By Michelle Crabb
Langan, John. 2009. House of Windows. San Francisco: Night Shade Books, 2009. USD $14.95. ISBN 978-1597801522.
This review contains spoilers
While it may not be a gory tale, or as fluid as Lovecraft’s prose, John Langan’s House of Windows holds its own because the novel is character-driven. Langan has skillfully woven supernatural into reality, a technique that is often butchered into stereotypes and clichés. Those who prefer literary fiction will find themselves captivated by the colorful characters in House of Windows.
Langan drops the reader in the midst of the central mystery as Veronica Croyden, wife of the missing professor Roger Croydon (who had “lost it” shortly after his son’s untimely death), tells the dark truth that she’s been harbouring for the past few years to a professor who writes horror stories. The reader may have an immediate dislike for Veronica’s arrogance, brashness, and self-centered mannerisms, but as her story unfolds, Langan shows his prowess at writing strong characters by eliciting sympathy for the woman.
Veronica reveals that she was haunted by Roger’s son, Ted, and experienced strange, supernatural waking-visions. The frightening sensations started after Roger disowned Ted with a set of disturbing words meant to be a curse.
The curse was Roger’s final words to his son. After they learn of his death, the couple buys The Belvedere House, the house Roger and his ex-wife rented and raised Ted in. The house becomes the source of Ted’s hauntings and Veronica’s visions. Meanwhile, Roger spirals into an unhealthy obsession, recreating Ted’s death scene in his home office.
The experiences are detailed, but subtle enough to leave a mark. Most of them are distorted warps of dark, abstract tunnels and windows inside of the house, as if the structure itself is alive. This causes Veronica to research the place’s history. She discovers the weird theories of a deceased artist (with ties to the house) who worked out a way to “awaken” buildings. The artist’s uncouth practices reminded me strongly of the sorcery described in many of Lovecraft’s tales: elaborate diagrams, pointing things in certain directions and performing precise motions.
Throughout the course of Veronica’s story, Langan pays homage to Dickens (and makes mention of many literary authors, including H.P. Lovecraft) by paralleling Dickens’ constant theme of absent fathers to Roger’s plight with Ted and his refusal to rescind the curse, which Veronica later finds out is what started everything.
Roger stays true to his flaws and remains stubborn even in the face of the story’s climax. He walks directly to his fate and joins his son in whatever misfortune he cursed him to.
Since the story is told from Veronica’s point of view, we only have her speculations as to what became of Ted and Roger. We are therefore left to come up with our own conclusions about their fate, the house, and everything else that went on. At first I thought this was just an easy escape route out of explaining something complicated, but it was true to her experience as she saw and rationalized it; again, this illustrates Langan’s talent at writing characters and staying true to their point of view.
The only gripe I had with the book was the ending – when we are pulled out of Veronica’s tale and put back into the horror writer’s point of view. He just happens to hear his infant son snorting upstairs right after she finishes (or the infant just happens to make noise at that moment, for that matter). He rushes up to see him (after hearing such a story, I think any parent would do the same thing). I understand that Langan wrote the scene as a way to contrast the horror writer from Roger and Dickens’ themes, but it came off as a bit cliché.
Overall, the book was a fun read, I enjoyed it, and I’d highly recommend it as a nice beach or travel novel.
You can buy House of Windows through Amazon.com