight is Blatty's dialogue skills. Only a couple snippets of speech sounded clunky or unreal. As well, Blatty indulges himself in some fairly overwrought purple prose at the midway point.


Even though Elsewhere is fairly short, Blatty stuffs the novel to the brim. At no point is the reader bogged down in exposition, but always has enough to make sense of what's happening in the past and present. The juggling act that Blatty performs is worth experiencing in of itself.


Other than the disappointing ending, Elsewhere is a fantastic novel that creates and sustains an atmosphere of real horror, something many many many novels of the same genre cannot possibly do. I wish there were more haunted house stories worth reading like this one was. Recommended for horror fans.


Speaking of haunted house novels, here's a suggestion. Everybody should give Clive Barker's Coldheart Canyon a read. It's one of the most stylish and interesting horror novels I've ever read, and certainly ranks as Barker's magnum opus.

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