Susan Hill – The Beacon

07Nov09

Background:

I ended up picking this book for the Take A Chance Challenge#5. You might have noticed that in my original book selection, I had opted for Mary Higgins Clark’s Just Take My Heart. However, that book is not out in paperback yet, so… I went back to the phone book and found the name “Hill”.

With Howard’s End Is On The Landing out recently, and loads of bloggers reviewing it, I figured Susan Hill was the sensible choice! And so, here it is… Susan Hill’s The Beacon. Just for the record, this is the first Susan Hill I’ve read….

The book opens with Mrs. Prime’s peaceful death at The Beacon, where she lives with one of her children, May. Two of the others have married locally, and quiet, almost reticent Frank lives in London. May had gone to London to study to escape from the bleak country-life, but, hallucinations and nightmares drove her to return to the safety of home within the year.

While May is contemplating making the call to her siblings, she tries to figure out if she should call Frank – Frank who betrayed the entire family, and who they haven’t spoken to since. This leads to retrospection: looking back at how events unfolded, and the impact it had on the family as a whole.

Mostly written in May’s voice, this book does explore a very interesting topic. Frank’s ultimate betrayal is writing a book in first person, entitled The Story Of One Boy’s Brutal Childhood, where he talks of his life in the “cupboard under the stairs” (very Harry Potter-like), and the abuse he suffered at the hands of his older siblings and father. However, as the other children (now adults) remember it, this is mere fabrication, and none of it ever happened. However, as they live in a small village in Ireland, the family name has been tarnished, and it’s almost impossible for them to vindicate themselves. Also, a doubt has formed in everyone’s mind, and the siblings themselves cannot determine what’s the truth, and what they have deleted from their memories.

While the premise is interesting, i.e. how a memoir like Frank’s victimises the family, the book in itself fell flat. It started off being interesting, but as it progressed, it left a lot to be desired… specially the ending, which was at best ambiguous. Based on this, I don’t think I’ll be seeking out more of Susan Hill’s works.

Rating: 2.5

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14 Responses to “Susan Hill – The Beacon”

  1. Wow, that is one complicated challenge. It sounds like fun, but imagine what you might end up reading! Think I’m more risk averse than previously suspected…

    Obviously you weren’t hugely impressed by this book, but at the same time you make it sound very interesting! What a quandary!

    (Admittedly, part of my interest arises from the fact that I often tell how my parents locked me in the cellar as a kid… But, since we didn’t actually have a cellar at the time, this hasn’t been hugely damaging to my much maligned parents!)

    • It’s fun – read a lot of books I ordinarily wouldn’t have, and while it wasn’t all good, most of them were! Plus, read my first Pratchett thanks to this challenge, so… two thumbs up!

      It is interesting, but then it just fizzles out, and leaves you with a “what’s the point” feeling, if you know what I mean.

      Oh! You should write a book about your time in the cellar…. your poor parents!

  2. I haven’t read any Susan Hill yet, but I have heard that she is great at writing spooky stories (especially The Woman in Black) but that her other ones aren’t very good. I would try one of her darker books, as I think that is where her strength lies.

    • I’ve heard the same about The Woman In Black, but, this book did almost nothing for me, barring an interesting plot, so… I don’t know.

      I might try one of the darker ones… not soon though!

  3. I’ve read three of Susan Hill’s books (her Simon Serrailer-series). The first one I picked up because I thought it was a murder-mystery, and while it was quite good, the two which followed were…flat. I think there are some new books out in that series but I haven’t bothered to pick them up since the two last were such disappointments.

  4. 7 Jacqui

    I have long adored two of Susan Hills early novels ‘Gentleman and Ladies’ and ‘A Change for the Better’ and would urge you to try these before you give up on her. However I agree that her later books apart from the ghost stories leave something to be desired. I have also found the Simon Serrailier series ‘disappointing’. I love crime fiction that has a complex plot and where the characters stories are part of the story and expected these books to be exactly this. They somehow aren’t. In the main I didn’t like the charaters particularly and had little interedst in them. I felt very much that the ‘murders’ in these stories are not needed – they are not really crime novels in my opinion.

    • thank you for the recommendations.

      Thanks for your insight into her thrillers as well. It doesn’t endear me to her works that much… if at all. Like you, I like crime novels with complex plots, and great characters, so…

  5. I’d go with ‘The Woman in Black’ if you ever do want to try her again, it’s the one the most bloggers I know have had a consistent expereince with (and it terrified me). Sad that this one wasn’t your cup of tea because the ideas do sound interesting and I want to know if Hill ultimately condemns this kind of memoir, or believes there may be some real purpose for the genre. Maybe it’s a library borrow instead of a buy.

    • See, now I’m in a bit of a dilemma. I was so underwhelmed with this book, that I didn’t feel inclined to read anything else by her. Then, all you guys come along, and recommend so many of her books, that I feel like I really should give her a second shot!!

      Read the book and find out :)

      To be fair, the book does bring up some interesting points, but, one does wonder: why would you write a very “real” book claiming your family abused you, if it wasn’t true?

  6. It seems a bit of a shame to write an author off after only one book as even the greats will release a dud here and there. I am a bit of a Hill fan it has to be said but then again I have read mainly her spooky shorter tales. Great review too by the way.

    • Thank you.

      While I agree with you, and based on all the comments, I really should give one of her spookier tales a chance (The Woman In Black, maybe?), the thing about Susan Hill was, her writing just didn’t do it for me (constant repetitions, blandness, unappealing characters). Couple that with the story falling flat, and you have a very disappointed reader.

  7. 13 sarah

    The book is not set in Ireland. The farm is located in the north of England. Perhaps if you had read the book with more attention you might have got more out of it.

    • Think it was an honest mistake, as I was reading another book based in Ireland at the same time. Must’ve gotten my wires crossed while writing the review.

      Maybe I’d’ve gotten more out of the book if I’d paid more attention to it. However, in my opinion, the writer didn’t do enough to capture my interest/attention, despite the plot “sounding” interesting.


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