Friday 7 December 2007


Didn't think we'd have anyone call out "I know that book!" from yesterday's post.

I’ll put you out of your misery – the latest addition to my 50 Books is David Lindsay’s The Haunted Woman. It’s one of the books which came to my mind first when planning the list, and one of those which I still have in my mind over three years since reading it. I’ll warn you, though, reactions have been rather widespread – just within the blogging world, Lisa at BlueStalking and Elaine at Random Jottings thought almost exactly the opposite. Lisa put it in her top ten reads of 2004, whilst Elaine thought it was silly and pretty poor – all the more fun when opinion is disparate, isn’t it?! (On a completely unrelated note, did you know that the correct term for ‘?!’ is an interrobang?)

The Haunted Woman is another of those novels I love, where life is normal except for one fantastical element. In this case it is a staircase, which gets me interested immediately. Think this might be a rather specialist interest, but I love staircases in literature – was musing the other day whether there was scope for a thesis there, but might be too esoteric even for Oxford. Plus the only other one I can think of which has any particular relevance is Mrs. Sparsit’s metaphorical staircase in Hard Times. If you can think of any others, do let me know…

I’ll quote the blurb from my copy of The Haunted Woman:

Engaged to a decent but unexceptional man, Isbel Loment leads an empty life, moving with her aunt from hotel to hotel. She is perverse and prickly with untapped resources of character and sensibility. They explore by chance a strange house and there Isbel meets Judge, its owner; a profoundly disturbing relationship develops and it is from this that the drama unfolds.

They obviously don’t want to give the staircase bit away, but I shall – there is a staircase which offers three doors at the top. Isbel takes one of them, which leads to a room, where she meets Ju
dge again. When they return to the main house, neither remember what has taken place in the room. And so it goes on, with parallel existences and relationships. All the way throughout the novel there is the mystery of what remains behind the other doors…

David Lindsay’s writing is sometimes criticised for not being very fluid or well styled, but I just found it took a little getting used to – sure, he’s not Virginia Woolf, but I didn’t find it stood out as awful. And, for me, the plot and intrigue and characters more than make up for this. I sometimes love books for language, regardless of plot (e.g. Tove Jansson’s writing) but equally sometimes plot takes precedence over language. And Lindsay manages to combine the two in a way which leads to a beautiful surrealism by the end, and produces a novel which is quite unlike anything else I’ve ever read. Give it a try.


  1. Now, I've read both Hard Times and The Haunted Woman, and I'm struggling to remember staircases in either of them.
    There was definitely, however, a staircase in the Magic Faraway Tree. And in Dumb Witness by Agatha Christie.

  2. The whole POINT of The Haunted Woman was the staircase!

    And you say on your blog that you've only read one of my 50 Books (Watching the English) - but you've also read this, and The Provincial Lady. Not doing badly!

  3. Memorable staircases: (in movie version, at least) REBECCA. I still see in my mind's eye, the new wife coming down the staircase in costume for the party, and...

  4. There is a detective classic called something staircase. I believe it's by Martha Rhinehart but the stairs have a major role.I think this would make a wonderful thesis. I doubt whether it's been done before even by the Americans.

  5. Googled: Rinehart staircase
    ...and came up with Mary Roberts Rinehart. One of the first links was for _The Circular Staircase_ and another link and blurb was:
    Mary Roberts Rinehart...loves staircases, too, and often sets her works on them, including the murders in The Circular Staircase and The Bat. She shows people looking up ...

    It looks like there should be more books of hers that have staircases.

  6. I spent all weekend happily wondering what on earth the book was. Delighted that I haven't read it (and therefore needn't have recognised it) and can now add it to the list of must read books.

    For good measure there's a whole series of books by J.I.M. Stewart (aka Michael Innes) called A Staircase in Surrey. Don't think anyone reads it any more. No murders in it, which is probably why.

  7. Oooh, how I love The Haunted Woman!! It had me absolutely wrapped up in it, and I vowed I'd re-read it one of these years. Maybe next year will be the year, assuming I can even find my copy. If you could see my book collection you'd soon understand I'm not kidding...

  8. Coming late to this, but what about the iron staircase in Dorothy L. Sayers' Murder Must Advertise?

  9. And even later, what about the 'grand stair' in the House of Shaws in 'Kidnapped'? A memorable scene in which Davie gropes his way up, only to find....empty air!

  10. This looks really good! I'm afraid I can't actually think of any books with staircases, but if I think of any I'll tell you!

  11. I have just read 'The Hauted Woman' and it gave me the same intense feeling of a magical initiation as 'A Voyage to Arcturus', also by David Lindsay, which I read as teenager in about 1973. This was my favourite book for many years, it had a profound effect on me. Not everyone's cup of tea, but David Lindsay is one of my heros.
    For the staircase lover,'The House of Stairs', by Ruth Rendall, writing as Barbara Vine, springs into my mind

  12. Errm... the staircase in The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald is a definite fore-runner of Lindsay's Haunted woman staircase. C.S. Lewis called it a 'great work' in case anyone thinks they're too old for fairy -tales. It's very likely Lindsay had read it. Incidentally there's a staircase in 'A Voyage to Arcturus' - Lindsay's first and most famous work - in the Starkness observatory which is phenomenally difficult to climb. There's one in 'The Golden Key' (that's MacDonald too) unless my memories playing up.

    1. Thanks so much, Paddy! You've reminded me that I've been intending to try MacDonald for years, but I didn't know where to start - now I do. And I've had Voyage to Arcturus for several years too, and not got around to it yet...


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