The Fall of the House of Usher and Other Writings

120588Title: The Fall of the House of Usher and Other Writings.

Author: Edgar Allan Poe.

Summary: And much Madness and more Sin. And Horror the Soul of the Plot.

These lines from ‘Ligeia’ epitomise the familiar Poe, the arch-priest of Gothic horror, author of ‘The Masque of the Red Death’ and ‘The Pt and the Pendulum’. This Poe, unquestioned master of the ‘Grotesque and Arabesque’, is fully represented here, but the volume also includes generous selections from his poetry and critical writings. Together they amount to a portrait of a complex personality, that of a conscious aesthete, the most exotic of American writers, who had at the same time engaged in an astonishing variety of interests. Nor are the ‘Grotesque’ tales the simple manipulations of terror that they seem.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3.5/5

Review: I had only ever read ‘The Raven’ and ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ before reading this book. I had loved both, and had high expectations for the rest of Poe’s work. What i got was a mixed bag.

The poems were nice enough, and i liked some lines and stanzas very much. He seemed to like writing about flowers a lot in his poetry. For me, though, (other than ‘The Raven’) they were mostly only a prelude to the short stories.

I won’t review them individually. I will say my overall impression was that Poe is a rambler. In most of the stories, he spends a lot of (in my opinion, unnecessary,) time setting the scene before launching into the story. He describes the physical setting and/or the characters’ appearance in pages of detail. And i found that to be, well, boring. It doesn’t help that this was all in the first few pages of the stories. I felt bored because i wasn’t yet invested in the story or the characters; i didn’t know what the hell was going on yet! When the stories did actually begin, i was drawn in immediately. When things actually start to happen, Poe can evoke an atmosphere (mystery, tragedy, horror, comedy!) incredibly quickly and incredibly well.

The stories in which Poe ‘got on with it’ and didn’t waste pages detailing useless descriptions, i found the most enjoyable—unsurprisingly. It was when i read ‘William Wilson’ (the fifth story in the book) that i was suddenly hooked. Suddenly i didn’t feel like i was forcing myself to keep reading. Suddenly the pages were flying by without me noticing. And the thing with ‘William Wilson’ was that i knew very early on what was happening, what the ‘twist’ would be, but it was the need to see how it would all unfold that kept me reading.

‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’ and ‘The Purloined Letter’ were two of the longer stories in the book, and i felt apprehensive about reading them, assuming them to be full of the overly-descriptive prose i was already weary of. I was pleasantly surprised! They both centre on Monsieur C. Auguste Dupin, a Holmes/Poirot style thinker-cum-detective. I absolutely loved those stories, and wish there were more. And, after googling, i find there is one. And i discovered that ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’ is widely considered the first detective fiction and that Dupin was the inspiration for both Sherlock Homes and Hercule Poirot! Huzzah!

‘The Pit and the Pendulum’ and ‘The Black Cat’ were also highlights for me, being atmospheric, tense and descriptive only to the point of necessity.

With some editing, all of the short stories in this book could have satisfied me enough to love Poe’s work unconditionally. Alas, even when Poe is literally claiming to be succinct, it takes him several pages.

NB: I did not bother reading the ‘Essays and Reviews’ portion of the book.

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About Wendleberry
I'm odd.

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