Lord Montbarry decides to leave his fiance, Agnes Lockwood, in order to marry the mysterious Countess Narona. Agnes is devastated but forgiving, while the rest of society looks on the whole affair as a scandal. They all believe the Countess is an evil woman with nothing but money in her mind, and their thoughts are confirmed when Lord Montbarry dies shortly after the wedding, while on holiday in Venice. On the outside, his death looks natural, but as his siblings become invested in a new hotel opening in Venice, a hotel converted from the old palace in which Lord Montbarry died, they are haunted by the spirit of their brother and begin to think maybe not everything is as straightforward as it seems.
This is my second experience with Wilkie Collins, after The Woman in White. The Haunted Hotel is a much shorter book, and written later in Collins’ life. It was good, but I can’t say it was as good as The Woman in White. Then again, TWIW is a masterpiece, and I imagine it would be difficult to live up to!
The things I loved about this book:
It got straight into the plot. No gratuitous Victorian rambling in here! The Countess Narona was a very interesting character that I don’t believe the reader every fully gets to see – it makes me wonder what this whole affair looked like from her point of view. The book is far creepier and more gruesome than The Woman in White – it had some startling passages, and I cringed when the hotel manager reached into the discovered hidden vault to find…what he found. The hauntings themselves were fascinating, and I loved how it affected everyone differently. Plus, I just love Venice as a setting for a book!
Things I didn’t love as much:
Honestly, I think my biggest problem with this book is that it was too short! Collins seemed to cram too much in, and I wish he’d drawn it out and taken his time with it. I wouldn’t have minded a bit more Victorian rambling in order to develop the plot and characters more. Towards the middle, there were a couple of heavyhanded lines at the ends of chapters, and the ending was a little too easily resolved. While the characters were wonderful, they felt less round – again, probably because it was such a short book (for Collins, at least).
All in all, the book was great, and it lived up to my expectations for the most part. Somehow I’d heard this was a collection of short stories, and it isn’t. I’m glad it isn’t. While I like short stories, I like them individually and not as collections. I would gladly read more Collins in the future, and I’d recommend this one for those intimidated by his longer works.