by Bethany Griffin
Expected Publication Date: October 7, 2014
Obtained Via: I received an advanced reader’s copy of this book in exchange for consideration of an honest review from the publisher. This in no way influenced my final opinion.
View at the Traffic light:
Madeline Usher is doomed.
She has spent her life fighting fate, and she thought she was succeeding. Until she woke up in a coffin.
Ushers die young. Ushers are cursed. Ushers can never leave their house, a house that haunts and is haunted, a house that almost seems to have a mind of its own. Madeline’s life—revealed through short bursts of memory—has hinged around her desperate plan to escape, to save herself and her brother. Her only chance lies in destroying the house.
In the end, can Madeline keep her own sanity and bring the house down? The Fall is a literary psychological thriller, reimagining Edgar Allan Poe’s classic The Fall of the House of Usher.
Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories were my introduction into the world of the creepy and the horrifying. Growing up, I would occasionally read the books of scary stories to tell in the dark that got past from hand to hand, but other than that I stayed away from anything that could scare me. I clearly remember reading The Cask of Amontillado in my sophomore English class and being both terrified and slightly intrigued. From then on, I began cautiously exploring Poe’s story and poems. All that to say, I will always immediately jump on the chance to read a Poe retelling. It’s a difficult task for any book to face because I love the original stories, but I had read Griffin’s Masque of the Red Death so I decided to try The Fall.
The Fall started off so, so great and haunting. Madeleine, the main character, wakes up alive in a coffin. Being buried alive is a pretty common fear and it’s a well-used plot device in books and movies, but to start with that scene? I was immediately hooked. Griffin’s writing was so descriptive that I could just imagine Madeleine in that coffin and kept shuddering.
Unfortunately, the rest of The Fall didn’t live up to opening chapter due to pacing. There was never a point in reading The Fall where I wasn’t interested in the plot–however, there were tons of areas where it lagged. The middle of the book especially seemed to be chapter after chapter of something creepy happening in the house. Those things were hardly ever connected and all seemed to be there to show just how malignant the house itself was. It became a book full of atmosphere but not much driving the plot forward.
The Fall is told in a split timeline, which also contributes to some of the pacing issues. The short chapters are broken up into headings that tell the reader how old Madeleine is. This technique worked for the beginning of the book, when there was still some mystery about the house–was the house really sentient? What’s wrong with Madeleine’s mother? How unreliable of a narrator is Madeleine? By halfway through, though, the time jump seemed to distract from the story rather than enhance it.
Of course, considering how much the house is both the setting and a character, the main character is stuck to one place for most of the book. That’s difficult to keep interesting, and Griffin did a good job of really exploring the characteristics of the house and also expanding the cast of characters. There are doctors and strangers who come it from the outside, and I really enjoyed these secondary characters for the most part. I think The Fall would have been quite boring if it had only focused solely on Madeleine.
The Fall, while focused on Madeleine, is very much a family story. The Ushers are an ancient family and seemed to have quite an extended bloodline, considering how many characters in the novel seem to have at least a bit of Usher blood. The Ushers are said to have some sort of diseased “curse” which passes to one of the off-spring the longer the family stays in the house(though they also can’t leave). There’s also some incest subtext which may contribute to the curse also(as well as my desire to scrub the icky off of me). A large part of the story is the tension with Madeleine’s brother, as at one point he’s sent away from the house to keep from coming down with the family illness. Madeleine wants her brother safe, but she also wants him around, too. This is one of the aspects of The Fall that made me like it in the end, despite my complaints, because I always like sibling stories.
Overall, I was slightly disappointed in The Fall, but I still LIKED it. I just wasn’t as enamored with it as I had hope. Some of the middle chapters could be cut and the story would essentially still be the same. If it weren’t for the pacing issue, The Fall would be a really great book. As it is, it’s an atmospheric and spooky read but not one that begs to be returned to again and again.
The Fall had a lot to live up to as a retelling of Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher. While it did have some problems(mainly pacing and the time-jumping technique that didn’t really work for this particular story), it on the whole was a fairly creepy atmospheric read. 3/5 cupcakes.