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November 3, 2006

The House Next Door



The House Next Door by Anne Rivers Siddons

Contemporary Fiction
Finished on 10/24/06
Rating: A (9/10 Terrific!)




The year was 1983 and I was in the second trimester of my pregnancy. My husband had left for work and I was still in bed, in that misty, murky area halfway between wakefulness and sleep.

But I wasn’t asleep. I truly believe this.

As I lay in bed, I heard the front door open and someone walk inside. I thought it was my husband returning for some forgotten item. I was surprised to hear the bedroom door open and the sound of light footsteps on the carpet, softly walking toward my side of the bed. For some reason, I knew this was not my husband. But who could it be? And what did they want? And how in the hell did they get in my house?! I felt my pulse quicken and it was all I could do to remain still, feigning sleep, hoping and praying that whomever was at the side of my bed would have a change of heart and leave me unharmed.

My prayers were answered. I heard the soft tread of feet leave the side of my bed and walk toward the door. Soft footsteps fell on the hallway floor and the front door opened once and gently closed. My heart was in my throat, racing as if I’d run a marathon. I leapt from the bed, stealthfully creeping down the hallway toward the front door.

Nobody was there. There was nobody in the yard and no cars in the driveway. Everything was still and silent. We lived in the country and I knew if someone had been quick enough to leave without my notice, I’d at least see the trail of dust on the dirt road. But the air was calm, and there were no signs of any travelers having been down the long gravel road. When I glanced down at the door, I noticed the lock was still engaged.

Who ever had entered had not unlocked the door!

I know what I heard and no, I am not crazy. It’s completely inexplicable yet I believe with all my being that it truly happened and that I wasn’t dreaming.

Do I believe in ghosts and haunted houses? I don’t know. I do know that anything is possible and for whatever reason, something or someone visited me that day in my home and it scared the crap out of me!

So why would I read a novel centered around a haunted house? Curiosity, I suppose.

I’ve read a few of Anne Rivers Siddons’ books (Colony is my favorite so far) and since I was still in the mood for a creepy read after du Maurier’s Don’t Look Now, I grabbed The House Next Door off my shelf and dove in. Quite a departure from her usual “women’s fiction,” this gothic tale had me spellbound. I read for several days solid, stopping only in the early evening hours, since I’d already experienced a disturbing nightmare after reading late the first night. I love Siddons’ descriptive style and fell easily into the narrative, eager to read at every free moment.

What is it about a house with an evil force that causes the hairs to stand on end on the back of one’s neck? The Amityville Horror had the same effect on me. So did The Shining. Shudder. I just went to the official site for the Amityville Horror to double-check the spelling and couldn’t keep the page open for more than a second as it had a picture of THAT house! Creepy! Just like The Shining, I read The Amityville Horror in broad daylight on the beach, surrounded by chattering tourists reeking of Bain de Soleil and coconut oil. I couldn't even watch the movie, and walked out before it was halfway over. I was terrified! So why in the world would I read a book about a haunted house?? (Yes, Heidi, I know our next door neighbors' house looks just like the one in the movie. Thank you very much!)

Curiosity, I guess.

Good thing I’m not a cat.

From Amazon:

Anne Rivers Siddons is a writer of literary fiction whose one foray into the horror genre is this remarkable 1978 novel, The House Next Door. The setting is a wealthy suburb in Atlanta where an ambitious young architect is building a dramatically contemporary house. The novel uses a frame device to put three short stories under a single cover: as each of three families moves into the house in succession, we watch the bad things that happen to them and eventually force them to leave. But the frame itself--the observations of an urbane and sophisticated couple who live next door and become close friends with the architect--is the most deeply involving story in the book.

Stephen King was so impressed by The House Next Door that when he wrote Danse Macabre, his personal tour of the horror genre, he sought out Siddons for an interview. She told him, "The haunted house has always spoken specially and directly to me as the emblem of particular horror. Maybe it's because, to a woman, her house is so much more than that: it is kingdom, responsibility, comfort, total world to her.... It is an extension of ourselves; it tolls in answer to one of the most basic chords mankind will ever hear.... So basic is it that the desecration of it, the corruption, as it were, by something alien takes on a peculiar and bone-deep horror and disgust."

Siddons was also fascinated by how the supernatural has the power to disturb the complacent rich and their comfortable little world: "What has the unspeakable and the unbelievable got to do with second homes and tax shelters and private schools for the kids and a pâté in every terrine and a BMW in every garage? Primitive man might howl before his returning dead and point; his neighbor would see, and howl along with him.... The resident of Fox Run Chase who meets a ghoulie out by the hot tub is going to be frozen dead in his or her Nikes on the tennis courts the next day if he or she persists in gabbling about it. And there he is, alone with the horror and ostracized on all sides. It's a double turn of the screw."

Reading Group Guide from Bookreporter.com

13 comments:

  1. Anonymous6:38 PM

    I got this last week at our book sale, and now can hardly wait to read it!
    Mom

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  2. I am a fan of Anne Rivers Siddons (Islands being my favorite, but that was probably because I was vacationing in Martha's Vineyard while reading aboout MV). I will have to check out this book. Oh, and The Shining scare me too!

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  3. Great review, but I think too scary for me. I am not one for "haunted houses". I think I'll pass on this one. :)

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  4. One of my last posts was on how I love to be scared. I have not read anything by this writer, but will be adding this to my TBR list and I want to get to it SOON!

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  5. I totally love Anne Rivers Siddons. Every single book of hers that I've read has captivated me as you described. Colony was the first, and my favorite as well, but I still was caught up in Salt Water Creek and Up Island which are newer I think. I'll have to pick up The House Next Door because I've never read that one. Thanks for telling me!

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  6. Sounds good and scary. I'm adding it to my list along with Colony. Thanks, Les.

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  7. Anonymous1:52 PM

    I listened to this on on tape a couple of years ago. Loved it! Seriously creepy stuff.

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  8. I know we talked about this one recently, right? Was it you that started the conversation or did someone else mention this book? Argh!

    I ordered a copy from Paperback Swap but had to cancel. I've found that if someone hasn't even printed the wrapper after a week, the books tend to be in murkier condition - maybe there's some connection between feeling compelled to urgently wrap and send a book with the need to keep them in perfect condition (which I'm afflicted with). Maybe it's for the best, as it sounds just a wee bit too scary for me!!

    Love your ghost story. I had a ghostly visit in England, which my husband still laughs about. :)

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  9. another book added to my TBR list..

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  10. Mom, I'll bet you enjoy it. She's such a good writer.

    Stephanie, I've read Islands, too, but didn't love it. It was good, but not nearly as good as Colony (and much better than Sweetwater Creek, imho).

    Joy, it's not as scary as The Shining or Amityville Horror, but it still gave me the creeps. I don't blame you for passing on it. ;)

    Sheri, hope you're sufficiently spooked! As I told Joy, there are other books out that are much scarier, but this one did creep me out a bit.

    Bellezza, it's happened again! Colony was the first of Siddons' books I read and my favorite thus far. We really are kindred spirits, aren't we?

    Booklogged, Colony and The House Next Door are so different from each other, but I think you'll enjoy both.

    SuziQ, I'll bet it was a great audio book. I'm not sure I could handle listening to it though. Might be too creepy!

    Nancy, yep, I think it was me that mentioned it somewhere recently. Probably on your blog. Don't ask me when, though! At least your hubby laughs about your ghost visit. Mine thinks I was just dreaming. I'm 99.999% positive I wasn't! BTW, I've been reading your blog but not posting so you can spend more time writing your novel and not answering posts! Just wanted you to know I'm not ignoring you. :)

    Enjoy, Angela!

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  11. Wow! I just came here from Kay's link. Scary, scary! I believe in all that stuff but am really glad my house doesn't seem to be haunted. It's a fascinating subject. Have you read the two books by Karen White: The House on Tradd Street and The Girl on Legare Street? I wrote about the first one, and have the second on my shelf.

    http://lettersfromahillfarm.blogspot.
    com/2009/02/house-on-tradd-
    street-by-karen-white.html

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  12. Hi Les,
    I too came to this review via Kay's link and now after reading both of your takes on this book I MUST read it. I will make sure that I read it during the daylight only and never when my hubby is working nights!!!

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  13. Nan - No, I haven't read either of those books. The first sounds very good, though. (I just read your review and left a comment. Thanks!)

    Staci - It's really creepy! But very good, too. Hope you enjoy it. :)

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