If I had to sum up this book in one word, it would be “weird”, but when have I ever summed anything up in just one word? 😉
To start with I found Black House really difficult to get into because the narrative was constantly breaking the fourth wall – it put me off to the extent that I actually attempted to start reading it a couple of times after I bought it, before sticking with it this time around. Thankfully that “hey there, reader” narrative style lessens dramatically pretty quickly and you’re left to get on with the story.
I’ve read a fair few Stephen King stories before (two collections of short stories and four novels), so I’m getting to know both his style and the recurring themes in his novels. I’d consider myself a fan of his writing and so far I’d been enjoying noticing the subtle references to characters etc that appear elsewhere in his work. Black House was doing fine, it was a good dark, surreal murder mystery… and then suddenly – boom – it was time to throw in the themes.
Suddenly there was a great big rushed chunk of back story, that wasn’t just the usual slightly, unnervingly outside of reality stuff, but completely, jarringly different to what had been established up to that point. And the sudden mention of keywords like “gunslinger” actually made me tut out loud because it made me feel like I do when watching a favourite film on TV – happily immersed, and then suddenly there’s an ad break saying “hey did you notice this is a Stephen King book?” – yes thanks, I did, even without gunslingers and towers. It did recover from there, but that was a disappointment. I’ve only just discovered that Black House is actually a sequel to The Talisman, so maybe if I’d read that it would have felt more like a smooth reminder, but either way it felt like the wrong place for it.
Apart from those two parts though, Black House does flow along nicely, gathering momentum as it goes – by the end I couldn’t bear to put it down, and I stayed up late the last two nights to get to the end. Every character, no matter how minor, is given enough life and individuality to feel like a real person who you could plausibly meet. The really stand-out character is Henry Leyden, a straight-talking, eerily perceptive blind man, who is thoughtful and calm but also very eccentric. He’s one I’d definitely like to see glimpses of in a future book.
Has anyone has read both The Talisman and Black House? I’m still keen to read a lot more of King’s work but wish I’d known this one was a sequel! This was my first Peter Straub book, any recommendations of what to try next of his?