I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.ELTONSBRODY by Edgar Mittelholzer
Published by Valancourt Books on January 28, 2017
Genres: Dark Fiction, Fiction, Gothic, Psychological Horror, Suspense
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When Woodsley, a young English painter, arrives in Barbados and finds no lodging available, he thinks himself fortunate to be invited to stay at Eltonsbrody, a mansion belonging to the eccentric widow Mrs Scaife. But behind the locked doors of the house's disused rooms lurk terrible secrets, and soon strange and blood-curdling events begin to unfold. The tension builds towards a shocking and unforgettable conclusion, when the full horror of Eltonsbrody will be revealed.
One of the most prolific and important of 20th-century Caribbean writers, Edgar Mittelholzer (1909-1965) was at his best in Gothic novels like My Bones and My Flute (1955) and Eltonsbrody (1960). This first-ever reissue of Mittelholzer's weird and chilling tale reproduces the original dust jacket art and includes a new introduction by John Thieme.
'One of the modern giants of Caribbean writing.' - Caribbean Writers
'A sanguinary essay in the macabre.' - The Crisis
'An original writer with a great command of language and atmosphere . . . true imaginative power.' - John O'London's Weekly
ELTONSBRODY, by Edgar Mittelholzer, is–in my humble opinion–an example of the perfect execution of a “gothic horror” story in both setting and prose. Set in Barbados, an English painter named Woodsley is unable to find an available room in the more popular areas. He is conveniently directed to the widow, Mrs. Scaife, who is the mistress of Eltonsbrody mansion. Apparently, she has been known to take in lodgers on occasion.
Right from the beginning, the character of Woodsley conveys that this is a “true” horror story, and his matter of fact narration adds significantly to the overall atmosphere. Even on the best of days, the looming mansion of Eltonsbrody is buffeted by fierce, relentless winds and eerie noises from every corridor and room. Though Woodsley feels his creativity is best shown in his dark paintings, his thoughts show that his mind is equally artistic when it comes to how he perceives his surroundings.
“. . . casuarinas . . . looked unreal and not of the earth . . . They might not have been trees at all, but mere segments of the deep twilight congealed into wisps of greater density: shapeless shadows–nuclei out of which the night would grow and send out tentacles to envelope the rocks and the cane fields and the tiny shingled cottages . . .”
Then we have the extraordinarily complex character of Mrs. Scaife. One moment charming and “normal”, and the next, proudly boasting about having an unusually strong “mark of death” upon her, that she is able to discern on the relatively few others that also appear–to her–to have this distinction upon their features.
“. . . Many of us, deep within, have the urge to kill and glory in the death-agony of our victims. We may be unconscious of this urge, but it exists . . . “
Even after an extended stay with the widow of Dr. Michael Scaife, it is difficult for the reader to pin down if she is merely eccentric, crazy, or a completely ordinary person merely having “a joke” at another’s expense.
“. . . I had to admit that while her actual words sounded utterly loony, her manner was normal. The gleam in her eyes was that of a rational person . . . “
While the atmosphere is one of the utmost importance in a gothic style book–and there is never any doubt on that aspect here–Mittelholzer includes many minute, every-day activities, to give some break to the otherwise stark bleakness. There are many comedic moments between Woodsley, the staff, and the Mistress, herself. Necessities such as eating, washing, cleaning, walking the dogs, and even shopping are interspersed throughout the novel to give the reader a feeling of viewing the complete lifestyle of the characters. This tactic serves to really intensify and bring into the limelight even the smallest of suspicious incidents, that otherwise might have gone unnoted.
“Just shows how contradictory human nature can be . . . When things are happening to bother you you grumble, and the moment everything grows quiet you yawn and feel bored.”
In addition to the environment, Eltonsbrody is an astonishing novel of the study of human character. In the case of Mrs. Scaife, many of her staff consider her merely “odd”, yet to Woodsley she presents a frustrating enigma. He is constantly questioning whether she is serious with some of her comments, or merely “poking fun” at him: “There are many strange people in this world, you know. Some are laughed at, and some are treated as mental cases — simply because the normal run of people don’t understand their strangeness.”
By the conclusion of this novel, I was virtually holding my breath. Events that had beforehand been almost subtly introduced, were then coming at a much faster pace. While the story never felt as though it faltered, I was surprisingly unprepared for those final scenes and visuals. In my opinion, ELTONSBRODY is an absolutely flawless novel when it comes to showcasing the gothic horror style. I was left with the same sentiment that Mr. Woodsley professed at the end: “. . . The very name of Eltonsbrody seems like a ragged, sticky piece of cobweb that will cling for all time round the nerve-cells of my brain .”