The September House by Carissa Orlando (book review).

The house had been an incredible deal. A large, old Victorian with a wraparound porch and beautiful hardwood floors. Margaret and Hal fell in love with it immediately. Their first real home, it seemed, in decades. Life was wonderful, until they discovered the hauntings. Ghosts of the former inhabitants, all murdered horribly, appear and some to bite. Especially in September. In September, the walls bleed until it drips thickly down the main staircase and the nightly moaning becomes a screaming. Hal can’t take it. After four years of denial, then anger, he finally just leaves. Margaret is made of stronger stuff. She follows the rules. She can live with the strange phenomena because it is her house.

Now Margaret’s daughter is coming to find out why her father isn’t answering her calls and September is just beginning.

This book has trigger warnings for domestic abuse and alcoholism. Part way into ‘The September House’, I thought it was like ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ by Charlotte Perkins Gilman where the protagonist is slowly revealed to be trapped and driven to insanity by her husband. Orlando does perhaps flirt with keeping the violence in Hal and Margaret’s marriage unspoken but not for long. The crumbling wallpaper in that short story symbolises the breakdown of the structure and stability of traditional marriage. The house in ‘The September House’ is not crumbling apart. Instead, it is held together by Margaret’s clenched teeth determination to survive and be normal. The ghosts and supernatural horrors are just other hazards she needs to accommodate and follow the rules to avoid problems. Margaret bends, she perseveres. She carries on.

A haunted house story but not a horror exactly. How many things you can survive because you know the rules and what things you just have to endure? The power that can be brought to bear by those that have been victims if they just have the courage and opportunity to claim it.

This story is more a family drama survival story rather than a horror, in spite of the horror tropes everywhere you turn. I didn’t need to read in the sunshine or even with extra lights on. I didn’t need to put it in another room for a bit. It isn’t scary. The horror tropes are not there for the jump scare. They are there as literary devices and witnesses to the long cycle of abuse.

Yet it is a very readable book even with the obvious imagery and symbols. Orlando gives the prose a warmth that goes well with the motherly Margaret and it is a very accessible way to get one thinking about difficult subjects.

LK Richardson

September 2023

(pub: Berkley/Penguin, 2023. 336 page hardback. Price: $27.00 (US), £24.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-59354-861-5)

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