The Second Wife, The by Catherine Cavendish
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Review of The Second Wife by Catherine Cavendish
As a youngster, I devoured “Gothic” suspense stories, such as those by the prolific Victoria Holt. In almost every instance, a misguided but trusting and idealistic young woman took a position, whether it be governess, housemaid, teacher, or nanny, at a dark and brooding estate, owned by a dark and broodingly handsome gentleman. Usually there was a late wife, late grandmother, or some such individual (think Daphne Du Maurier’s classic “Rebecca,” think Robert Browning’s “The Last Duchess”). Always there was someone or something setting up obstacles to this young lady’s future happiness. Also always, the reader managed to settle in comfortably, expecting good things, only to find out that Supernatural intervention was at hand, and it wasn’t kindly intentioned.
This is sort of the approach excellent author Catherine Cavendish takes. Chrissie, a University librarian, coincidentally encounters village GP Joe Marchant, and after a very whirlwind courtship, they marry. Chrissie is ecstatically in love, but her first experience of Joe’s Victorian home proves to her that neither the house, nor his late wife Emily, deceased these five years, wants her present. While Chrissie tries diligently to make her marriage happy, even to the point of trying to win over the village biddies, that stunning photograph of Emily and her rose, hanging over the mantel, is the focal point of various types of hauntings, and yes, Supernatural intervention with a seriously bad attitude and an axe to grind. This becomes a marriage of four: Chrissie, husband Dr. Joe, the house, and The Late Emily.
What makes this novella different from the stories I’ve mentioned above? This is Catherine Cavendish, who writes horror that creeps up on the reader unexpectedly; horror that grabs the throat and collapses the lungs; horror that is heart-stopping to the point that the reader will be crying out, “Will the heroine survive?” She sets up a protagonist who seems on the surface to be a normally functioning adult, but in reality is a woman harbouring inside a small child frequently tremendously abused, and her “normalcy” is only dancing on a tightrope. As such, she is fair prey for the evil in Dr. Joe’s home—The Late Emily’s home.
“The Second Wife” is a story of both the persistence of the Supernatural and of psychological horror, so finely tuned that the approach of the horrendous is gradual but implacable. I’m so glad I read this in the daylight; although I expect to have nightmares tonight. I literally have chills.
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