A Ghost Story?

HelpDecided to read “Help for the Haunted” by John Searles primarily based on the recommendation of another author whose works I enjoy, Alice Hoffman.  The story centers around the memory of a young girl, Sylvie Mason, whose parents were killed one snowy night in a church, and she is the only witness.  The problem is, she is not sure what she saw.  The story is complicated further by the fact that her parents were people who made their living by expelling demons from the haunted, by helping people who had no one else to turn to in a desperate situation.  The story is further complicated by Sylvie’s troubled sister, Rose, who may be implicated in the parents’ murder.  The story weaves through time, telling about Sylivie’s anxiety over her doubts as to what she saw that night in the church, and the 36-hour period she has before giving her final deposition.  It goes back to the past, giving us the background on this strange family whose parents make their living giving lectures on the supernatural and expelling demons from the troubled souls who seek them out.  It is a story of belief: believing in faith, in one’s parents, in what you have been taught, and it is a story of uncovering truth, no matter how uncomfortable.  The author uses a variety of literary devices to tell the story, most of which is in the first person recollection of the young main character.  He also uses some unusual conventions such as the writings in a journal, the transcripts from an investigation, the writings in a biography.  The tale, weaving through the years prior to and after the killings, provides enormous suspense and an eerie atmosphere surrounding this strange family of demonologists.  Eventually, however, the story comes to a climax when Sylvie starts to piece together the background of events leading up to the murder, and uncovers long buried family secrets.  I thought the writing was top drawer until the end.  Sadly, this creepy and intriguing story totally falls apart at the end.  Not to spoil it, but the characters, including the young heroine, start talking totally out of character like old people, the final climactic scene is unbelievable (in that it does not make sense, not that it is fantastic), and it all feels disappointing and silly after building up so much promise.  Too bad.  I was impressed with the fact that the author, a young man, could write in the voice of a young girl so well, but in the final scenes she totally turns into a two-dimensional cartoon.  A great book for the first 7/8th of it, and still looking forward to this writer’s next work.  Help's_author

1 Comment

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One response to “A Ghost Story?

  1. Chris Sullivan

    When the poet Philip Larkin was judging the Booker Prize he was asked for his thoughts and he replied, “They have a beginning a muddle and an end.” But all to often many novels have a beginning, a middle and unsatisfactory ending. It is one thing that makes novel writing difficult; maintaining a satisfactory story from beginning to end. Many novelists and hopeful novelists have a great idea for a novel but find it difficult to find an appropriate ending. It is possibly the hardest part of a novel to write.

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