Anne Rivers Siddons: The House Next Door (1978)

The House Next Door

This summer I was suddenly in the mood to read ghost stories and haunted house stories. Looking for books to read I came across Anne Rivers Siddons The House Next Door, which is mentioned in Stephen King’s Danse Macabre as one of the best of its kind. I saw it mentioned again, some time later, in American Nightmares: The Haunted House Formula in American Popular Fiction by Dale Bailey. I’m a huge fan of the so-called Southern Gothic, which was another reason why I wanted to read The House Next Door as it clearly falls under that sub genre.

I had some preconceived ideas of what a haunted house story had to look like and I must say none of those match The House Next Door. It’s a really unusual take on the theme and maybe because of that particularly successful.

Nobody would suspect horrific events in suburban Atlanta, in a world of affluence, in which people lazily discuss their equally rich neighbours over a cocktail, but, if we believe Colquitt, the narrator of The House Next Door, horror has come to haunt the quiet, elegant neighbourhood, in which she and her husband live. Right at the beginning she tells us that the house next door is haunted and then describes why she thinks so in eloquent and elaborate details.

Colquitt and her husband are not the richest in this leafy suburban neighbourhood but they own a house next to a big piece of land, which has proven to be too difficult to build on as a small stream runs right through it. Colquitt cherishes this woodsy piece of land and spends a lot of time looking out of the window into the trees. One day, to her utter shock, her friend and neighbour announces that the land has been bought by a very young couple and that soon the beautiful land will turn into a construction site.

Colquitt dreads the destruction, the noise and dirt, and she also dreads the loss of privacy. While she isn’t a big fan of the young couple, she becomes friends with the young architect and falls in love with the plans of the house, and eagerly watches how it takes form and rises out of the ground. The house is spectacular. It looks as if it was growing out of the earth; it’s a dream made of glass and walls and strikingly beautiful.

While the construction progresses, strange things start to happen. Dead animals are found, people have accidents. I can’t say more or the book will be spoilt.

The Haunted House is unique because it really captures what domestic horror is all about: the place where we feel safest, our home, can turn into the unsafest place imaginable. The book is also unique because it’s not set in a remote wild landscape but in an elegant Southern suburb. The evil breaks into the lives of affluent, sheltered people, and turns their world upside down.

I have never read anything by Anne River Siddons before and while I had some problems with the characters, I really admire her descriptive skills. She elaborates the scenes so well, you think you’re watching a movie. I loved the descriptions of the house and how evil started to spread slowly. I didn’t like the characters, I found them annoying. I’m not the type who wants to gossip over a cocktail every evening, which they happily did. There’s a lot of drinking going on between these pages; not one social encounter takes place without abundant intake of alcohol. Still, I could feel with Colquitt. The shock over the loss of that beautiful untouched piece of land was something I could relate to. I also identified with her enthusiasm once she knew the project for the house. I love all sorts of houses and while this would be a bit too modern for me (I’m not so keen on too much glass), I can see how a house like this would work surrounded by so many trees. I would be like a big tree house.

The House Next Door is a unusual, atmospherical and well written example of a haunted house story with strong images that will stay with you long after you’ve finished the book. I liked that for once the house in question was not an old decrepit mansion, but a brand new stylish house designed by an artistic architect.

This is my first contribution to Carl’s RIP VIII Challenge. Don’t miss visiting the review site.

28 thoughts on “Anne Rivers Siddons: The House Next Door (1978)

  1. This is a BIG author here, Caroline. I always see her books at the supermarket, and they only carry the names that will really sell well and have wide recognition. I’ve never read any.

    • I’m not sure I’d want to read more of her although the one or the other title didn’t look bad. This book seesm to be different from her usual novels. I can see why she’s famous, she clearly writes very well. The descriptions are great. The characters are not flat I just didn’t like them.

        • This one isn’t romantic at all. I thought she wrote family stories, arther than romantic stories.
          The way she describes is really great, I might try her again some time. Carole mentioned a title on a nother thread that looked quite good.

  2. Nice review, Caroline! I haven’t heard of Anne Rivers Siddons. She looks like a very interesting writer. I am actually very happy to know that there are still old fashioned ghost stories and haunted mansions around :) It is very interesting and quite unique that the haunted mansion in this story is a modern house and not of the ancient kind. I found the way you discovered the book quite interesting – how you stumbled upon the title in two different books. When I go to the library the next time I will try to find out whether they have Siddons’ books. I was thinking of registering for the RIP event and now after reading your review, I was wondering whether it runs for just this week or through the month. I am relieved to know that it runs till the end of October. I am hoping to read a book for RIP soon. Thanks for this wonderful review.

    • Carl’s events ususllay run for two months, RIP in autumn and Once Upon a Time in spring.
      It would be great if you would join. I’d be interested to see what you choose.
      Overall I prefer haunted house stories in old decrepit mansions with ghost – the English version rather, but since Stephen King likes this so much, I thought I’d give it a try and I really liked it. It’s peculiar and she created a world that seemed to exist.

      • After getting inspired by your review, I was looking through my bookshelf and discovered that I have a short story collection of haunted house stories. I think I will read that first for Carl’s RIP event. Love the picture of your beautiful sleeping cat :)

        • Thanks, Vishy. I thought he looks nicer than the bubbles but it wasn’t so easy to remove them. You need some CSS knowledge but fortunately there was info on the help forum.
          I’m looking forward to your review. I have some ghost story collections as well. I started Kelley Armstrong’s new novel Omens and it could be quite good.

          • Yeah, he definitely looks wonderful :) I didn’t know that we need to know about CSS to change the header image. That sounds complicated. Glad to know that you were able to find help in the help forum. Hope you enjoy Kelly Armstrong’s novel. The title is quite interesting.

            Thanks for telling me more about Carl’s events. I had actually forgotten about ‘Once Upon a Time’ till you wrote about it. Looking forward to reading my first ghost story this year.

            • You don’t need CSS for the header but there were bubb le that were part of the theme and when you buy the custom upgrade you can change them (otherwise you’re stuck with them) but you need to chnage the CSS.
              Carl’s events are great for many reasons. They also introduced me to quite a few bloggers I like a lot and you commnet from all sorts of people which is nice. :)
              I started Omens and it seems to be a blend between crime and fantasy. It’s more crime at the moment. We will see.

  3. Siddons is very popular in the U.S.. I’ve read three or four of her novels, and this one is a departure for her. The only one slightly similar is Outer Banks, which I mentioned before. When I want to experience the Old (wealthy) South, I read one of her books. Didn’t realize her stuff fell under Southern Gothic, because not all of the novels are dark. They tend to be family dramas.
    And yes, there are a lot of cocktails. :)

    • This one was called Southern Gothic, not the other ones, I believe but it was said she writes about the Old South like no one else.
      This cocktail drinking felt very dated. You see that in the US 80s movies and series. I found it weird, especially because there were also pregnant women participating and it was mentioned constantly. A bit like tea in Jane Austen. :)

  4. I really love a good atmospheric ghost story but I really rarely read them. I should delve into this genre a bit more. As I have been visiting suburban Atlanta over the last few years I can even connect a little with the setting.

    I wonder if the fact that the characters were annoying were intentional.

    • I’m not sure at all whether it was intentional as I’ve never read her before.
      It’s a type of perosn I don’t like. Very self-indulgent and taking being rich for granted, like a moral thing almost.

  5. I have read everything that Anne Rivers Siddons has written, and with the exception of a very few I was enamored with them all. This book is different from her others as they lack the ‘haunted house/horror’ element, yet I can assure you almost all of her novels are riveting. I particularly enjoyed Colony as I recall…your review of this one is spectacular. Loved the point about how home, our supposedly safest place, becomes just the opposite. So chilling!

    • Thanks, Bellezza. I thought that in chosing a modern house and a suburb instead of a remote landscape she did a really great thing. “Home” is something that’s very precious to me and I thought the way she showed how they slowly lose that feeling of home and safety was well done.
      I didn’t know you liked her so much. Now if you and Carole like her, I know I’ll read another one.
      I’ll have to look up Colony. Thanks for suggesting it.

  6. I didn’t love this book, and I think you summed up the reason well–the characters were annoying and a bit pretentious. Also, the book felt very dated but not in a pleasant vintage sort of way. I have enjoyed several Siddons books. My favorite is Peachtree Road (not a ghost story though).

    • I agree with everything you say, I cold still like it but I had to mention this aspect. They were pretentious and it felt dated. Like one of those 80s series like Dllas or Denver Clan but I really liked the evocative descriptions and will read one of her other novels.
      Thanks for the suggestion.

  7. I’m very curious about this one now and might have to just go ahead and start it. I am used to haunted house stories being much more typicaly–gloomy dark and atmospheric, but I like the sound of Southern Gothic but in a modern setting and ‘brighter’ one, too. It does sound like a departure for her–her other books seem quite different–as pearlsandprose says they tend to be family dramas. I have several of her other books of my own pulled out including Outer Banks and Colony….but will start with this one first. I don’t mind a less than perfect sort of story if it is for pure escapism–sometimes you just need to be taken away from the drudgeries of daily life! :)

    • I loved the descriptions of the leafy suburb and the quite elegant life and how it all changed. I think she’s acaptivating story teller and I will read more of her.
      I’m looking forwad to read your thoughts. It’s very different from other huanted house stories.

  8. Finally have time to read your posts :)
    Just the mentioning that it’s a book recommended by King already makes me intrigued ;)
    …but not only that, your review also intriguing. you’ve made me curious and eager to find this.

    I am not sure if my memory is right, but I think there’s a movie with this title.

    I have a perfect post for R.I.P … hopely I can write it this week.

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