27 October 2009

Book Review: The Mist in the Mirror by Susan Hill

R.I.P. IV Challenge #3

The Mist in the Mirror After having spent nearly all his life abroad, James Monmouth returns to England, the country where he spent the first five years of his life and of which he has no memory. He plans to research a book about the explorer Conrad Vane, who has long fascinated him and whose travels he has retraced. From the moment he arrives at London’s Cross Keys Inn, odd things begin to happen. Seemingly trivial matters terrify him. A strange boy stands in the street gazing at him. And person after person advises him stay well clear of anything concerning Conrad Vane.

I did feel a chill while reading this ... but that was because the aircon on the train was overdone again. I didn’t find it particularly creepy. Initially it was all too subjective: Monmouth was, by his own admission, getting freaked out for no reason by things unlikely to alarm anyone else. Later, when clearly abnormal phenomena began to appear, it was hard to believe that he was truly scared by them, as regardless of what he felt at the time, he kept going with his enquiries afterward. Being a first-person story, if the character relating the events keeps shrugging them off it’s an open invitation to the reader to do the same. And I didn’t altogether like Monmouth; surely, after receiving that many warnings, a person of sense would have returned to London and boarded the next ship out of there.

On the upside, it’s fabulously atmospheric. Monmouth begins his account with a passage that echoes the opening of Bleak House with rain instead of fog, and you know at once what sort of tale you’ll be reading. From dank inns to ancient college buildings to a dilapidated manor house, the settings fit the genre perfectly. The malevolence quotient increased at the end (perhaps it wasn’t the aircon after all....) but there were too many loose ends that never came close to being explained.

Rating: C+

1 comment:

Diane said...

This was a great review; thanks for the honesty! I do like Hill but have not tried this book.

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Header image shows detail of A Young Girl Reading by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, c. 1776