So. This book. It’s supposed to be Gothic, and it is written in the Gothic style, but it isn’t the least bit suspenseful or spooky. It starts out promisingly enough (if you don’t mind tales told in the present tense by overly dramatic omniscient narrators—which I do mind but will overlook for a good story, but ugh, getting ahead of myself), introducing Helen and Karel and Thea, three broken friends dealing with various issues. Helen is punishing herself for some past transgression and has been denying herself pleasure of all sorts for two decades. Karel and Thea are dealing with the fallout of Thea’s stroke, which has drastically altered the shape of their life together. So far so good, right? Interesting people with interesting problems. All the makings for a decent literary novel.
Then in came Melmoth, the legend they all obsess over to some degree, and that’s when the wheels fell off and the train crashed and my enjoyment died in flames. Screaming. (Now who’s being overly dramatic, eh?)
The story of Helen, Karel, and Thea is interrupted every so often by other stories, letters and diaries and memoirs that all relate testimonies of or encounters with Melmoth the Witness. I don’t know if it was the abrupt tonal shifts, or the odd mixing of narrative styles, or an inability to connect with or care about the little vignettes of tragedy being thrown at me, or a combination of all of the above, but these were the dullest, dreariest parts of the book. I probably would have stopped at the second one (about 75 pages in), but I was actually invested in Thea, at least, and I wanted to see where her story would go. So I did a lot of speed reading, which I haven’t done in over a decade because the fibro fog pretty much guarantees that I’ll retain zero vital info that way, but I couldn’t be arsed giving this my full attention and I don’t care if I can’t remember it later this afternoon.
TL; DR, the title character ruins what could have been a perfectly good book about much more interesting characters. Alas.
I read this for the Halloween Bingo 2018 Free square.
The back blurb said two people died and someone Rachel loved killed them.
The truth was that I didn't care who died and I didn't care who killed them. All the characters were despicable -- except Mrs Willie the housekeeper and George the dog.
Only the buddy read kept this from being a DNF.
Only the tightness of the plot kept this from being a 1-star, and only Howatch's writing kept it from being a half-star.
Brief overview, with maybe a spoiler.
Rachel Lord -- I kept forgetting her last name -- receives a cryptic invitation to her friend Decima's coming-of-age party in Scotland. The two friends have been out of touch for about two years, since Decima's wedding to a renowned scholar, Charles Mannering. Anyway I think that's his last name. I know it wasn't Middleton, because Charles Middleton was Ming the Merciless.
Rachel arrives at Roshven, Decima's ancestral estate, on Thursday. Decima turns 21 at midnight Saturday. So the whole thing takes place in something like a little over 48 hours.
In addition to Decima, Charles, and Rachel, there are three other guests: Charles's cousin and Rachel's lifelong friend Rohan Quist, Charles's former student at Oxford Daniel Carey, and Daniel's sister Rebecca.
Everyone spends the next two days confiding in Rachel that they are either having/not having an affair with Decima or Charles, that they are afraid of being killed by Decima/Charles/Rebecca/Daniel/Rohan, that they know Rebecca/Daniel/Rohan is having an affair with Decima or Charles . . . or maybe both.
All in all, they were a tiresome, desperate, despicable lot. And Rachel was just a doormat for listening to them and not telling them all to go jump in the Cluny Sands and get sucked to perdition.
The threats/fears of murder hinge on Decima's inheritance. According to her father's will, if she lives to midnight Saturday, she inherits the estate and its fortune; if she dies beforehand, it all goes to Charles. If she dies after midnight, but without children, it goes to Charles. She, however, has made her own will, which will be effective only if she survives to midnight.
Well, of course, she doesn't. Someone kills her, but that someone had already killed Charles. So that lets Charles off the hook for her murder. We can assume Rachel didn't do it, since she's the more or less "heroine" of the story. That leaves the Carey siblings with their really unhealthy relationship, or Rohan.
And here's where Howatch's plot becomes sort of interesting, a kind of reward for the reader's having plowed through the awful mess thus far: Daniel Carey arranges Charles's body to make it look as though the professor committed suicide after killing Decima. Daniel persuades Rachel to go along with him in presenting this scenario to the police. The impression given is that Daniel is protecting his sister, whom he believes committed the murders.
I told you their relationship was unhealthy.
More unhealthy, however, is Rachel's relationship with Daniel.
She has fallen in love with him, even though he's really a disgusting person. Was he having an affair with Decima or not? Was he plotting to kill her or not? Was he plotting to kill Charles or not? (We won't even get into whether he was boinking his sister or not.) Rachel has fallen in love with this jerk after knowing him two days and despite seeing how eager he is to cover up a murder, which he himself may have committed!
At that point, after the murders are "investigated" by the police and the conclusion of murder/suicide is accepted, Rachel goes back to London and eventually ends up in New York. I'm not sure why the whole New York thing is thrown in, but it is. She still pines for Daniel, even though she still thinks he and/or Rebecca murdered both Charles and Decima. Daniel, who had been a very ambitious academic, gives up his career to teach in Africa. I'm not sure what Rebecca did and I don't care.
Five years after the murder, a kind of reunion is arranged, to take place at the now abandoned estate of Roshven. While sneaking into the actual house with her lifelong buddy Rohan, Rachel suddenly remembers a tiny clue about the night of the murder and realizes neither Rebecca nor Daniel could be the killer. Therefore, the killer had to be Rohan.
Climactic scene on the beach, and the quicksand delivers justice.
And Daniel covers up the truth again!
There were elements of DuMaurier's Rebecca in this, or at least according to Rohan there were. We'll never know for sure. The only person who knows the whole truth is dead, and everyone else is covering up.
I think that's what I disliked most about the whole romantic resolution: Daniel was too eager to tell lies under far too many different circumstances. First it was just nastiness, then it was to protect his sister whom he thought was guilty of a double murder, then it was to make someone feel less horrible about the death of their child. So some of his motives for lying were maybe good, but he still seemed too willing to avoid the truth. I wouldn't trust him as a husband.
Although Howatch's writing was on the whole professional and evocative, I disliked her frequent use of long monologues to reveal backstory. There are ways to break those up with some description and action and reaction. They come across as contrived and insincere on the part of the writer.
All in all, a poor experience, but a learning one. And the Harry Bennett cover was probably worth it!
Because of the limited cast of characters and the remote setting, I'm using this for the Cozy Mystery square, whether anyone likes it or not. ;-)
This has some mild spoilers, so read at your peril. I doubt that many people will end up reading this book, though, so I figured why not?
I had a unique perspective on this book - it was a book that made an indelible impression on me when I was around 12 years old. I had found it on my mom's bookshelves, she was a fan of these old-fashioned gothic romances, or maybe at the used book store, and I remember staying up late one night and reading it. The climactic scene on the Cluny Sands etched itself on my memory quite deeply.
I didn't remember the name of the book, or the author, or even a single character name (how could I forget Decima or Rohan?), but I remembered the sense of brooding suspense and the horror of being trapped in quicksand. I actually looked for this book for several years before stumbling on The Waiting Sands in one of my random searches. I initially thought that it was probably The Shivering Sands, but reading it ruled it out for me. If I had reviewed this when I was 12, I would've given it a breathless, terrified five stars.
But, as the expression goes, you can't read the same book twice. I'm not 12 anymore, drawn to unhealthy, and emotionally abusive, relationships. Things that I skipped right over when I was a girl were unable to ignore as a woman. I'm still giving it three stars, mostly for nostalgia's sake and because the writing was quite good and that climactic scene in the quicksand was still pretty intense.
The romance, though, was just a total no go for me. I was astonished when I read Rachel's self-confession of undying love for Daniel after knowing him for all of perhaps 36 hours, both because she barely knew him and because he'd been a monumental asswagon to her. And then her decision to, in essence, pledge herself to eternal celibacy because some guy that she thought was hot for about two days, who was all mixed up in a murder and whom she actually believed WAS the MURDERER, was no longer available to her made me snort aloud.
I've known a fair few murderers, guys. None of them are worth three minutes of celibacy, much less a lifetimes worth.
All of the characters were basically vile. Howatch tries to redeem Daniel, and at least partially succeeds, but it's a bit too little too late for my taste. Rachel is a wet mop.
This is a test: You find yourself on the edge of quicksand with someone you believe to a be a murderer. You are in a completely isolated spot and there is no one else for miles. He has fallen asleep and you are able to grab the gun. Do you:
a. Scamper away and dump the bullets into the quick sand and then pretend you were asleep, too or
b. Hold the motherfucker at gunpoint until you can get back to the boat and escape
If your answer is a, you might be the heroine of a gothic romance. Because heaven forfend that you might try to save your ownself.
It was fun to reconnect with that moronic tween who used to think that guys like Daniel were romantic. I'm really glad I grew the hell up before I picked a spouse.