Clare McNally | Corgi Books | 1980 | 214 pages
Ghost House offers limited seasonal thrills, delivering some of the expected haunted house content promised by its generic title.
A mercifully brief prologue set in 1797 reveals the foundation of the future haunting, as Jacob Armond watches helplessly as the local townspeople burn his lover, Lydia, at the stake for adultery and witchcraft. However, it is the cuckolded husband and children of the victim that imprint the ghostly template of rage and revenge on future generations, rather than the usual descendants of the executioners.
Jump to the present, and the Van Buren family is moving from New York City into the cursed Armond mansion on Long Island, escaping an ugly domestic quarrel surrounding wife Melanie’s infidelity. Her husband, Gary, quickly receives a ghostly warning, a violently hissed threat that will directly inform the forthcoming supernatural events in the house:
Gary serves as a punching bag over the course of several chapters, being tripped, choked, and nearly beaten to death by the spectral manifestation trying to claim his wife. The couple’s three children—Gina, Kyle, and Nancy—also fall victim to violent attacks, including a scalding from a tea kettle. The children’s characters occasionally suffer from dialogue that distinctly sounds as if it were coming from adults trying to write lines for young children.
The affair backstory is mostly boring, functioning primarily to establish a corporeal suspect to some of the shenanigans inside the house, including vandalism from a purported intruder. When the uncanny events escalate into a series of individual fires set in the sleeping children’s bedrooms, a human culprit becomes ever more unlikely. The brazen attack also calls into question the inability of Ghost House to convincingly answer the old genre chestnut, “Why don’t they just leave?”
The attempted outsider warning is another genre staple represented here. Helen Jennings, the nosy old neighbor who has witnessed the plight of several other families moving into the haunted house, seals her fate when she tries to warn Melanie about the ghost, and his intentions toward her.
Another potential ally for the VanBuren family is Janice Lors, local librarian, who befriends Melanie during a moment of crisis. She allows for an amusing bit of nostalgia for a pre-internet time when the call for research on a haunted location is answered by the refrain, “To the library!”
Even with manifestations, direct assaults, and ultimately spiritual possession, Ghost House never really rises to a level of out-and-out horror. The most visceral shock of the entire book comes from the very last sentence. The jolt stems not from horror, but rather the groan-inducing realization of the intent for an unnecessary sequel, along with the eye-rolling revelation regarding the new ghost.