My name is Lisbeth Usher. I am cursed by beauty, the delicate beauty of a dewdrop, which lasts for but a few moments. Three days ago I could leave the house without fear. Three days ago, I had a future.
Then my sister, Honoria, put on her best dress, the one she was supposed to wear on her wedding day, and went up to the widow’s walk. No one was with her when she jumped. But I suspect that she it solemnly. Honoria did everything solemnly. She rarely smiled. Now that the curse has passed to me, I understand why.
I will not succumb. I will not. Unlike Honoria, who passed the curse to me, I will protect our youngest sister. I will not die. The house has claimed my mother and my sister. But I will prevail. In the end I will laugh at all of them, wringing their hands and wailing about being consumed by the House of Usher.
Madeline Usher is one of the doomed Ushers. She has spent her life desperately fighting her fate, trying to find her way out of the family curse and she thought she was succeeding until she woke up in a coffin. But that isn’t really the beginning of the tale, now is it?
The House of Usher has been cursed as long as Madeline has known. They can never leave their house which is haunted and appears to have a mind of its own, rewarding and punishing Madeline for the deeds she does. The Ushers ultimately succumb to madness and die young. Madeline’s life from nine years old to eighteen years old is unveiled through short bursts of memory, each their own chapter and flitting between young Madeline and the older, more manic Madeline. She has had a frantic plan to escape, to save herself and her twin brother, Roderick, from the same fate as their parents and the Ushers before.
Also interwoven with Madeline’s story are segments from an earlier Usher’s diary, Lisbeth. Madeline uses this diary as a map to figure out how to leave and break the curse once and for all. She realizes that her only chance for her own survival lies in destroying the house that has plagued her family for countless generations. In the end, Madeline may have to make the choice between saving her brother and keeping her sanity to destroy the house she so loathes.
Bethany Griffin has re-imagined Edgar Allen Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher from a different perspective-that of Madeline Usher who, while a main character in the original story, was not a very prominent character. She takes center stage in this narrative, revealing more of the Usher history and the desperate isolation that she lives in.
I’ll admit, when I first started reading this I was having a hard time getting into it. I’m very familiar with Poe’s story because I am a huge fan so I knew roughly what I was getting into but Griffin manages to weave the tale in such a way that you almost seem to understand the insanity that Madeline is falling into because you start to feel it yourself from trying to keep track of what age she happens to be in that particular chapter. Speaking of chapters, there’s 145 of them. This is mainly because each chapter is less than two or three pages long but it’s still daunting when you first realize exactly how many there are and you wonder what you’re getting yourself into.
I really enjoyed this novel in the end.Do I think you need to probably have some sort of fondness for Poe to enjoy it as much as I did? Probably. None of the characters are entirely enjoyable (which is fine by me since I’m trying to read things with people who are more people than hero) and there were times when I wished that she’d go more into detail about particular subjects but I had to remind myself that I’m supposed to be reading the memories of a woman who is succumbing to madness and so my request was an invalid one.
The ending is significantly different from the original and leaves it hanging so that you end up wondering just exactly how it ended. I’m going to say this about next week’s book too, so be prepared for that, ha.
As far as the age group for this, I could reasonably see 8th grade and up reading this, just based off of what I was reading in 8th grade. There’s nothing ridiculously obscene in it, though some of the nuances of the madness may be a bit over their heads. Frankly, I’m going to start my kids on E.A. Poe young to hopefully kick-start that love of him that I share so if you’re a parent who reads this and decides I’m crazy for recommending it to someone so young, you’re welcome to do so!
Next week, we will finish up our October marathon of spooky reads with a dual review of Little Girls, by Ronald Malfi, and it’s a doozy!