There are occasions when a novel helplessly succumbs to the tropes of its stated genre. Page after page is littered with overused themes. They reach out from these pages and smack the reader across the face. “Look at me! Look at me!” they shout from in between the lines, “Look at me and let me lock you inside every literary device that I the author I can conjure up from the catalog!” Conversely the opposite is also true. Like a summer wind that blows across an ocean beach, the familiar and expected can be refreshing. If a story is imaginative and well written, then the proverbial themes within will wrap the reader in nestling comfort as s/he settles on in to the story. Such is the case with Darcy Coates’s The Haunting of Gillespie House
This beautifully written piece features a large house in the countryside. Protagonist Elle agrees to stay and watch over this house while the elderly owners (Mr. and Mrs. Gillespie) go away on a trip. The house is shrouded with mystery and intrigue. There are locked rooms with hints of activity occurring behind the doors. Peculiar scratching-noises are heard within various walls. The third floor contains rooms with beautiful antique furniture strangely hidden away. Certain revelations lead to the conclusion that there is a secret passage somewhere in the house. But where is it?
The grounds surrounding the house have their share of intrigue as well. There is a hidden cemetery with gravestones of Gillespie family members dating back to the 1800s. All of them have the same year of death inscribed into the stone, which alludes to the fact that some kind of horrible tragedy was responsible for these deaths. Fast forwarding to current times, Elle discovers that deadly misfortune has also plagued the surviving members of the Gillespie clan – poor Mr. And Mrs. Gillespie have recently suffered through a sad set of circumstances.
As I made my way through this creepy and enjoyable journey that is the book, I was reminded of the thrills I experience when I play graphic adventure video games. These games are usually non-linear and there are plenty of puzzles to be solved along the way. (See Myst, Shivers, and Amnesia: The Dark Descent . The last two are Haunted House themed games.)
For those not into gaming, I hope that I have not cheapened The Haunting of Gillespie House by making this comparison. But for me, the association is appropriate because both platforms inspire suspense as I travel though the various mediums anxiously wondering, “what is behind door # 6?”
The Haunting of Gillespie House – the tone is inviting, the descriptions are colorful, and the writing is superb. Do I have any complaints? Minor ones, mostly concerning the length of the story. This is a long novella. I wanted more – I wanted a novel. The ending is somewhat abrupt. I felt there were seeds to more story planted here and there. With just a little more nurturing they could have developed into something great. However, it turns out that The Haunting of Gillespie House had already outgrown its original intent. Darcy Coates states in her after word that this tale was supposed to be a short story. It ended up being much too long to fit within the boundaries of the short story format as unintended themes manifested and grew. This happens quite often when writing a story. So she had to let the story grow into its preferred outcome. I think there could have been more, but who am I?
As a bonus, Coates includes a short story entitled The Crawlspace for readers that purchase her ebook. This story is what was left behind when The Haunting of Gillespie House grew to big for its bridges. When I say, “left behind”, I do not mean to imply that this story is a collection of discarded material. Rather, it is the youngling that The Haunting of Gillespie House was destined to spawn from. Keep in mind though, that it is a different story altogether. It’s a good story too.
Overall, I highly recommend this book. This well-written piece is a page-turner. While The Haunting of Gillespie House does put readers in a somewhat uncomfortable state of wanting more, it also leaves behind a desire to explore more works from Darcy Coates.