Burnt Offerings: Valancourt 20th Century Classics (Unabridged)
by Robert Marasco
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Ben and Marian Rolfe are desperate to escape a stifling summer in their tiny Brooklyn apartment, so when they get the chance to rent a mansion in upstate New York for the entire summer for only $900, it's an offer that's too good to refuse. There's only one catch: behind a strange and intricately carved door in a distant wing of the house lives elderly Mrs. Allardyce, and the Rolfes will be responsible for preparing her meals. But Mrs. Allardyce never seems to emerge from her room, and it soon becomes clear that something weird and terrifying is happening in the house. As the suspense builds toward a revelation of what really lies behind that locked door, the Rolfes will discover that their cheap vacation rental comes at a terrible cost.... The basis for a classic 1976 film adaptation and an acknowledged influence on Stephen King's The Shining, Burnt Offerings is one of the most original and scariest haunted house novels ever written. This edition, the first in decades, features a new introduction by award-winning author Stephen Graham Jones.
At it's core is this is a haunted house story
Burnt Offerings by Robert Marasco is a slow-burn of a horror novel, one that I have to admit I struggled with. For a book that’s around only 8 hours of listening time, it felt twice as long thanks to Marasco’s lethargic pacing and subtle scares.
At it’s core, Burnt Offerings is a haunted house story. Ben and Marian Rolfe, along with their son, Dave, escape the city for the summer and rent an opulent, lakeside mansion on the cheap. There’s a catch, of course, beyond the minor price-tag and the oddities of the Allardyce’s they are renting from, and Marian soon finds herself the caretaker of an unseen old woman who lives upstairs. The premise is sound, but the execution left me wanting far more than Marasco provided. See, I prefer quicker, deeper, faster cuts in my horror fiction and too much of the horror elements here revolved around a woman’s hair turning prematurely gray as she methodically cleans house. Too much of the book is even less intriguing than this. There are occasional, and well done, moments of creepiness, as well as forays into violence and madness, to interrupt the otherwise languid narrative before slipping back into a frustratingly slow story, until the last hour or so when things finally get kicked up a notch for an unsettling finale.
Burnt Offerings is a mixed bag of a book. I didn’t care much for the characters or Marasco’s plodding pace, but there is a richly developed theme about the curse of consumerism and desiring what others have. Much of the book revolves around Marian’s base need to possess what is beyond her, until she, and those she loves, is threatened by the very thing she wishes to consume. It’s a great element in the book, but one that I wish were amplified to a stronger degree in the characters. I wanted more psychological scares, more mania, more horror. I know Burnt Offerings was a notable influence on Stephen King’s The Shining, but frankly I’ll take that King book over this any day.
A part of me thinks that RC Bray, though, is a better narrator than this book needed. He has such a rich, deep voice and switches up character voices with ease and a lack of fuss. His delivery is spot-on, particularly during the rare frenetic scenes where he provides a suitable amount of gusto to bring the horror to life. In terms of production quality, there’s nothing to complain about – audio levels and clarity are consistently good throughout the run-time, and I like the little snippet of musical score that accompanied the opening and ending of this title.
While I found myself occasionally disturbed by some of the events depicted in Marasco’s book, I ultimately felt more disappointed and, too often, bored.
Audiobook was provided for review by the publisher.
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