The Haunted Hotel – Wilkie Collins

Hoorah it’s the first ‘Sensation Sunday’, I have to admit that I was slightly worried that having not read The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins or Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon that my love for the ‘sensation novel’ might have passed, which would be slightly concerning as with The Sensation Season I have until just after Christmas to read a lot of sensation fiction. So I slightly warily opened the first few pages of ‘The Haunted Hotel’ it didn’t take long until I was completely immersed.

The Haunted Hotel opens in quite a typical ‘sensation novel’ fashion. Doctor Wybrow is about to go on his rounds when his servant announces a young lady has come needing to see him straight away. With other patients to see he tries to sneak out but is caught by the young woman who demands he sees her now as she fears she is going mad. From then she tells him the tale of her husband to be and the woman she usurped unintentionally from her fiancé Lord Montbarry, Agnes Lockwood, whom she recently met and had the fear of death put into her. Unable to help the woman she flea’s unhappily but something causes the Doctor to have her followed and he finds out she is Countess Narona who when he asks at the men’s club he discovers has a reputation of “being a person who produces a sensation wherever she goes, this noble lady is naturally made the subject of all sorts of scandalous reports” she is also, apparently, evil.

From then on we leave the Doctor behind and follow the story of Agnes Lockwood the jilted lover of Lord Montbarry whose maid’s husband who mysteriously goes missing working for Lord Montbarry and his new wife Countess Narona and her brother the Baron. Not long after Lord Montbarry dies of pneumonia in Venice though his family believe something suspicious has been going on as the Countess is now worth ten thousand pounds. Soon enough Agnes Lockwood and Countess Narona’s lives become entangled in a dark mystery.

I loved this book, I thought from start to end it was brilliant. I had never thought how sensation novels might have inspired today’s crime fiction as Wilkie Collins leaves you with a cliff hanger at the end of every chapter as the great plot driven crime novels of today do. In fact if I had to complain about the book in any way it’s the fact that you get very grumpy when you have to put it down to go to work and such evil things as what I really wanted to do was curl up and read it from cover to cover without stopping. When these novels where serialised in the late Victorian era I don’t know how people could wait for the next instalment. I wouldn’t have been able to as I was gripped and just completely became involved in the excellent plot, you do have to suspend your beliefs somewhat at coincidences but this is ‘sensation’ fiction after all, and the brilliant characters some who are wonderfully wicked.

I love books with ghosts, mystery, suspicion, dastardly characters, possible murder and foul play and shocks in them (get used to those words as I think they will be appearing a lot on this blog over the next few weeks) and this book has all of that in it and possibly more. I did wonder just how on earth Wilkie Collins could manage this in under 250 pages, and what’s more how does he do it for over another ten books? The first sensation novel in the Sensation Season was… well… sensational. I hope they all carry on like this.


Filed under Books of 2009, Penguin Classics, Review, Sensation Novels, Wilkie Collins

29 responses to “The Haunted Hotel – Wilkie Collins

  1. I love the spooky, thriller mystery books, and there is something so very raw and organic about Collins’. There are no hokey gimmicks, just good, solid mystery writing, and is so refreshing.

    • You are spot on he doesnt do gimmicks, though he does on occasion do very far fetched coincidence but thats what I love. I was thinking about this earlier and I actually think Kate Atkinson is one author who could write stunning sensation novels as her plots and coincidental twists are genius.

  2. I don’t know how Victorian readers survived reading in installments either; it would definitely be suspenseful.

    I’ve had this on my wishlist for a while and will definitely be purchasing it at some point. Glad to see that it is lighter than some of Collins’ other “tomes” (so many books, so little time!)

    • Hahahahaha I know what you mean Claire but in the hands of a master like this I think even the 600 pagers will just fly by, I remember the last time (and the time before that) with The Woman in White they did.

  3. I would very much like to try to read one of Dickens novels in the serial form, that is, stop reading at the end of the installment and then not allow myself to read the next installment for another month. I am not sure that I have the discipline to wait though.

    I have only read The Woman in White (hope to read The Moonstone with you in December) but I did notice how each and every chapter ended on such a cliffhanger that I had to continue reading. That must be why I read the over 500 page book in two days 🙂

    • I have to say having read no Dickens I can’t comment. I can only imagine that they would be very good in serial editions but with Great Expectations on the horizon I shall judge it once I have given him a read.

      Collins is definately cliffhanger King.

  4. This sounds like the perfect fall read to me. It would be perfect for the RIP IV Challenge. Great review. Thanks so much

  5. Now I haven’t yead read a Collins (just bought two) but now I want to add this to the wish list right away! Book blogs are a bad influence!! Lol.

  6. Book Psmith

    I may have to add this to my October reads but I also have The Woman in White listed among the possibilities for my spooky reads. One way or another, I need to read Collins because I have heard so much that is good.

    • Collins is perfect for spooky reads and both of the titles are spooky in many ways, this has one particularily spooky scene which did manage to unnerve me, even on the tube with lots of people about.

  7. I loved The Haunted Hotel. It’s just what you would want from a sensational read! I think I will pull it out and do a re-read on a rainy day.

  8. I have a copy of this in my TBR pile — I love anything set in Venice — so I’m now encouraged to dig it out for a read. Mine’s the Nonsuch Classic edition, so it’s quite a beautiful, neat little book.

  9. Sounds brilliant! I love Wilkie Collins. He knows how to do suspense, in that wonderful, completely over the top ominous looks and secret passages way. My university library had loads of copies of Victorian magazines and I saw all of the serialised books they had in there – Dickens, I think a George Eliot, and so on. It would have killed me to have to stop just at a good part and not be able to read on, but at the same time, what a treat when the next edition of the magazine came out and you could settle down to the next installment…delayed gratification!

    I am now fully taking part in ‘Sensation Season’ – I got my copy of ‘Her Fearful Symmetry’ on Saturday and I’m a third of the way through…it’s unputdownable! If only work didn’t have to get in the way of reading time!

  10. Jo

    These victorian novels are actually quite good when read in serial form as intended. I’m not a great fan of dickens, but I’ve read a couple by stopping when each part ended and they work quite well. But I can probably only do that because i’m not a huge fan. I like Wilkie Collins so perhaps I should see if I can do it for this one. I think that would be harder!

  11. Verity

    My partner’s reading a lot of Wilkie Collins at the moment – I haven’t yet, but this sounds like a good starting point (especially as is slightly shorter than some of his more famous ones!)

  12. justicejenniferreads

    Sounds like a winner. I’m glad that you enjoyed this. I look forward to hearing about more sensational novels.

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