The Dead House by Billy O'Callaghan is rather spooky ghost story that has its roots in the Irish potato famine. When Maggie, an English artist, seeks sanctuary after a brutal attack, she discovers a place in Ireland that seems made to order. A ramshackle cottage that needs a complete overhaul in a setting that speaks to every fiber of her artistic center...and perhaps, to something else.
You can read the description elsewhere, but the main characters are Mike, an art dealer in London; Maggie, an artist; and Alison, who has a gallery in Ireland. The three are tied together through friendship, and in the case of Mike and Ali, something developing into love.
The frame of the novel is similar to that of Henry James' Turn of the Screw and the book seems to be heavily influenced by James' work--in both content and style.
The pervasive sense of the sinister which James achieved is lacking, however, because O'Callaghan breaks it up with Mike's relationship with Ali, lighter episodes that relieve some of the tension.
The writing is often lyrical, but something about the logic goes awry. Turn of the Screw is ambiguous--is it a ghost story or a psychological deterioration? The first time I read it in high school, I thought it the most chilling ghost story ever. On subsequent reads over the years, I recognized the other possibility, which is equally as chilling, perhaps even more so. The sense of unease remains, the ambiguity remains, and whichever way you read it, Turn of the Screw is a frightening tale.
The Dead House is a ghost story that draws on James' work, but lacks the layers, the Freudian aura, the question of whether or not the young children, Miles and Flora, have been corrupted by evil, and the story's refusal to take a side, to guide you to one conclusion or another. Henry James left the interpretation up to the reader, but regardless of how one reads it, the experience is harrowing. O'Callaghan leaves you with a ghost story that doesn't quite end, almost as if a sequel could be possible.
The Dead House has garnered many positive reviews, but it lacked some mysterious quality that allowed me to "suspend my disbelief."
For me, The Turn of the Screw remains the epitome of an excellent ghost story regardless of how you interpret it. My second favorite is The Broken Girls by Simone St. James which combines a genuine ghost story and a mystery.
Paranormal/Ghost Story. first published 2017; May 2018. Print length: 224 pages.