Hope Tarr – "The Haunting"

13 Apr

GENRE: Romance / Paranormal
PUBLISHED: Harlequin Blaze, 2007

WHY THIS NOVEL: I really liked Vanquished and despite one (major) plotting problem, IMO, I liked It’s a Wonderfully Sexy Life also. So here I go.

The back blurb:
“Investigating a noise in the attic of her historic home, Maggie Holliday encounters a handsome man in a Civil War uniform. He calls her “Isabel,” seduces her in ways the shy academic had never dreamed of … then literally vanishes.
With every fleeting visit, Maggie’s mysterious lover – Ethan – takes her closer to the edge of ecstasy and madness. Is he really a ghost? Far from chilling her, his tough is incendiary – it all feels so real and so very, very good. And so very familiar …
Ethan insists Maggie’s the reincarnation of his long-lost love. And after a few incredible nights in his arms, Maggie is inclined to believe him. But does she dare surrender to a passion that transcends time, tragedy … and even death?”

The premise of The Haunting isn’t an easy one because a lot suspension of disbelieve is needed right from the get-go. A love story between a ghost and a woman who’s alive. In The Haunting, a reincarnation twist is added to the ghost premise. On the one hand, this makes the ghost premise easier to belief. But on the other hand, it causes problems for the believability of the love story. Tarr succeeded in the first place. There is a fairly elaborate explanation for the ghost’s existence. It’s the ‘other hand’ I had problems with.

I never got the see why Ethan loves Maggie other than she’s the reincarnation of Isabel. That’s it, and that’s a bit underwhelming. They have hot sex but beside that I didn’t see much interaction going on. The one or two times it is mentioned that Ethan might love Maggie even more than Isabel didn’t really do it for me either. It felt tacked on and in combination with the epilogue it turns rather problematic in my view.

Now Maggie. Why did she love Ethan? Apart from the fact that he’s the total opposite of her current boyfriend Richard, what a lot of men would be (more on Richard later), I have to assume it’s the old ‘she-orgasmed-she’s-in-love’ reason going on. To be fair, Maggie had orgasms before, just not with Richard, but in the beginning she says about herself: ‘It was bad enough being thirty years old and frigid – make that orgasmically challenged – without getting cheesy sex toys as reminder gifts’ (p. 22), so we’re nearly there.

Or it could be because she’s the reincarnation of Isabel and that’s that. As I said above, this is problematic for me because I get the sense that Maggie is taken over by Isabel and I thought I’m supposed to care about Maggie because the whole novel I read her story. The whole ‘it’s the same soul and they’re soul mates’ just didn’t work here (it seldom does for me).

Richard is Maggie’s current boyfriend and he’s eeeeevil. Every single thing he does or says is unpleasant or downright nasty. Equally, there’s not one single positive thing said or thought about him by Maggie. Leaving aside his shout that opens the first chapter, here’s Richard’s introduction:

Footfalls stomping up the attic stairs confirmed that such guilty pleasures would have to keep until later. Knowing how bad her boyfriend was with books – her treasured first edition of Uncle Tom’s Cabin had never been the same since he’d touched it – she laid the diary on the built in shelving, making a mental note to retrieve it later. (p. 16)

And that’s one of the ‘nicer’ things said about him. He’s so eeeeevil, nasty, unsympathetic that he’s a caricature and totally unbelievable. It’s either that or you have to assume that Maggie’s just stupid and weak for being with him (for so long). Not a good option. Looking back, I think Richard was the deal-breaker in this novel for me. I thought him just totally ridiculous and unbelievable in his evilness.

The pace of the story is slow and only picks up near the end. That’s not a problem in itself (I rather enjoy ‘slow’ stories), but here it’s mostly because the unfolding of the story has to keep pace with Maggie’s reading of Isabel’s diary, in some way paralleling events. My structure-liking self was delighted., but it also smacks a bit of heavy plotting. How Maggie managed to read only a few pages each day when she knew early on that there was something strange going on, I don’t know and, despite all the things she had to do with the move and her dissertation, I can’t understand.

I liked the sense of history and setting in the story. And I thought the solution to the ‘ghost problem’ (last chapter) a good one. But the epilogue, although delighting my structure-liking self again, left me scratching my head a little because it ties back to my problem with the reincarnation thing.

All in all, the story of The Haunting didn’t measure up to Hope Tarr’s writing skills. And that leaves me a bit sad, knowing what could have been.

Would I recommend this novel? Maybe.

Would I read this novel again? No.

Grade: 3 / 5


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