Haunted House Stories and Andrew Pyper’s The Guardians

Andrew Pyper The GuardiansFor as long as I can remember, haunted house stories have intrigued me. It is such a classic, simple set-up, really; yet there is so much room for exporation not only of the haunted house but of its inhabitants and their hidden inner rooms. Why, a psychoanalyst would probably even argue that the haunted house is the people living in it, their inner demons channelled through the menacing creaks and moans of the building and what have you. Now, I’m no psychoanalyst (sometimes a cigar is just a cigar) but like I just said, I happen to be a big fan of the haunted house genre, whether it is portrayed in cinema or in literature. Which is why I came to read Andrew Pyper’s new novel The Guardians.

Actually, that’s not one hundred percent accurate. There are three reasons for my picking up The Guardians and gulping it down in three tense reads – which, as any parent of small children will know, is as close as you can get to reading a book in one sitting. The first, arguably strongest, reason has to do with my obsession with haunted houses. The other two reasons are called The Lost Girls and The Killing Circle. I stumbled upon the former novel (Pyper’s much acclaimed debut from 2001) at a book sale half a decade ago and immediately found myself sucked into his atmospheric, engaging account of a coke-fuelled Toronto lawyer travelling to rural Ontario where nothing is as it may seem. After that, Andew Pyper somehow disappeared on my literary radar for a couple of years. It happens every once in a while, and I’m sure you can relate: You read a book. You like it. You make a mental note to read more by the same author. Then the phone rings, or your kid wakes up too early from his/her nap, or the laundry is ready. Your potential new literary BFF is immediately demoted to those black, murky waters of the very back of your mind. The good news is that, eventually, said potential new literary BFF comes floating back to the surface. It might take a while, but in my experience, the right books tend to come to the right readers. In this aspect, I’m very much a literary romantic. But I digress – but not really, since my point is that Andrew Pyper was unintentionally demoted to those dark, murky waters a few weeks after I read and enjoyed Lost Girls. Then, somehow, he got back on my radar last year, when I read The Killing Circle and was thrilled by how scary and gripping it was. I love how Pyper’s novels are part good old ghost stories, part dark urban tales of lost souls and crushed hopes. The Guardian is no exception. The protagonist, Trevor, has come a long way since he left the small town of Grimshaw decades ago – at least on the surface. When one of his childhood friends is found dead, he is forced to confront his memories of what made him leave Grimshaw in the first place. Once back in the town he swore never to revisit, Trevor meets up with the surviving members of his childhood circle of friends and soon discovers that the dark secret the four friends vowed to bury forever is resurfacing… and potentially risking lives in the process.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Guardians and have no doubt that other fans of literary suspense with a spooky touch will, too. Is The Guardians ultimately a ghost story, by the way? I don’t know, and therein lies part of the appeal. But if we let go of haunted houses and boogymen for a moment, let me say this: The Guardians is perhaps a stronger coming-of-age story and – sorry for going all Hollywood movie trailer guy on you – depiction of one man’s struggle with illness (yep, there is that, too, although I’ll let you discover what illness and how it affects the story for yourselves), identity and the things he left behind. Pyper's characters are exquisitely portayed in all their flaws and imperfections and I am particularly moved by his portrayal of Trevor who, like his predecessors in The Lost Girls and The Killing Circle, are anything but perfect (such a drag, perfection!) and therefore deeply relatable. Stephen King fans will be pleased to know that there are certain echoes of early King (think It and Stand By Me) resonating throughout the story. Yet another reason to check out The Guardians!

In the mood for more haunted house stories? My top 5 of the month delves deeper into the haunted house novel, past and present. Lovely chills coming right up!

HELENA'S TOP 5 OF THE MONTH: HAUNTED HOUSE STORIES

The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe

1. The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe 

A must-read for any horror aficionado. Poe's story is just as compelling - and plain scary - a good 170 years after its creation.

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

2. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson 

"No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality." So begins Jackson's 1959 novel, by many considered as THE haunted house novel. It has been a while since I read The Haunting of Hill House, but if my memory serves me right, "many" are not far off the mark.

The House Next Door by Anne Rivers Siddons

3. The House Next Door by Anne Rivers Siddons 

Rivers Siddons is most known for her romantically tinged Southern novels, but this one excursion into the horror genre is easily the best thing she has ever written if you ask me. Here, she offers an interesting take on the haunted house tale: the house in her novel is brand new and set in a seemingly idyllic Southern suburb. I'm all for old dilapidated Georgian mansions in remote villages, but was pleasantly surprised by just how well sheer horror and afternoon cocktails on front porches go together. Stephen King - again with the King! - has called The House Next Door one of the finest horror novel of the 20th century. I might not go that far, but rest assured that Rivers Siddons' novel is well worth seeking out if you're in the mood for a slightly different haunted house story. I sometimes pray that Anne Rivers Siddons will tire of the grand old Atlanta families and Southern belles and write a new horror novel. It hasn't happened yet, but I'll keep my fingers crossed just in case.

The Haunting of James Hastings by Christopher Ransom

4. The Haunting of James Hastings by Christopher Ransom 

As the title suggests, the true hauntee (yes, that officially just became a word) of this novel is a person. However, I found his shabby yet once grand house in a slightly seedy LA neighbourhood so intriguing that I began fantasizing about living there myself. Then things got a bit too scary and I decided that I'm fine where I am, thank you. The Haunting of James Hastings was a fun, genuinely scary read, reminiscent of horror movies rather than horror novels. I mean that in a good way... I think.

Hell House by Richard Matheson

5. Hell House by Richard Matheson
Finally, a recommendation not only for anyone who might be reading this but for myself. I haven't read anything other by Matheson than the brilliant I am Legend, but Hell House keeps popping up in discussions with other horror fans and I want to see what I've been missing. In other words, Hell House, here I come (if I dare)!

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