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The Fall: An Edgar Allan Poe Tale Retold
The Mysteries of the Ushers
The Fall by Bethany Grffin is a retelling of Edgar Allan Poe's short story, The Fall of the House of Usher. While Poe's piece tells the story through a friend's eyes of a distraught man overrun with a mysterious family illness, The Fall follows the story of Madeline Usher, a member of the House of Usher.
This horror story follows Madeline through the years as she grows up in the House of Usher and discovers its deep dark secrets and finds out that the feelings she once felt from the house--sentiment, protection, love--are all manufactured to make sure she does not leave, so that she can continue the family line and ensure that the curse placed upon the Usher family prevails.
Keeping with the same dark themes as Poe's original, this book will keep the reader flipping the pages desperately to see what happens to the House and to poor Madeline with her distant brother, addled father, and confused bordering abusive mother.
Not to mention that the House seems to have picked her as her generation's favorite.
Poe's The Fall of the House of Usher
The original short story by Poe, published in 1839, was written from the perspective of a friend being called to the House of Usher by his friend, a member of the House. When he arrives, he finds his friend in disarray, and the House extremely intimidating.
This is similar to The Fall in that Madeline Usher does have a twin brother, who has a friend who eventually appears in the story. The House plays a larger part, however, and the reader is able to see Roderick Usher before he is reduced to the terrified, unstable young man he becomes and that he is in the beginning Poe's tale.
Complications in Style
The biggest issue this book has is not the story itself, but rather how it's told. At the beginning of the book, extending towards a little over the middle, each chapter is a time skip.
So one instance the reader is discovering about Madeline when she is six, and the next Madeline is sixteen, then ten, then back to six, and so on. While this is, at first, a genuinely interesting artistic choice, the author didn't show as much restraint as they should have.
As the time keeps skipping every chapter or every other chapter, events become muddled and trying to keep them in line distracts from the story itself. While at the beginning it is a refreshing twist on the typical storytelling, it soon turns into an annoying distraction, and quite honestly, becomes somewhat of a gimmick instead of an artistic style choice.
While the idea was interesting in theory, in practice the book used too many time skips and muddled the story, and for a while in the middle, it feels as though the story drags on--as if pieces of unimportant scenes are added for the sake of length.
Terror of the Ushers
The organization of the story set aside, this book is a brilliant thriller in that it keeps the reader guessing, held in dreadful suspense.
Just when Madeline--and the reader--thinks she's out of danger, something happens to drag her back into the story and the terrors of the house. The history of the House is ancient and cleverly devised. Each piece of information is slowly uncovered along Madeline's years and forces the reader to try to put together the pieces, always keeping an extra bit of vital information hidden until when absolutely necessary.
Madeline is an extremely well-written and likable character. Her vulnerability doesn't overpower the rest of her personality but instead enhances it, highlighting her moments of courage as golden moments that the reader can mentally (or physically--whatever gets your goat) cheer for. She's clever and brave, and she and her brother, Roderick, act as fantastic foils to each other.
The Fall of the House of Usher
The above video clip is from the 1960 film version The Fall of the House of Usher, directed by Roger Corman and based off of the original short story by Edgar Allan Poe. There was a later version made in 2008, directed by Hayley Cloake.
This clip highlights the Usher twins' relationship greatly, and the book The Fall provides a satisfying backstory as to why Roderick acts so attached, bordering incestuous, to his sister, while Madeline warns Roderick against revealing the secrets of the House to an outsider.
Favorite Edgar Allan Poe Short Story?
All in all, this is a great introduction to Poe that young readers can use to better understand Poe's work while still achieving the same dramatic terror he portrayed in his originals.
Grffin has written other remakes of Poe's work, as well, including the Masque of the Red Death.
Please leave a comment if you have any questions or thoughts.