Thursday, April 4, 2013

Book Review: Old House of Fear, by Russell Kirk

Written in the early 60s by a conservative intellectual (a contemporary of William F. Buckley) named Russell Kirk, Old House of Fear is the longest wait I've ever had to read a book.

It started on Halloween, 2005. National Review's Corner, which is kind of a group blog for their writers, mentioned the book as being one of the few fictional books that Kirk had written, and said it was a very good Halloween read. It also said that it was out of print and was extremely difficult to find. 

So, I did what anyone else would do and I put it on my Ebay saved search list. If anyone on the planet listed a copy of the book, I would find out about it. Nearly 8 years later, in early 2013, I was cleaning up my search list and came to "The Old House of Fear" by Russell Kirk. Curious, I realized that I hadn't received a single email about it ever. So I did a quick search to see if there were any plans to bring it back into print.

Incredibly, I found it immediately for sale used on Amazon for $.01. Only it was called 'OLD house of fear" and not "THE old house of fear" as I've been searching. The 'The' prevented any emails from reaching me all this time. 

Thrilled to finally find it and to find that it was only a penny (knowing that I would have literally paid 100x that to read this book), I bought it and put it in my reading queue. 

Was it worth the wait? It's was! A good read, and I really enjoyed it, though some will find it a little heavy on dialogue.

At a very very short 193 pages, it moves much too quickly. You wish that you could spend a lot more time in this world. It was billed as a 'gothic horror' story, but it only hints around the edges at supernatural elements. Mostly it's a psychological drama/romance/adventure that's written in one of the most unassuming prose I've ever read. That is to say, you scarcely notice the author at all. He's not showing off with grand phrases or deep imagery. In fact, I'd even say that the entire book was an exercise in trying to say the most amount with the absolute least amount of words.

Briefly (because with a book this short, too much detail would completely spoil the plot), it's about an eccentric millionaire who sends his trusted attorney to Scotland to try to buy an island that has a castle on it that was in his family almost 200 years prior. He runs into a lot of trouble along the way.

The book has many strengths, but one of the biggest is that it's a puzzler; the lead character, Hugh Logan, solves every problem with just his mind. And he's not a genius or a detective or even that unnaturally smart; he just figures out how to get out of situations and he (mostly) succeeds. It was great to keep guessing at how he would get out of each predicament.

The only detraction I have-and it's not even that-is that the book ends insanely abruptly with zero epilogue. It's kind of like if Return of the Jedi ended with throwing the Emperor down the thing, and the credits started rolling. You would assume that Han and Leia would get together and that there would probably be some kind of party and that Luke would be visited by all of his ghost friends (probably). And that would all be very likely. But I completely understand why Kirk didn't do that here; he felt that it was totally unnecessary. And technically, it really is. But still, I wanted to read all of that just 'to make sure.' 

If this is at your local library, pick it up. It's a very quick, very clean book. And there's even a few little passages, here and there, that take some well-deserved jabs at Marxism and Socialism. Even better, they do it completely within the context of the story, so it wasn't like he was going out of his way to make a point. 

This would be a good movie. I would maybe cast Ginny Weasley as Mary and James McAvoy as Hugh. Everyone else would be CGI. They're all just normal humans, but not enough movies create normal CGI humans just for fun, and that needs to change.


Robin said...

Sounds awesome! I'm definitely going to try to find it at the library.

Christian said...

Robin, if they don't have it, let me know. I'm bringing some books out with me to UT when we visit in July and would be happy to bring this one for you.