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Book: The Witching Hour

October 17, 2008

One good thing about being so sick this week is that I was able to finish this monster of a book (at 1035 pages) in a pretty short period of time (I think I started it Saturday night? or maybe Sunday?) which leaves me time to start The Terror!

Anyway. Oh, I love this book so much. It was a re-read. I don’t know if I’ve read it more than once before — it was my first Anne Rice novel and I remember reading it on a camping trip when I was in high school. I was riveted to this book and could not stop reading it. I still remember many of my impressions from this first reading. It must have just come out, it was published in 1990, and I am guessing I read it in 1991. Side note: my second Anne Rice novel was The Queen of the Damned, and I read it in Finland (1992-93) and didn’t connect that it was the same author — which is good, because I would have been very disappointed that the library only had one of her books (it was, after all, Finland, and I was lucky to have any selection of English books to read at all!). Once I got home, I realized that there was this WHOLE WORLD of Anne Rice books to read and then I had to read them all. I dropped off somewhere after Memnoch The Devil or maybe I even started The Vampire Armand but by then I was kind of over it. I did read the other two Taltos/Mayfair Witches books, but more on that in a bit.

Ok, now that we have my entire history with Anne Rice settled, let’s get down to this book. It is the best Anne Rice book (in my opinion) and is such a dream to read. It starts in the Bay Area, when Michael Curry is rescued from drowning by the cold and remote Dr. Rowan Mayfair. Soon, they fall tightly in love and go to New Orleans, where Michael is from, and where Rowan’s family (previously unknown to her) is from. Michael is being called back to New Orleans because of a mysterious vision he had while he was clinically dead in the Pacific Ocean, and Rowan is there because her birth mother has just died, and there is an entire branch of family she never knew she had.

And what a family. A very large portion of this book — at least half the book — is the Mayfair family history. The Talamasca, a secretive occult-studying group, has a huge file on “The Mayfair Witches” — a string of descendants from the original “witch” Suzanne, who called a spirit, Lasher, to her. This spirit has attached itself to each descendant in the chain, one per generation, who has the power to see him and command him. That the spirit is gaining in power with each generation is obvious. What is not obvious is exactly what influence Lasher has over each witch. Clearly he bestows upon them many gifts, both worldy and otherworldly. But are they using him, or is it the other way around?

So, if a seductive, powerful, jealous spirit attaching itself to a powerful female in each generation wasn’t good enough, we also have tales of incest (upon incest, upon incest…), reanimation of dead bodies, wealth beyond imagining, wild parties, tragedies… and through it all, this dark sexy spirit somehow pulling the strings.

Finally we realize that Rowan is the strongest of them all — and only she can do what Lasher has wanted all along.

So, the story and the plot are great. The family history is so gruesome, twisted and fascinating that it is not a chore to read at all, and then the modern-day Mayfairs are so charming and mysterious, you just want to meet them all yourself.

But the other star of this novel is New Orleans itself. This is a beautiful, beautiful novel written with so much love for New Orleans. I have been to New Orleans once and I completely adored it. I hadn’t realized until just tonight, as I was looking at Anne Rice’s website, that the house featured in the novel is actually where Anne Rice lived, 1239 First Street. When I was in New Orleans, I of course had to go see her house and it was beautiful. Her descriptions of New Orleans traditions, society, architecture, cemeteries and the Garden District are so lush and inviting, I was completely transported and really had no idea how much time was going by as I read the book.

I also realized, while browsing her website, how much of the story is Anne’s own story (supernatural beings and general occultery aside). The Bay Area (Berkeley), the move back to New Orleans, the churches, the house, some family history, etc. Fascinating.

Needless to say, when I wasn’t shivering under the covers or wandering around looking for Tylenol, I have done nothing else but read this book since Tuesday, while I’ve been home sick. It’s been a perfect diversion from how dreadful I feel.

So — creepy, scary, disturbing… but also beautiful, lush, inviting, magical, transporting — this is such a fabulous novel. It was a perfect RIP selection and I don’t know why I’ve waited this long to read it again.

Favorite scenes: the disgusting jarred body parts in the attic, the history of Deborah and Petyr van Abel, the restoration of the First Street house, anything to do with Julien Mayfair…

Definitely on my Top 50, if not Top 20 Favorite Books list. Oh yes, and I did read the sequels, Lasher and Taltos. They were also pretty good, but nowhere near as captivating as The Witching Hour. Worth reading if you enjoyed this book, but I don’t think I need to re-read them at this time.

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