The question made me think: What other settings are so vital to a book? I came up with a list of five, heavily weighted toward suspense and horror, I’ll admit. (Because what’s a good ghost story without a haunted house, after all?) From mansion to tract home, here are my top five.
Top five scary houses in fiction:
- Manderley: Du Maurier’s Rebecca is set almost entirely at Maxim's spooky mansion. Daphne Du Maurier’s (1938) classic helped define a genre. Harking back to themes introduced in Charlotte Bronte’s 19th-century Jane Eyre, Du Maurier tells the story of an innocent young wife, a creepy older widower, and persistent whispers about his dead first wife, who just won’t seem to disappear, one way or another, from the narrative.
- Bly: Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw takes place at this remote and lonely British estate, noted for a handsome lake and tower that bode well for no one, least of all its unreliable narrator governess and her two angelic charges. But are they really little angels? . . .
- Brideshead: Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited is not a suspense novel; the brilliant decay of England’s landed aristocracy and the estates that define them is all too inevitable. (Also a fabulous BBC series set at the real Castle Howard, with the delicious young Jeremy Irons.)
- The Overlook: This Colorado hotel has some weird topiary—and lo-o-o-ong hallways. Stephen King’s 1980 blockbuster Shining couldn’t have happened anywhere else.
- 112 Ocean Avenue: This Amityville, Long Island, address strikes fear in anyone who read Jay Anson's 1977 "true story" The Amityville Horror, which luridly tells of how the home where Ron DeFeo murdered six family members terrorized the family who bought it.
Wow, that's quite a list. Buildings can be characters, it seems, but they don't often turn out to be the heroes, do they? At least, not on my list. What's on yours?