The Haunted Hotel, by Wilkie Collins, is a short gothic romance set in Venice. A mere 140-something pages, it elicits much of the mood he so successfully created in The Woman In White. We are introduced to the same kinds of mysterious women, one with an extraordinarily pale complexion, one with an especially tender heart, who play out their roles within a palace in Venice which had been converted to a hotel.
This is not to say there are no men in this novella. It’s just the men are quickly disappearing, and therein lies the tension. What has happened to the Baron Rivar? To Lord Montbarry? To the courier, Ferrari, who has disappeared shortly after arriving in Venice to work for Lord Montbarry? And, what lies within the secret compartment revealed when the statues adorning the mantel are pushed in a certain way?
I can see now, after reading this novel, The Comfort of Strangers, and Don’t Look Now, how Venice has become the perfect setting for the mysterious. The dangerous. Those lost in love. Because it is a city of great beauty, to be sure, but also a city which seems to defy reason. How can it exist, set as it is on a lagoon? How can the characters in these stories escape an imminent danger we sense as soon as we read the first page? I’m ready for something lighter now, but Wilkie Collins never seems to disappoint even if he does write of things darkly mysterious. Like the human soul.
I made a collage of covers, sorely lamenting my own lack of one, as the novel is available for free to those of you who own a nook. Now I can vicariously enjoy what Penguin and other publishers have used to present Collins’ novella.)