Monday, November 9, 2009

Book Review: Burnt Offerings

Burnt Offerings - I've spent a few years looking for this book. I first came across the title in Stephen King's Danse Macabre (an incredible book, which deserves its own review), in the Horror Novels section. King listed it alongside such great ghost novels as The Haunting of Hill House and Ghost Story, so I was pretty interested in finding it.

Whenever I came across online lists of best horror novels it always hung around the bottom of the list, not in the top ten, but consistently present. As my library didn't have a copy of it, I kept it on a list of books to find in used-book stores, and there it sat for over a decade.

Two years ago I found Stephen Jones and Kim Newman's incredible book Horror the 100 best books and there it was again, listed at number 71 and that was it. I had to find this book.

In the last few years I've got better at using more of the services available through my public library, and the Inter-Library Loan service is starting to become one of my new favourites. Less than a month after requesting the title, I got it from a public library in Manitoba, and here we are.

The book has a pretty straight forward plot, a family - the Rolfe's (Mom, Dad, Son, and Great-Aunt), are given a chance to leave New York City in the heat of the summer, to become the summer caretakers at a suspiciously perfect house in New England. Sure the house is a little run down, but as Mrs. Rolfe is an obsessive cleaner, it seems like a perfect match. There is only one small catch, the owner of the home is still living there, an unseen woman, living in a tiny room on the third floor, and she needs food brought to her bedroom door three times a day. No one ever sees this woman, but sometimes the food is nibbled at.

The best part of the book is watching this strange and frightening summer unfold. In a way it's like the opposite of King's The Shining, as the family is in a lovely home in beautiful weather, rather than the Overlook in Winter. Just like the King book however, the atmosphere of this book really starts getting to you early on and never lets go. A film was made in 1976, and unfortunately I've never seen it, but I can say that as horror novel, Burnt Offerings treats the reader to one of the best examples of building tension that I have read in a long time.

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