Friday, 4 May 2001

James Stoddard: The False House (1998)

Edition: Earthlight, 1999 (Buy from Amazon)
Review number: 814

In many ways The False House is a worthy sequel to Stoddard's excellent debut The High House. It does fail in some ways, leaving the earlier novel as the more effective.

Even though their leader, the Bobby, has been destroyed, the Society of Anarchists has just gone into hiding. They still intend to take over the House of Evenmere to re-mould it as they desire. Carter Anderson, now come into his inheritance as Master of the House, maintains his vigilance but not for some years does he connect the disappearance of his wife's foster sister with an Anarchist resurgence. This is manifested in gradual transformations of the structure and inhabitants of Evenmere, and Carter eventually learns that only by the release of Lizbeth can these changes be reversed.

The major fault which mars The False House seems to be indecision as to who the central character should be. In the end, Stoddard has clearly opted for Carter, who is probably easier to base the story around as this makes it possible to portray something of the special relationship he has with the house. However, there are several points where it looks as though the original intention was to use Carter's younger brother Duskin, who as a seventeen year old had dazzled Lizbeth, then aged twelve, before her kidnapping, and who had been the central figure in her thoughts helping her through her years of captivity. His transformation from heedless young man, interested only in monster hunting, to responsible adult would also form a good basis for character development at the centre of the story, while Carter is left virtually unchanged by the adventures. So, we are given a few chapters at the beginning in which it looks as though Duskin is being set up as central character (the account of his first meeting with Lizbeth), and a few chapters at the end in which his intervention is important; while in between he is hardly even mentioned.

The background of the house that mirrors the universe is as atmospheric as in the first novel, with rather more specifically Christian imagery this time. An interesting detail is that the anarchists allow Lizbeth just one book to read in the years of her captivity; they give her Wuthering Heights to teach her despair. It certainly helps to have read that novel to understand parts of this one - almost everything Lizbeth says is a quotation; if I had read it more recently, I might have recognised the context of more of the quotations and I would have got more out of this story.

The False House is good, but could be better; other than the poor treatment of Duskin it is an interesting novel.

No comments: