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House of Windows Paperback – Aug 1 2010

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 9 reviews
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Fine first novel Jan. 16 2010
By D. D. Montee - Published on
Format: Hardcover
It's fascinating that Publishers Weekly, so enthusiastic about Langan's short story collection MR GAUNT (which I have not yet read, but soon will), should be so inexplicably harsh in their review of HOUSE OF WINDOWS. Anyway, pay no attention; heed Lucius Shepard's blurb on the dust jacket instead. This is an intriguing, heartfelt first novel, an effective blend of Straub (JULIA), James (TURN OF THE SCREW), Lovecraft (DREAMS IN THE WITCH HOUSE), with so many other subtle nods to masters of the literary ghost story that the connections themselves become greatly entertaining to classic macabre fanatics (like me). But what Langan does exceptionally well is characterization: his protagonist, Veronica, is one of the more involving central characters of the many novels of this type in recent years; and Shepard is right on the mark when he calls the book a "beautifully observed narrative of two marriages". (But the supernatural elements are wonderfully creepy too!) Occasionally the measured pace might trouble readers who are looking for a "what happened next" moment on every page; but what Langan sacrifices in pace, he more than makes up for in character detail and a caring sense of locale.

This is a nuanced and textured novel that deserves much more than the brush-off by Publishers Weekly. I'd give it at least 4 stars, perhaps 4 1/2. Give it a try.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
One of the top horror novels of 2009 Feb. 21 2010
By Paul Tremblay - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The novel centers around Veronica (young, beautiful grad student) and Roger (65 yr old divorcee, well-established and respected Dickens scholar/professor, who's son Ted had joined the Army and is killed in Afghanistan) and their complex relationship/marriage, the relationships they have/had with their parents, and ultimately the relationships they have with themselves as well. Langan isn't interested in heroes, and Roger and Veronica are painfully human, and he has the courage in a first novel to devote a lot of time to developing them, big fat warts and all. It more than pays off when the strange occurrences at the Belvedere house begin to take place. Langan offers no easy answers or explanations to the happenings, which give the proceedings the weight of reality even as reality breaks down for his characters. And within these shifting threads of the narrative, character motivation, and even of the physical house itself, the idea of story (and how we're defined by story) is everywhere.

"Dickens tries to come to terms with his childhood traumas, his adult ambivalences, by writing about them over and over. Hawthorne tries to clarify his Puritan legacy to himself in story after story. Whenever something happens to you-something too much-you create a story to deal with it, to define if not contain it."
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
A House with Too Many Windows Sept. 10 2011
By Brendan Moody - Published on
Format: Paperback
[This is an abridged version of a review that has appeared elsewhere online.]

House of Windows is the first novel by John Langan, whose short horror fiction (including the collection Mr. Gaunt and Other Uneasy Encounters as well as a number of as yet uncollected stories) has been justly praised for its deft mixture of supernatural terror with literary observation. House of Windows is similarly ambitious, attempting to balance a Lovecraftian haunted house story with a study of a difficult father/son relationship and the decline of an unlikely marriage. But Langan's characterization and themes, which might have been substantial enough to support a novella, lack the depth necessary for a full-length novel. The resulting book is repetitive, unsubtle, and only intermittently involving, although a few fine passages, both "literary" and "genre," and a strong climax demonstrate the underlying potential of the material.

The novel's primary narrator is Veronica Croydon, whose much-older husband Roger has been missing for two years. One night she reveals to a casual acquaintance that she knows what happened to him. Over two nights she tells the full story: her relationship with Roger, which began when he was a famous, married professor, and she a graduate student, in the college English department; Roger's strained relationship with Ted, the child of his first marriage, a soldier older than Veronica and disgusted at his father's new life; Roger's emotional collapse in the aftermath of Ted's death in Afghanistan, culminating in a leave of absence from teaching; his and Veronica's ill-fated decision to move back into Belvedere House, the mansion where Ted grew up; and the growing certainty of both that an inhuman presence has fixed its attention upon them.

Obviously, the premise of the novel is potent enough: fraught father/son relationships are very real, the death of a son is a tragic loss at any age, and marriages with a large age gap are sure to have their own difficulties and unexpected virtues. The trouble is that House of Windows never provides much specific or resonant insight into any of these issues. Despite backstories featuring troubled family relationships of their own, Veronica and Roger never emerge as complicated characters with distinctive personalities. He is smart, stubborn, moderately arrogant-- in other words, precisely the image of an distinguished but aging intellectual. Veronica is equally smart, with a feisty stubbornness of her own. You can see in the abstract how they might be a good match, but without establishing more nuance of personality the novel can't do much to make their dynamic real. Roger's estrangement from Ted likewise fails to build on the inherent pathos of the concept because their relationship is so broadly drawn, with a generic strict father and sullen teenager of the type you'd encounter in a movie of the week. Their poignant childhood bonding experience is literally the act of tossing a baseball around.

It doesn't help that Veronica's monologue shows a marked lack of subtlety. At various points she dutifully explains what Roger is thinking and why, laying out the novel's uncomplicated themes with a directness that further obviates this power. (Theoretically this could be unreliable narration, but if that was the intention it doesn't come across.) Although the climactic sequence features some potent supernatural symbolism whose meaning is left to the reader to interpret, the very last page offers a fictional quote from Roger's scholarly writings that serves as a blunt thematic summation.

Certainly the novel's lack of emotional resonance is not due to a paucity of detail. House of Windows is laden with facts, digressions, and partially integrated or otherwise superfluous material. The frame story is a case in point. While the bulk of the book is taken up by Veronica's account of events, there's also occasional narration by the man to whom she is telling her story, a horror writer with a wife and child of his own. Frame stories of this type have, of course, a venerable history, but that doesn't mean they're always the right choice, and this one adds little. The central problem is that, even allowing for dramatic license, Veronica's voice, while ideal for the conceit of first person prose, is impossible to credit as a spontaneous account in actual spoken words. The writer's fears and uncertainties about his own young son do provide a thematic counterpoint to the story of Roger and Ted, but there are less involved ways to achieve a similar effect.

The frame story also undercuts the momentum of Veronica's tale, in a way that demonstrates just how overloaded House of Windows is. In the first 13 pages (which owing to narrow margins and long paragraphs, is a more substantial chunk of text than you might imagine), the writer offers a concise precis of Roger and Veronica's history: Roger's unhappy marriage, his affair with Veronica, Ted's death and Roger's disappearance from public life. Then, when Veronica starts talking, she reiterates this material, at greater length but without greater interest; it is just what you might think an intellectually-charged affair between a young grad student and a sixtyish professor might be, exactly how an estranged's father's grief would play out. It takes another 50 pages, by which point the novel has run over 30,000 words, for the story proper to begin. I hope it goes without saying that I don't object to slow-building horror novels, but this one doesn't build at all; it idles.

Even some of the novel's better supernatural sequences feel slightly surplus to requirements. At one point, trying to escape the atmosphere of Belvedere House, Roger and Veronica take a trip to Cape Cod, which proves disastrous, as the horror follows them. What Veronica sees on Martha's Vineyard is the first scene that feels more substantive than suggestive, but it's also metaphysically rather random, and the (beautifully evoked) menacing side of the Vineyard is detached from the mode and setting of the rest of the novel, more like a separate short story on similar themes. As in any haunted house novel, the house itself has a shadowed history, involving two famous abstract artists, one of whom had unusual and suggestive theories about the power of place. What there is of this backstory is quite effective, but it's so scanty compared to the main tale of Roger, Veronica, and Ted that it fades into the background, and its significance to the ultimate resolution is minimal.

That resolution, in which a nightmare journey through the rooms of the house captures the pain, emotional and physical, of the cycle of familial violence and cruelty is quite intense, communicating emotional force earlier passages lacked. Also moving are the details of Roger's coping mechanism after Ted's death, a mixture of academic research and ill-defined spiritual reasoning, which is a realistic variation on recognized grieving processes, and fits the book's general atmosphere quite well. These portions of the novel, and a few scenes in which Roger displays a lighter side that play against his stereotype, remind the frustrated reader that Langan is a gifted writer of laudable ambition. While he may not have yet mastered the novel form, House of Windows is a smoothly-written novel that promises great things to come.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Nearly Great June 10 2014
By J. Drayton - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase

I've given this four stars because I want you to read it. So much of it is really first class: a strong, original central theme, very well-drawn and surprisingly sympathetic characters and a style that manages that difficult trick: Literate Page-Turner.

It's not perfect. As others have noted, it's too long and it really would have been better for some fairly severe cuts. At, say, 150 pages, this would be a stunning achievement. At 260 it's bloated and tends to drag at times when it really shouldn't. Some scenes that are clearly meant to chill tend to fall a bit flat and the climactic scene, which is a bit out of kilter tone-wise from the rest of the book, is allowed to outstay its welcome.

Two things in particular stand out: the ending, which is sort of lovely and very hopeful (the very end, I mean) and an early scene about whale watching and fathers. Beautifully written, that one.

I think John Langan's short fiction is more successful than this, but for those of us who like intelligent horror fiction this flawed novel is a gem to be relished.
A Haunted House March 17 2013
By S. P. Miskowski - Published on
Format: Paperback
English professor and well-known Dickens scholar Roger Croydon has disappeared. The tale his wife Veronica offers to a young horror writer, over late-night glasses of wine at the home of an acquaintance, is intended to describe if not explain the circumstances of that disappearance. In fact, no final explanation may be possible. The answers lie in the complex geometric structure of the house occupied by the Croydons, and in the harsh words spoken by Roger to his only son, Ted, just prior to Ted's deployment to Afghanistan.

House of Windows is a remarkably engaging synthesis of Dickensian themes, classic tales of terror such as "The Monkey's Paw" and the stories of Shirley Jackson and M.R. James. To the author's credit the novel does not read like a scholarly work but a believable exploration of human weakness and parental grief. In the best horror tradition, John Langan creates a plausible landscape with recognizable characters to convince us of the possibility of the supernatural in every day life.

Roger's marriage to Veronica (one of his former graduate students) is the final straw in a lifelong conflict between Roger and his son. When that conflict erupts into physical violence the two men part company, but not before Roger delivers a farewell speech which Veronica, in its aftermath, comes to see as a curse. Roger refuses to admit the nature of his final words to Ted, and begins to assemble a strange map intended to account for all conditions in the known world at the exact moment of Ted's demise. Descending into this geometrical and astronomical endeavor, Roger is unaware of the forces his efforts are unleashing upon his home and his wife.

Langan is never overly explicit in his depiction of Roger and Veronica as they construct their private nightmare. He doesn't explain what happens. Instead he allows a character that is significantly flawed and morally ambiguous to guide us through the last days of an increasingly unhappy life. Like Eleanor in Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House, Veronica is not intended to elicit the reader's sympathy. Rather she reveals what she knows of events that have left her damaged beyond repair, and her knowledge is obviously limited. We catch glimpses of the emerging horror in her marriage, and we are meant to put together the pieces of this disturbing jigsaw. The scary scenes are that much sharper and unsettling because our imagination keeps filling in the gaps.

John Langan's previous published work includes the collection Mr. Gaunt and Other Uneasy Encounters. He seems to be mining the territory shared by Joe Hill and Peter Straub-the meticulously described real world occasionally losing focus to reveal something quite horrible just beneath the surface. It might not be real. It might be an illusion or a psychological state, but it chills us nevertheless. Perhaps it would not be so frightening, if it did not follow our protagonist's movements with such merciless precision.

(Note: I received a review copy from Night Shade Books when the novel was first released.)