Thursday, 4 May 2023

The House next Door by Anne Rivers Siddons (pub.1978)

 House is a weird suburban novel in which a house is a malignant force. Its not even an ancient house with a grisly history and bold boltered rooms, a corpse half in and half out on the patio where glasses are broken and a cheeky little vintage of no great authority breathes for the dead and dying.  The echo of the boy or girl next door in the title with its imputation of ordinary health lies.  This house’s  jouissance is marred by an abstract vengance though it is brand new with a brand new couple moving in expecting a new child.  Newness, brightness and hope are revived on a lot that was deemed to be impossible to build on until the young genius architect worked his Frank Lloyd Wright on it producing a dream design that everyone loves.

Colquitt the narrator thought it couldn’t be done and at first resented the noise, fuss and tree felling that was going to take away frontage and sideage and the leafiness oh the leafiness from her office room where she planned to curate a few clients in her public relations business. However when it was built its beauty made her ‘fall in love’ with it.  Husband Walter also in an advertising executive role as the co-owner of an agency that is doing quite well.  The author Anne Rivers Siddons worked for an ad agency once so the consciousness of refined, classy but understated glamour which uses wealth with taste and discernment in the manner of an upmarket glossy is well depicted.  All the elements of gracious Southern living in an enclave that runs to extreme wealth with butlers to its just us, plain folks.  Automobiles are named if they are vulgar, like Cadillac or BMW Bavaria.  

This house is mad, bad and dangerous to live in.  Siddons very skillfully gives you a sense of the growing dismay of the Kennedys as they realise that a monstrous fate befalls  the inhabitants of this jonah house.  Is it just bad luck or what or just a series of coincidence that befall first the Harralsons, then the Sheehans and finally the Greenes.  Excuse the pun; the plot really builds and even as the Kennedys visit they find themselves in the penumbra of evil.  What can they do about it?

To begin the omens are light:

"Much later I awoke and heard an owl in the woods on the lot next door. We don’t get many of them in the city; I could not remember the last time I had heard one. It was, for some reason, a truly dreadful sound. I lay listening to it, something wild and heavy uncurling in my chest. And I reached down carefully, so as not to wake Walter, and I tied a knot in the corner of the top sheet."

Might be a winding sheet yet but I’ll say no more.  This is excellent, a classic really.  It has the Stephen King imprimatur, bad housekeeping award.  I concur.

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