Thursday, September 23, 2010

Monica Heath: Calderwood

I started this one yesterday morning, and it was pretty suspenseful. I ended up finishing it between waiting in the car line for my daughter and having some spare reading time tonight. This is my first Gothic Romance by Monica Heath; it was published in 1975 (the Signet edition I'm reading from). The original cover is all green mossy background with a dark haired girl with a blue dress on in front of the house.

Camilla Carlyle's father has died, leaving her on her own. She finds a letter from Aunt Marilyn at Calderwood, the old ancestral home of her mother. Camilla remembers leaving there in haste after her mother's death when she was six, but the rest of her history is foggy. She wonders why her father grew to dislike her mother so as the years passed.

Camilla decides to go home to Calderwood to find out what she can about her mother and her own history. Her arrival at the estate or near it is rife with bad turns, and a ghost appears as a face and a voice in her ear over the bayou. Whom can Camilla trust? Her Aunt Marilyn or Deedee, her spiteful cousin? Can she even trust Kris Kincade-- a man working on the neighboring Dazincourt Hall-- and to whom she is attracted? What about Jules, the man others say is her true father?

Characterization: 4/5 [I could easily picture Camilla being played by a young Liz Taylor (while her mother is played by an older Liz Taylor for the flashbacks and supernatural bits). I think Alan Tudyk would make a good Kris; I have liked him ever since he starred in Firefly. Jules Dazincourt put me in mind of Vincent Price with his "dark" looks. The characters were drawn well. The one issue I had was with the words "dark" and "darkly" used in redundant phrases three times in two pages when it wasn't necessary and many other times thereafter: "darkly hideous," and "darkly malicious" (20), "darkly skeptical," "dark-clad," "dark stare," "dark brows," (39) and so on. I decided to catalog them all for a giggle after finding so many on page 39 alone, so I did for about ten more pages. I mean, black, shadowed, onyx, obsidian and all manner of words could be used as synonyms, right? These repetitions would make for a killer drinking game. The words were repeated so often as to be distracting, obviously.]

Plot: 4/5 [The plot sucked me right in; there is plenty of action and some twists and inventive happenings in the genre as well. The end was a shocker, and that is always a pleasant surprise.]

Atmosphere/spooky elements: 5/5 [A ghost appears early, and the Louisiana setting is creepy in its own right. Heath really gets it right (at least from the time I've spent in that area near New Orleans or driving through the LaFourche Parish area in the bayous). I also like the way Heath uses two ancestral homes in the novel; that device is reminiscent of Wuthering Heights to a mild degree. The ancestral mansion also has a "death couch" that is shiver worthy and the first mention of such in a Gothic Novel I've read. In fact, this novel is chock full of Gothic Elements of all kinds. The setting of the spring house on the property as an area where mischief occurs is creative, and this novel landed a few new elements of Gothic Novels on the Epic List. Most have been done before, so that makes this novel special. If you like moldy graves, crypts, bayous, evil rings, death masks, creepy dolls, and so on, this is your book. It is probably the most Gothic of the Gothic Novels I have reviewed thus far on the blog.]

Literary? 4/5 [Yes, Keats' Lamia is quoted and references to other literature and works are sprinkled throughout the novel.]

Romance? Yes... and I didn't know who Camilla was going to end up with until right at the end. That's always the sign of a good Gothic Romance.

Rating: 4 + stars ****+

I recommend this one; it is inventive and suspenseful and most definitely Gothic. I highly enjoyed it! I'll be hunting out more by Monica Heath; I have a double gothic by her as well-- the Clerycastle ones.

Calderwood (Ulverscroft Large Print)


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