A long weekend is a good chance to finally catch up on some books I’ve been meaning to read for a while: Dante’s Inferno, another Allison Weir history book on the Tudors, maybe even a re-read of Edith Hamilton’s classic book from the 1940’s on Greek Mythology.
Or I could pour myself a glass of wine and read a movie novelization. That would probably be an even better idea.
It’s been over two years since I last read one of these (see my review here) and I talked then about how writers of novelizations have to walk a fine line between slavishly writing down every bit of dialog, or changing things so much that the story no longer resembles the movie. Nancy Holder (author of the Wicked series and many many TV and movie tie-ins) manages to walk this line with ease with Crimson Peak. Keeping in mind that I loved the film and am hypersensitive to any changes, I still think this is one of the best novelizations I’ve read.
Spoilers aplenty, obviously.
If you’re reading a novelization, it’s a good bet that you’re looking to see a little of what’s going on in the characters’ minds, and maybe more backstory. You get a healthy dose of both here, but Holder manages to keep all that extra information from bogging down the main story.
The pace is just slightly slower, but that’s only so the reader can explore this beautiful Gothic world, and see what makes the characters tick. The film shows that Edith Cushing was inspired to write stories featuring ghosts after a terrifying vision of her dead mother when Edith was ten years old. The book expands on this, telling how when Edith told her best friend Alan McMichael about the visitation, Alan’s younger sister Eunice overheard the story and made Edith so much of a laughingstock that Edith eventually recanted, and pushed the memory so far down that it eventually emerged in her writing.
As you can probably tell, Eunice is something of a mean-spirited twit, especially to Edith. This makes it that much more satisfying when the mysterious Thomas Sharpe snubs Eunice at her own ball in order to fall head-over-heels in love with the instantly-smitten Edith.
To have someone as sensible and intelligent as Edith leave her entire life behind to marry a total stranger and live in a falling-down mansion in another country requires a tad more explanation. The author makes Edith’s progression from contented spinster to doting wife believable, showing not just how quickly and totally she falls in love (after thinking for most of her life that love was simply not something that happened for women like her), but her absolute determination to make this work, to do everything she can to make her husband happy – including signing over her fortune to him – because she admires his strength of will to make something of himself other than an Englishman with a title.
Having Thomas Sharpe be there for her at the worst point in her life of course just makes her even more devoted to him.
Time stopped utterly. This moment must last forever. This must be where she existed for the rest of eternity, because right here, her father could still be alive. Right here, they were together, and Thomas too. In this ticking heartbeat, this strangled breath, this sunlight in amber.
We see enough of Thomas Sharpe’s thought processes to see that he’s a good-hearted sort of person, well-meaning, extremely smart, and so very weak. Weak enough to go along with his sister’s plans to kill his brides for their money, and cowardly enough to make sure he isn’t around to actually see them die. The little dog Edith adopts is a perfect example of his weakness; Lucille told Thomas to kill it, and instead he set it loose in the wilderness. It’s a sign that he still had some tiny control left over his soul that he didn’t want to kill a helpless creature, and it’s a sign of just how broken that soul was if he thought leaving a dog to slowly starve to death was any less cruel.
And Lucille, oh boy. We get to see a lot of her snake’s nest of a mind. She’s understandably damaged after a horrible childhood (there’s a flashback to when Lucille and Thomas’s father was still alive. I could have done with more of those; I don’t know why, but sections of a novel that tell a story from someone’s past are like candy for me.) But she’s also filled with a vindictive rage that makes her enjoy causing pain, and something in her brain makes her lie and lie and lie, especially when she’s trying to blame her actions on other people. She’s not even aware that she’s doing it. Terrifyingly crazy, this woman, and it’s splashed in glorious detail all over the page.
The character that benefits the most from the novelization is Edith’s friend Alan. In the movie he’s a well-meaning chap who follows the clues and arrives at Allerdale Hall just in time to interrupt Edith’s murder, and then has to be rescued himself. In the book we get to see more of his investigation and his travel to Allerdale, and more of his growing realization of how much he’s always loved Edith. He’s the kind of person who’ll walk miles through a snowstorm to come to the rescue, but also someone who’ll do little things like buy Edith’s book collection when she sells everything she owns, because he’s afraid she’ll regret getting rid of everything and he wants her to still have something she’s cherished.
Nancy Holder’s writing style is flowing and ornamental and Gothic, but not so much that it ever gets silly. It’s the perfect style to illustrate the dark love story between Thomas and Edith, and the crumbling mansion filled with black moths (which Lucille raises herself in a bedroom filled with bottles and curio cabinets and strange creepy trinkets) with the wide-open grey spaces around it. It’s also the perfect tone to describe the character from the film who’s viewpoint we finally see in this book: the house itself.
The fly that should be dead and the dog that should be dead in the house that should be dead, and the bride, who would be dead soon.
It watched approvingly, appreciating the complexities – and fragilities – of life.
It’s left open as to whether the house went crazy after the family members spent so many years torturing each other, or if the house was responsible for driving everyone insane in the first place. The madness reaches out to everyone like the creeping red stain that spreads outward from Allerdale Hall as the red clay leeches through the snow. If I could have gotten one more scene out of this book it would have been an image of the house finally drowning in the red clay and vanishing. We instead end with the same image from the film, the single ghost left just as alone as it was always afraid it would be. Still pretty satisfying, and it definitely makes me want to go watch the movie again.