Wednesday, 26 January 2000

James Stoddard: High House (1998)

Edition: Simon & Schuster, 1998
Review number: 428

Were it not for the prior existence of Peake's Gormenghast trilogy and Crowley's Little, Big, High House would certainly seem far more original than it actually does. Like these novels, its focal point is a huge house which has a strange magical atmosphere. (The Gormenghast novels are far more dark than either of these others.) Like Gormenghast, the High House is full of strange people and places; in High House, these are often allusive.

The High House comes under attack from the Anarchists, who seek to harness its power. When the young child Carter, son of the Master of the House, is tricked into losing the keys - by which the doors which should remain locked are kept locked, and vice versa - he is sent away, to grow up in the normal world in which we live. This is as much for his own protection as for any other reason, but when his father disappears some years later he has to return to search without much knowledge of the house and its customs.

As as the House itself being huge, it groups together a large number of countries which are mostly allied with the Master against forces seeking to disturb the House and through it the entire universe, with which it is mysteriously connected. As well as the dinosaur in the attic and the Room of Horrors which terrifies Carter as a child, these countries are inventive little pieces of fantasy. There are subtle allusions to famous classics of the genre, such as the Narnia series.

To say that High House is like the Gormenghast trilogy is to praise it rather than to put it down; I suspect that, like Peake's work, its riches will be revealed again each time it is re-read.

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