Burnt Offerings is a sweltering haunted house tale of madness and decay.
Burnt Offerings is a supernatural haunted house horror story that takes place in the summer. It has great tension and a sultry buildup that descents into madness and decay. The seventies vibe is strongly present and creates a nostalgic and elusive atmosphere. With great writing, likable characters and a mysterious mansion Burnt Offerings is a creepy story that subtly creeps under your skin.
The Rolfe family, father Ben, mother Marian and eight year old son David go spent the summer in the country and bring their elderly aunt Elizabeth along. Marian is sick and tired of the sticky hot summer in New York City and longs for some fresh air in the country.
The Allerdyces, sister Roz and Brother rent out their big mansion for the summer. With a full larder to get them through the summer and a beautiful big house with a swimming pool, this seems too good to be true. The only catch is that Mother Allerdyce stays at the mansion in her room and Marian is to bring her breakfast, lunch and dinner.
This seems to be an effortless task so the Rolfes are looking forward to summer in the country. But they soon discover that the house has some sinister secrets and that their stay is turning a delightful carefree summer into a threatening terrifying experience.
Why you should read it
Burnt Offerings is a pleasantly written story that has very likable characters. They are playful and so is the writing. The buildup to the horrific climax is therefore all the more shocking. The writing is also very visual, creating a livid story. The story itself is focused rather on the characters and their experiences than on the psychological side to the story. The story speaks through their actions and the characters are introduced in a more indirect way. This way the reader slowly gets to know them and gets to experience all the sinister happenings with the family.
The story evolves around Ben and Marian. David and Elizabeth are just side characters who play an important role in the progression of the hauntings, mostly by watching it all happen but they are either too young or too old to save the so-called adults from their horrible doom, nor can they protect themselves.
Although it’s a haunted house tale, the house itself is not really haunted by ghosts but something else completely and more sinister at that. For the house itself is a character too. Very subtly the house also comes to life, but in a sinister and creepy way.
The plot is very original and has a slow buildup and an interesting structure that is very subtle, creating a dark atmosphere in the sunshine. The foreboding feeling gets stronger, but is still rather intangible.
While Marian descends into madness, Ben is plagued by hallucinations that are quite eerie. This psychological deterioration is done to them and is very well-written, and is shown by behavior, dialogue and descriptions of events instead of inner experiences. That makes it all the more terrifying, seeing it happening, while their minds are affected. It’s about suggestion, without any proof, that there is something very wrong. But the sun disguises all that is dark and unpleasant, until it’s too late.
My favorite part
There’s no particular part I liked best, the whole book is a great read and it all comes together so that each page is a joy to read. The interaction between the characters are very well-written and they really come to life. It’s not your average haunted house ghost story, but it has a far more surreal style to it. That will surely please the fans of the surrealistic horror.
The ending is a classic sinister turn of events leading to an unavoidable faith. Ben’s hallucinations are great and add to the surreal vibe. Some explicitly scary scenes are alternated with some very subtle eerie scenes that keeps the scary parts interesting. The nice composition of the family gives enough room to play with different kind of events and experiences to create a diverse horror story in a closed environment and when paranoia strikes the claustrophobia increases.
If you enjoy great storytelling with an original take and a twist that doesn’t spare anyone, including the reader, then this is certainly a must read.
A favorite quote
‘Each of the photographs was the same size, with the same thin silver frame – and, as Ben had indicated, exactly the same view of the house: looking toward the front from halfway across the wide field.’
Scare factor: ★★★★☆
Surreal factor: ★★★★★
Originality factor: ★★★★★
Burnt Offerings is written by Robert Marasco and first published by Delacorte Press in 1973 and was republished by Valancourt Books in 2015. It consists of 246 pages.