Gothic Horror Left Wanting: The Well

9780143202769The Well by Elizabeth Jolley

I first read this book in my late teens and didn’t particularly enjoy it. On a trip back to Australia I bought one of the orange covered Penguin releases (what a wonderful series to remedy forgotten classics) and it has been sitting on my bookcase since. What a perfect opportunity to dust it off for the Australian Women’s Writers Challenge!

‘I’ve brought Katherine, father,’ Miss Harper said. ‘But she’s for me,’ she added.

Elderly and lame, Miss Hester Harper adopts Katherine, a young orphan girl who has a penchant for American films. Together they live an idyllic life of fancy on an isolated farm until one night they hit a creature in their car and dump the body in the property’s well.

First Impressions: I found this novel difficult to get into as Jolley’s style is to fill her sentences with countless embedded clauses. I was often having to re-read sentences to remember where the detail started. I also found the story rather flat, including the teaser of a first chapter.

Highlights: There wasn’t too much that stood out for me in this novel. However the pace increased after the body was thrown in the well. I could also see Jolley’s influence in Tim Winton’s writing.

If I was an editor: I would immediately recognise this as a literary work but personally would be disappointed that the box ticking (the inclusion of ‘otherness’ for feminist, post-modern, post-colonial and, very tenuously in my opinion, racial interpretations) was to the detriment of what could have been a good gothic horror story. I think I groaned out loud when Hester met a woman who told her the rules for writing a novella.

Overall: A story with much potential that was perhaps just trying to do too much.

The Well: 3 stars


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