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Clif's Book World

Adventures from reading books captured within short reviews.

The House of the Seven Gables - Robert S. Levine, Nathaniel Hawthorne The House of the Seven Gables begins with a preface by the author that identifies the work as a romance, not a novel. That may be the author's preference, but I think most romance fans will be disappointed if they read this book. The book is a classic by a famous American author, so it deserves to be read. Once you finish the book and look over the complete plot, you can see how romantic love has healed a 200-year family curse. Therefore, in that regard it is a romance. However, the experience of reading the book is more like wondering through a dreary haunted labyrinth. I did not find it enjoyable to read.

I suppose the book can be considered a parable with a message aimed at the stiff necked 19th Century New England descendants of the Puritans. They are a people who behave in proper ways, but have an ancestral history of executing their neighbors on trumped up charges of witchcraft. They are haunted by a secret guilt of association because of the actions of their ancestors. The story told by this book is about the Pyncheon family that parallels this New England story at large.

The book's narrative comes as close as possible to being a ghost story while still remaining within the world of realism. I can imagine that a reader who believes in ghosts can come away from this story with the impression that it is indeed about ghosts. Likewise, another reader who doesn't believe in ghosts will say the story is about people who suspect that there may be ghosts in their lives who are intent on mischief. Either way Nathaniel Hawthorne skillfully weaves a family story filled with angst.

One feature of the book that surprised me was the role of Mesmerism (today we call it hypnotism). As described in this book it appears to be occult magic. Likewise, a lot of the melancholia described in this book would today be called clinical depression. Thank goodness for the character of Phoebe in the story. Her young sunny disposition is a breath of fresh air into an otherwise dreary environment. She’s a reminder of the eternal possibility of renewal brought by young people to human society.