A White Room by Stephanie Carroll

Title: A White Room
Author: Stephanie Carroll

Genre: Fiction (Historical / 1900s / Southern Gothic / Marriage / Insanity / Nursing / Marriage / Secrets)
Publisher/Publication Date: Unhinged Books (6/12/2013)
Source: NetGalley

Rating: Liked a great deal.
Did I finish?: I did.
One-sentence summary: In 1901, a young woman with some nursing training finds herself in a cold marriage, trapped in an eerie house, living in a town full of secrets.
Reading Challenges: E-book, Gothic, Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: I love it. I'm partial to Sargent anyway, but the image resembles a description early on in the book, of a woman in a white dress, twisting around to look behind her. This is very evocative of it.

I'm reminded of...: Shirley Jackson, Jennifer McMahon

First line: My father died with the taste of blood on his lips.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy, especially if you like atmospheric novels reminiscent of Shirley Jackson and Jennifer McMahon.

Why did I get this book?: Was quite tempted by the premise!

Review: This creepy, atmospheric novel kept me on the edge of my seat (or up all night in bed) for days.

Opening in 1900, the novel follows Emeline, a young woman returned from nursing school without a husband. When her father dies suddenly, her family is plunged into unexpected poverty. With three young sisters and her mother to support, Emeline makes the rash decision to ask her father's friend if she can marry his son.

To her shock, the family agrees, and in a matter of weeks, Emeline is married and brought from St. Louis to the isolated town of Labellum, Missouri, where her husband will practice law.  There, she learns how disastrous her impetuous decision was. Her husband bought a ghastly, monstrous house, full of furniture and decor that is outrageously grotesque and frightening. From her first step inside, the house frightens Emeline. Worse, perhaps, is her husband's continuing indifference to her, and Emeline swings between relief at ignoring him and deep hurt at his treatment of her.

This book, like the furniture, like Emeline's sanity perhaps, is snaky, hard to pin down. At first, I thought it was simply going to be a send up on Gilman's 'The Yellow Wallpaper', but it's more than just a look at Victorian attitudes toward women and their mental health. There's an oppressive kind of mystery, right out of a Shirley Jackson story or a Stephen King novel, with a close knit small town fighting to keep their secrets. I was tense the whole time, even though this book isn't a thriller, but I couldn't stand not knowing what was happening, and if Emeline was sane or mad.  Emeline's salvation, her freedom from the house, comes almost by accident, and shifts this novel from an homage to 'The Yellow Wallpaper' to a kind of historical mystery or thriller. 

Carroll's writing style is the star of this book. Emeline is an appealing, sympathetic heroine who manages to be wry and clever without dissolving into modern snark.  
I developed a talent for locating and consuming writing deemed unsuitable for a young lady, such as Dickens, Wuthering Heights, sensations like The Woman in White, by Wilkie Collins, and various science and medical texts., p50
Her descriptions of this house -- and Emeline's mental health -- ratcheted up the creepy tension.  Like every other room in the house, Emeline's creepy sitting room is stuffed overflowing with bric-a-brac and outrageous color schemes.
Thousands of white and pink doilies drowned every table and chair and the little pink sofa, too.  It reminded me of an ocean of pink goo.  I was certain if were to sit in it, I would suffocate in a warm flesh-colored swamp. (p34)
And later:
The room pulsated with pink, as if it were a stomach preparing to digest.  (p83)
I also have to compliment the book's layout and design.  Each chapter opens with gorgeous Art Nouveau flourishes, and the e-book formatting is readable and clean.

I'm very nearly in love with this book, now that I've finished my review! It hits all the right notes for me in hinting at so many genres I love without being a flat pastiche.  Unique, surprising, and wildly fun.

*** *** ***

GIVEAWAY!

I'm thrilled to offer a copy of The White Room to two (2) lucky readers: a paperback copy for US readers and an ebook copy for international readers! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US and international readers, ends 8/9.  For another entry, check out my interview with Stephanie Carroll.


Comments

  1. Oooh, this sounds like a really fun choice for R.I.P. in the fall. Thanks for the review!

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    Replies
    1. YES! Oh, it'd be delish for a good chilly weekend! The mood kept the hairs on my neck up!

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    2. What is R.I.P? I tried Googling it but just got a bunch of "How to rip a phone book in half" results. LOL!

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    3. Stephanie, in October, a blogger organizes a scary book reading 'challenge' called R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril (RIP). It's super fun!

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  2. I love atmospheric novels reminiscent of Shirley Jackson! Sold!

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    Replies
    1. My wife, a devoted Jackson fan, is reading it now. All these creepy towns with their creepy secrets!

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  3. I'm glad you loved the book . . . and the cover :)

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    Replies
    1. Kudos to you on the wonderful design!

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    2. Yes Jenny is amazing. I am so happy that I went with her. You check out her other covers on http://historicaleditorial.blogspot.com.

      She also wrote a blog about designing my cover there too.

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  4. Thank you Audra for having me on your wonderful blog and thank you so much for this amazing review. I am so flattered to have "A White Room" compared to the writing of Shirley Jackson. That is such an awesome compliment.

    I am so happy you enjoyed the book, and I hope your readers do too.

    Thank you so much again for having me and for being a part of the tour.

    Sincerely,
    Stephanie Carroll
    www.stephaniecarroll.net
    @CarrollBooks on Facebook & Twitter

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    Replies
    1. Thank you for stopping by, Stephanie. It is high praise in my house -- my wife, the devoted Jackson fan, is reading your book now!

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    2. Whohoo! Isn't it fun watching someone read something you've read that has secrets you know they will discover?

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  5. Oooh, this sounds creepy good! I'd love to read it :D

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    Replies
    1. It really is -- the moodiness is spot on.

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  6. That is quite the first line! I am intrigued

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  7. This sounds good for several reasons. The first line? Intriguing. I also rather liked the quotes you pulled! And it's been a while since I've read a genuinely creepy book. I'm too much of wuss, but this sounds like it might be a good fit for me.

    It sounds like you hint at perhaps an unreliable narrator? Those are the best kind of narrators for a creepy, atmospheric read.

    And while I like snark, it really doesn't fit well in a historical setting, does it?

    Your reviewing is spot on - I hadn't heard of this before but am now genuinely curious about it. You're detailed, and still manage to not spoil anything. These are one of the many reasons why I love your reviews and your blog, Audra. You're such a professional!

    Great review!

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    Replies
    1. Jessie! You're so good to me!! I would love to know what you think of this one -- I'm a wuss too about creepy stuff and this was just scary enough to keep me thrilled without making me unable to function. The story has lovely layers, too, that make it more than just mood. There's meat here.

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  8. I think the cover is beautiful. I don't understand why the women always have the top of thier heads chopped off. Does anybody know why?

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    Replies
    1. I guess they sell a little better -- people want to imagine the heroine for themselves? The disembodied woman on the cover always bothers me, too, although when I see covers with full images of women, I'm also annoyed! :/

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    2. I went back and forth about that decision because the original painting does have a full face, but the tradition of chopping off the head allows for the readers to imagine the character for themselves. Further, while I see Emeline as being the woman shown on the cover, the moment I see her full face, it's not Emeline anymore. It's kind of weird.

      Another interesting thing about this painting, which is of Lady Astor by John Singer Sargent if you want to look it up...her expression is kind of ambiguous. It's because of her eyes, but when you don't see her eyes, it kind of looks like she's got that sly smile, which is what I wanted for the cover.

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  9. Sounds wonderful (well, as much as a book with such a subject can). I love books with creepy houses in them, where the house takes a personality and character of its own. And this one sounds a good example.

    I agree with your answer about headless people on covers, imagination and such. (I have to agree that although annoying - used too much! - it's better than a whole person.)

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  10. Oh, I love the sound of this! It sounds like a perfect read for a stormy fall day. Definitely taking note of this one! Great review!

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    Replies
    1. Yes -- stormy fall days are made for books like this! I hope you get a chance to pick it pu!

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  11. Fancy cover is fancy! Whoa! This girl is empowered. She asked for his hand. Well, that's surprising. This sounds really cool! Adding to my list!

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  12. I like the cover of this book and the book itself sounds great!

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