Do you want to read a scary story? Then I don’t recommend this one. Published as part of a series called Penguin Red (although the covers are yellow and black), The Haunted Hotel is presented as a horror novel. It’s really a domestic drama with a murder mystery. In fact, it’s similar to the other Wilkie Collins books I’ve read, but not as long. I’d been tempted by the idea of a haunted hotel, but I was disappointed. The supernatural element appears towards the end of the book. Basically the story is about a lord’s death in Venice and the web of mystery which his family is drawn into.
I generally liked the book but I had some problems with it. I don’t think it has aged well. Collins uses the old stereotype of ‘foreigners’ being immoral and sinister. There are three non-British characters and they are all very negatively portrayed. I suppose that’s part of the gothic tradition but it wasn’t original. The female characters – the sickeningly good Agnes Lockwood, the apparently evil Countess Narona, the whiny ex-servant and the stubborn old nurse – are described as if their behaviour is due to them being female. Maybe the author was reducing his idea of women into these characters. By contast, the males (those who aren’t foreign) are efficient, calm, detective-like. I also felt that the tense build-up to the ending was ultimately a let-down. It was predictable. Perhaps the original audience would have found it more thrilling.
First published in 1889. This edition was published in 2008.