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May 4, 2008

The House at Midnight by Lucie Whitehouse

There is a lot going on in The House at Midnight. Too much? Is this a tale of friendship, a ghost story, academic-gothic ala Tartt? With classical allusions and the Bacchae– but really? Requisite clever trendy urbanites, Oxford grads the lot of them, and a healthy dose of zeitgeist. A group of friends and a house cut off from the world, and whatever unfolds. One might ask, Lucie Whitehouse, what are you doing?

And we would ask Whitehouse, the author, because her novel is so obviously constructed. Her hand is always right there, pushing the plot forward, making her people speak. There is nothing organic here, perhaps Whitehouse with her literary agent background knowing too well what it takes for a book to succeed. Leaving absolutely nothing to chance.

All this sounds like criticism, and it sort of is. Because Lucie Whitehouse is not untalented. What she has done here is create an immensely readable book that I devoured in a day. Narrated by Joanna, whose friend Lucas has just inherited a country house from his uncle. A perfect place, he feels, for their friends to gather on weekends, a break from London. They’ve all been friends for nearly a decade now, still close but branching out in separate ways. The house’s isolation serving heighten their bonds and widen their rifts. Joanna sensing something sinister pulsing within the house’s walls, and her fears turn out to not be unfounded.

So if Whitehouse set out to write a piece of decent popular fiction, she has definitely succeeded, “popular” overriding the other elements of the book I’ve already noted. The story light enough, a bit of smut, and though the shocking end is not quite all it wants to be, still a good book for a plane journey. My reservations however, because I get the feeling Whitehouse was striving for more, ticking boxes rather than writing good prose, to straddle “literary” and “marketable” at once– it’s all a bit obvious. The two categories are not mutually exclusive of course, but here they appear to be. Definitely falling on the side of marketability though, so you’ll probably find you like it anyway.

One thought on “The House at Midnight by Lucie Whitehouse”

  1. Katherine says:

    I’m reading this book right now and I’m having mixed feelings about it. On one hand, I love the atmosphere; on the other, I feel as though the author is trying too hard to write a Gothic novel. Its interesting that she used to work as a literary agent, though… I think working in publishing DOES affect an author’s ability to “market” their own work.

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