Tuesday, September 8, 2020

The Mist In The Mirror by Susan Hill

I picked up a copy of this on a whim at a library sale in Raleigh a year or so ago, and I’m glad I did. I had never heard of Susan Hill before, though she’d been publishing books in the UK since the 1970s. I would read more of her books.

The Mist in the Mirror is a Victorian era gothic horror/weird tale. An aging man publishes a manuscript given to him when he was young by Sir James Monmouth. Monmouth was himself old at the time and was writing about his experiences in middle age. He was an Englishman who had been raised in Africa by a guardian. Upon that guardian’s death he took a colonial tour and spent years in various Asian and African countries. Monmouth was very much in the colonialist mindset, but that is not a theme that is explored deeply in the novel, unless I completely missed something in the subtext; a real possibility. Throughout his journeys he kept coming across traces of the presence of a colonial explorer named Conrad Vane.

The novel opens, inside the framing device, as Monmouth returns to England intent on a scholarly life, beginning with a biography of Vane. He checks into a low end boarding house and eerie things start happening. As he follows what leads he has about Vane’s life, he meets with a great deal of resistance and senses that there is some dark history around his subject. Soon he begins to find a dark history around his family as well.

While the themes of seeking out forbidden knowledge and finding out too much for one’s sanity may make this seem like a Lovecraftian work, it is not. It is gothic in mood. And mood is the key to what makes the book work. The resolution is just ambiguous enough, and the titular mist is never explained, but the book creates an eerie atmosphere that was quite enjoyable.


Owned But Previously Unread 2020 67/75

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