The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel

30689335Book – Lane Roanoke only lived in Roanoke House, a sprawling Kansas estate, for one summer, but it’s shaped her entire life. Her mother ran away from there, and her cousin Allegra refused to leave. Allegra was who was the one who told Lane, “Roanoke girls never last long around here. In the end, we either run or we die.” When Allegra goes missing, eleven years later, Lane forgets the promise she made to herself to never go back and goes to look for Allegra, and hopefully to lay to rest some of her own ghosts.

I love a good Gothic novel, and this has all the elements: an isolated house too weird for its own good, terrible family secrets, codependency, hidden messages. Lane is a fascinating character in the vein of Gillian Flynn’s Libby Day: broken by the secrets she’s had to keep, but unable to fully break free of them. The difference between a traditional Gothic novel and a modern one is that the unthinkable comes much more easily to mind nowadays; it’s pretty clear early on what’s been going on in Roanoke House, and the tension is in waiting for Lane to come to terms with it and, finally do something about it. This book doesn’t quite have the sharp edges I was expecting it to, but it was so compelling that I read it all in a day.

White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi

indexBook – Miranda is a troubled young woman; she has pica, the compulsion to eat things that are not food, and rejects her pastry-chef father’s attempts to get her to eat normally. Her mother, a photographer, died while on a trip to Haiti, and Miri hasn’t been the same since. Her twin brother wants to help but doesn’t know how, especially when she’s accepted to Cambridge and he’s not. The house they live in, their great-grandmother’s house, wants to keep Miranda at any cost, which is not the same as protecting her. When Miranda brings home her Black girlfriend from college, the thin barrier separating the reality of the house from the reality of the rest of their lives starts to slip.

Although this was a short book, it took me a while to read; there’s a lot to digest (pardon the pun). It has a lot to say about the prejudices we inherit, and how hard it is to shed them; and the things we’ll do to keep ourselves in (what we perceive to be) safety. Try this if you like The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, another story about insane houses and troubled women.

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

Book – Dr. Faraday is a respectable country physician, but he keeps his childhood a secret – his mother was a maid at Hundreds Hall, home of the ancient and established Ayres family. And now that the new maid of the household is his patient, he’s even more reluctant to let it be known where he came from. But the Ayreses – widowed Mrs. Ayres, her spinster daughter Caroline, and her son Roderick – have much more to worry about than their friend the doctor’s history. Strange things are happening at Hundreds Hall, things that are putting a strain on the well-being of the family. Dr. Faraday is convinced that it’s only the effects of living in an old and decrepit house, but the family is sure there’s something more sinister going on.

The Little Stranger takes its time getting where it’s going; this is no fast-paced thriller. Rather, you have plenty of time to get to know Dr. Faraday, Mrs. Ayres, Caroline, Roddy, and Hundreds Hall itself. It’s the kind of haunted house story where you’re never quite sure who’s right and what’s really happening – although it helps to remember that the narrator, Dr. Farraday, has his own biases that may be getting in his way and ours. This is the perfect novel for a cup of tea and a gloomy October afternoon.