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Hiding from the Light (2003) by Barbara Erskine
#1
This book is not a Gothic romance, but it is a Gothic novel. Barbara Erskine is usually an excellent Gothic romance writer who writes about past lives and ghosts. But this book was really quite a mess. She needed a good editor. Desperately.

This book is a tome at 736 pages. And it had me up to about page 400 or so, until I realized that there were too many characters and too many "talking" scenes that were simply duplicating each other. How many times do people need to get together to talk about "something being wrong."

The story is basically the following (off the book jacket.)

Across the peninsular the mist rolled in, its icy fingers curling up the cliffs. Inside their houses people stirred in their sleep and children cried in the dark. The parish of Manningtree and Mistley has a dark history. In 1644, with England in the grip of a Puritan government, Matthew Hopkins, Cromwell's Witchfinder General, tortured scores of women there, including Liza, the herbalist, whose cottage still stands in Mistley, and Sarah Paxman, the daughter of the manor. And today the spirits of Hopkins and his victims haunt the old shop in the High Street, they say. Emma Dickson has given up her high-flying career to live in Liza's cottage, but now she is being driven half-mad by visions of the past; of Sarah's battle to save herself and Liza from the Witchfinder. In despair, Emma turns to the local rector for help, but he, too, is in the grip of something inexplicable - something which threatens Emma. And, as the feast of Halloween approaches, Emma is caught up in a struggle that has been raging for centuries, as old enemies reach out across the years for their revenge. Can she stop the forces unleashed from the past wreaking their devastation in the present?

There are some really disturbing scenes in this book. Matthew Hopkins and his allies were real. What they did to their victims was real and horrific. Erskine does an amazing job of recreating the horror of these scenes. Sometimes fictional horror takes a back seat to what actually happens in real life.

But Erskine loses her way. The book goes on and on. There is no romance. The suspense wears out about halfway through and the scenes becoming grinding. Then it turns into bad 70s horror in which everything you thought turns out to be wrong. But not in a good way. In a really lame "huh?" way. And I really don't understand Erskine's political or religious motivations in her decisions. (I'll leave that to you to decide should you ever read it.)

So, I give it a C-. Such potential, but what a headshaking waste of time.
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#2
Hi Desdemona,
I was a big fan of Barbara Erskine for years. I vaguely remember reading this one and didn't mind it so much. For me the book that should never have been allowed to print was Kingdom of Shadows. It was basically Lady of Hay rewritten with new added boring bits.
You're right about the need for a slash and burn edit. I don't care how big an author's name or what their sales are like, they all need an objective eye to rub out the unneccessary detail.
So many popular author's later works read as if they're phoning it in and insisting that every word that drops from their fingers is a polished gem that cannot be left out. They did their research and the readers are going to learn every little thing they found out. The result is good writers are putting out mediocre work. Work that could have been great if they'd cut out the dross.
You've hit on one of my pet hates here. Can you tell?
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#3
Bingo! Randomcaps! I can't really speak for writers in the seventies and before because I was far too young to appreciate the difference between good writing and an entertaining story. I hate to say it but over the past ten years when I re-read books by Barbara Michaels I am somewhat surprised at their overall lack of quality writing. I remember the stories quite fondly, but most of them, even the entertaining ones, seemed to be hack work.

As I reach middle age and read some of the fun old gothics, I do my best to keep in mind that the majority of them were the equivalent of today's series romance: formulaic and low paying. In order to make a buck, one had to really crank them out, which is why we might be led to believe that someone like Marilyn Ross was a "good" writer because we see his name everywhere. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Further along on the gothic branch, I became intrigued with the success of Anne Rice and have picked up books of hers over the years. The Vampires and Witches series were of some interest to me, but I was so overwhelmed by her florid prose that I had trouble identifying any real plot line in her books. I must say both series plummeted in quality over the years. I recently learned through a writer's forum that Anne Rice alleges to have not allowed editing of her books for many years now. She used the analogy that great Opera singers do not have their work co-opted by other individuals. Nothing is farther from the truth. All the great singers continue to work with trainers and coaches throughout their careers. Perhaps if Ms. Rice permitted creative input from editors, she might truly have become the genius that she aspires to be.

Why should we pay eight dollars for a paperback that is of inferior quality? This year, as a form of personal protest against bad writing, I have begun to return books to bookstores for credit or refund, and if asked the reason, I state "sub-standard writing quality." (Heaven help me if I ever get published!)

So, you are not alone with that pet peeve!

sign me,

a very choosy reader!
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#4
Back in the seventies I used to read a lot of what my grandmother called 'penny dreadfuls'. They were the horror equivilant of a category romance today. Sure they were formulaic but there were some real gems in there if you dug for them. One of the reasons I am reluctant to reread favourite works from childhood/teenage years is the fear that they won't stand up to my memories of them.
These days I occasionally read horror classics like Henry James or Algernon Blackwood and I'm amazed at how substantially different the writing style is to today.
I tried to read Ann Rice and ploughed my way through Interview with a Vampire but to be honest it bored me silly and I never went back. Sounds like I made the right choice given her attitude.
As for Barbara Erskine, I really hope she pulls it together and returns to her usual great writing but I don't hold much hope. I still have a couple of books from her back catalogue I haven't read because I was so put off by Kingdom of Shadows. When I eventually do read them I'll post reviews. And for all her old fans there's still her short story collections.
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