Review: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Author: Shirley Jackson
Title: The Haunting of Hill House
Format/Source: eBook/Amazon
Published: 1959
Publisher: Penguin
Length: 182 pages
Genre: Suspense
Why I Read: Loved We Have Always Lived in the Castle; part of Estella Society readalong
Read If You’re: A lover of a terror or haunted houses, but prefer modern over Victorian
Quote: I would like to watch her dying, Eleanor thought, and smiled back and said, ‘Don’t be silly.’
Rating:  ★★★★★ [ratings guide]
GoodReads IndieBound Chapters | Amazon

Please note: This review contains minor spoilers in the discussion of mood and character personalities/development. Readalong discussion at end.

The Haunting of Hill House is my favourite type of classic. With its Victorian heart of a terrific (in all senses of the word) haunted house, modern prose, and a small but sharp cast of characters, I think this is a tale that will stay with me for a long time. If you haven’t yet read The Haunting of Hill House, I urge you to read it now as we move toward the heart of autumn and the season of all things spooky. This is a story with which you should curl up under a blanket and feel your heartbeat quicken with each turn of the page.

Eleanor struck a chord with me. She is the main reason why this book trumps We Have Always Lived in the Castle for me. I’ve never found a character more relatable. It’s amusing now to think I initially imagined Eleanor as a crochety old lady! I’m not sure if this is because I associate the name Eleanor with the character from the Inkworld trilogy, or if that is the impression Jackson intended – the reader experiences the Eleanor burdened by her mother, her sister and her brother-in-law, then comes to know Eleanor as she wishes or knows herself to truly be. I enjoyed watching Eleanor spring to life as she drove out to Hill House.

On the main street of one village she passed a vast house, pillared and walled, with shutters over the windows and a pair of stone lions guarding the steps, and she thought that perhaps she might live there, dusting the lions each morning and patting their heads good night. Time is beginning this morning in June, she assured herself, but it is a time that is strangely new and of itself; in these few seconds I have lived a lifetime in a house with two lions in front. (14%)

Ah, Eleanor, now come to life, crack that bitter exterior and shine through! The above passage made me fall in love with Eleanor. At first she just delighted me, but I quickly began to see much of myself in her. I rarely empathize with characters, that’s just not how I am, but there were moments while reading when I actually cringed because I knew I had thought and felt the exact same as Eleanor at one time. I highlighted many passages and made a note at one point – “Geez, Eleanor, cutting it close to home.” This was a new reading experience for me. I’ll leave it to you to guess which bits resonated with me. I didn’t want to think Eleanor could lose her mind, so I think it took me longer than the average reader to recognize that was a possibility (as opposed to the her being haunted). I was happy to believe it was the house, it was the house haunting her, but by the end it’s clear the house affected Eleanor differently from the others. I discuss this further below, as part of the Readalong discussion.

I will raise white cats and sew white curtains for the windows and sometimes come out of my door to go to the store to buy cinnamon and tea and bread. (15%)

A dog slept uneasily in the shade against a wall, a woman stood in a doorway across the street and looked at Eleanor, and two young boys lounged against a fence, elaborately silent. Eleanor, who as afraid of strange dogs and jeering women and young hoodlums, went quickly into the diner, clutching her pocketbook and her car keys. (16%)

I would never have suspected it of myself, she thought, laughing still; everything is different, I am a new person, very far from home. (17%).

The limited cast of characters pleased me. I generally prefer this focused approach, where I can really come to know a handful of characters (a notable exception being the Unwind dystology, which has a host of fantastic characters, some of who only appear for a couple pages). Eleanor stands out as the central character, but her three companions can hold their own. I liked how they play off one another, and I liked watching their relationships morph as their time at Hill House progresses. The character relationships reminded me, afterwards, of Never Let Me Go (some similarities between Eleanor and Kathy, Theodora and Ruth, Luke and Tommy).

Theodora is the next strongest character after Eleanor. Oh, the tension between those two! When Theodora was first introduced, I thought “Oh dear, these two will be at odds for the whole story and that will quickly grow tiresome” but I was wrong. They got along very well, maybe too well, so that I began to wonder “Are they forcing their friendship as a coping mechanism?” but as I came to know the characters better, I believed more in their friendship. Ah, but then along came a crack. Eleanor and Theodora’s personalities have a fundamental difference, and the house doesn’t let them overcome that difference easily (in my opinion). Only retrospectively have I come to understand that Eleanor’s characterization of Theodora could be twisted and tainted by Hill House. I always take narrators’ words at face value. If Eleanor thinks Theodora is wicked, then Theodora is wicked. This is why I am ‘bad’ at reading unreliable narrators – usually when a twist is revealed I’m totally taken aback (good), but with this sort of book it means I miss out on nuances or the underlying story (not so good).

If I have one tiny critique of this book (if you held my toes over a fire and forced me to say), it’s that the male characters are perhaps less well-drawn than the female characters. Doctor Montague seemed to serve primarily as the enabler of the story, while Luke seemed to serve primarily as someone for Theodora and Eleanor to play off. I don’t think their characterizations distract from the story, though, and I don’t think they’re poorly written. They just aren’t as developed as Eleanor, or Theodora, and they don’t need to be.

Now, moving on from characters to the reason why I read the book in the first place – the spookiness! The house frightens from the start, thanks to Jackson’s superb storytelling. The reader cannot physically see or experience the house as the characters do (derp). Jackson utilizes the character’s reactions to the house (as opposed to simply describing the house) to prompt the reader to feel the house’s terror as its inhabitants do. Not every writer can prompt their readers to feel the same as a character just by describing that character’s thoughts and actions. Yet I felt the same emotions as Eleanor did upon first entering Hill House (though thankfully not as intensely!). Admittedly, this could be because I identify strongly with Eleanor and other readers may not have the same experience, but I think Jackson really has a skill at creating atmosphere through character. For example, Jackson introduces the idea that the house looks evil in a single paragraph at the start of chapter two, then continues with Eleanor’s thoughts as she enters the house. Consider: “I’m going to cry, [Eleanor] thought, like a child sobbing and wailing, I don’t like it here…” (%), as she speaks with the housekeeper to find her room. To me, this line is one of many from Eleanor’s perspective that highlight the house’s eerie atmosphere and prompt a sense of dread.

I am like a small creature swallowed whole by a monster, she thought, and the monster feels my tiny little movements inside. (22%)

At first, I kept myself on edge waiting for something horrific to happen. I messaged my friend while reading, “Ohhhh, it’s nighttime, now there’s going to be terrible happenings!” I suppose that shows how often I read books like this… Perhaps if I read horror instead of terror I would be correct in my anticipations, but of course I was incorrect here. Terror is when you grow more and more spooked, as I did, waiting for something to happen. I should be clear that not every page of this story will terrify you. But, almost every page of this story will make you feel uneasy (if you are like me). This feeling makes the smaller events feel all the more terrifying. The following passage may not frighten you on its own, but come across it in the book after being on edge for a hundred pages and it might make you shudder. Even in my quiet apartment in very safe Japan, with the sound of cars and laughter outside my window, I could feel the chill created by an evil house.

A thin little giggle came, in a breath of air through the room, a little mad rising laugh, the smallest whisper of a laugh, and Eleanor heard it all up and down her back, a little gloating laugh moving past them around the house, and then she heard the doctor and Luke calling from the stairs, and, mercifully, it was over. (57%)

 

Most Gothic novels are written in an ornate style, but Jackson chooses a simplistic style with a conversational word choice. What does it add to this harrowing tale? Do you find that it detracts in some places? 

Jackson’s style is a significant factor in why I’ve enjoyed her novels so much, and the third reason why I love this story. To me, her style is very sharp and modern. This style brings the terror closer to home. The only other author in this genre I’ve read is Susan Hill. While I enjoy her books and feel spooked by them, the Victorian air creates some distance between me and what’s happening in the story. Jackson’s style makes the story feel more realistic and believable, as though the story could have happened to a friend of a friend, or even me, if I just wandered through the forests and found such a house.

The Big One: what is it about Hill House that allows it to consume Eleanor’s sanity so efficiently? Or, what is it about Eleanor that allows Hill House to consumer her sanity?

Oh, what indeed! Moonlight Reader rephrased this question – is the house haunting the characters, or are the characters haunting the house? This question can be especially applied to Eleanor. Is the house haunting a woman or is the woman haunting the house? I like to think the house is haunting the characters (I like my ghost stories straightforward like that), but perhaps they open themselves to this haunting.  As you might me be able to tell from the perspective of the bulk of my review, I prefer to think it’s the house doing the haunting. I didn’t doubt that while reading the book, but now that I’m reflecting back… I’m not sure of the best answer to this question. As JoAnn commented on the discussion post, “I liked the book, but felt like I never knew what was really happening”. I think I’ll need a few rereads before I settle on an answer that satisfies me. But for now, I think Eleanor wanted something, and somewhere deep inside she thought the house could give her that and so she made herself vulnerable to its evils. I don’t have any concrete proof for this claim (thankfully, despite the length, I’m not actually writing an academic paper here…) but that’s the feeling I got. 

One last thought… I’ve only just realized as approach the end of this review. This is the first book to come anywhere near to one of my all-time favourites, White is For Witching, which I first read in 2009. White is for Witching isn’t a frightening book, but it does feature a haunted house, a similar protagonist named Miranda, and prose that evokes the same mood.

I can hear everything, all over the house, she wanted to tell them (85%)

The Bottom Line: I am full of nothing but uncritical praise for this book. That’s how I know it’s a new favourite. I look forward to a reread next autumn! Do read if you like crisp prose, well-drawn characters and a haunted house driven terror. If you’ve never read a spooky story before, start with this, one of the best.

Further Reading: 

    Review: Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

    Author: Robin Sloan
    Title: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore
    Format/Source: eBook/library 
    Published: October 2012
    Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
    Length: 304 pages
    Genre: General fiction/mystery
    Why I Read: Liked the idea of a 24 hour bookstore, stumbled across some reviews that remind me to read it
    Read If You’re: A Google superfan??
    Quote: “You and I will have a son, and we will name him Hadoop, and he will be a great warrior, a king!”
    Rating:  ★★ [ratings guide]
    GoodReads IndieBound Chapters | Amazon

    This book appeared to be one I would love. A catchy name? A 24-hour bookstore? A cover featuring bookshelves and a ladder reaching further than the eye can see? Normally that’s all it would take to sell me, but I didn’t add it to Goodreads until April this year. I guess deep down I sensed it wasn’t going to be a great read for me. After reading Lianne’s recent review, I decided to finally check it off my TBR list.

    My first impression was that this would be a warm and fuzzy story meant to appeal to book lovers. I discovered through reviews that this book is primarily about old vs. new technology. I adjusted my expectations, but I still thought it might be a good read. Yet when I started reading, I realized my expectations were still way off. The tone and plot were not at all what I expected. Talk about “don’t judge a book by it’s cover” – not since 1Q84 have I been so let down!

    The plot was the largest disappointment for me. The ‘secret’ behind the bookstore is (highlight to reveal spoiler) an ancient cult society trying to unlock the secret to immortality? This was not what I wanted to be reading about, and I found the reveal a big disappointment. I hoped for a more poignant reason motivated the customers of Penumbra’s store, something that would comment on why we love to read perhaps, but for me it was a dull plot point. I was not interested. The final reveal was also elicited an “oh boy big surprise =.=” reaction from me. The story was just not for me – I found it flat, disinteresting, cryptic but meaninglessly so. All the little steps leading to the conclusion didn’t mean anything to me. The use of modeling is an example of this. I think it served the plot somehow later on…but whatever. (Also who actually thinks Skyping into a party is a good idea?! Ms. Super Googler thinks it’s a fantastic great social experiment or something? Good lord, these people.) There’s little conflict and little motivation for me to care how the story will go. 

    I wanted to see more reading and less obsession with technology. I thought it was a strange…The story seems to suggest the importance of balance between old and new technology but there’s waaaaaaay more emphasis on new technology.  It felt like some sort of odd new tech manifesto to me. Which made me wonder – I’m not one to dwell on ‘target audiences’ of a book but…who is the target audience? Who was the author trying to reach out to? What kind of person is meant to enjoy this story? It’s marketed towards book lovers and I see a lot of praise from such persons on Goodreads, but I’m definitely not one of them. There was a lot less book loving happening in this book than I would have guessed from the title and praises. I’d almost recommend it to a guy who doesn’t read much? Perhaps it could be ‘dude lit’. But there is the main/undercurrent of ‘reading is great, books are great’… hm, difficult. 

    I’ve written so much about the plot, I don’t have much left to say about the style. It suits the story, if that gives you an idea… It’s very straightforward, I did this, I did that, Wow this girl works at Google I love her.Very casual, inside average Joe’s head style. I dunno, not my thing.

    One could argue the characters aren’t great either. I could go there, but as I’ve already gone there enough with this book, I’m not going to. I didn’t mind the characters too much, even if they didn’t interest me. Most of them were stock characters, Kat is too gung-ho for me, Clay’s friends seem out of place, but Clay I actually kind of like. Possibly because I know a lot of guys like him. He’s an everyman character of sorts, a generally well-rounded, decent guy. He’s not very interesting. But at least he didn’t stand out as particularly annoying. The humour in this book also falls into the “well, it didn’t bother me much” category. I thought it was silly and cute, but some might find it annoying.
     

    Well. This book didn’t bother me so much while I was reading it, but now that I’ve been stewing and I’m trying to reflect on my reading experience, I can’t think of any very good or redeeming characteristics, or a reason to recommend it. How did this book seem interesting to me for two years?! Tooooo baaaaaad. But wait, there is a small light! One could argue this book supports embracing both old and new technology…but there’s too much emphasis on new tech for me. I think the reader is meant to understand Clay’s love for books, but there’s little proper reading, no demonstrations of said love, just “I really liked these books as a kid once” and old people reading to break code. 
     
    The Bottom Line: Maybe I’m just sour about this book because it wasn’t at all what I wanted. I just don’t get this book. Give it a shot if you feel desperate for some light fluffy Google praises? Don’t give it a shot if you’re looking for a charming tale of a 24 hour book store meant to delight book lovers (please let me know if you can recommend such a book).

    Review: The Swallow by Charis Cotter

    Author: Charis Cotter
    Title: The Swallow: A Ghost Story
    Format/Source: eBook/Netgalley
    Published: September 2014
    Publisher: Tundra Books
    Length: 320 pages
    Genre: Middle grade ghost story
    Why I Read: Intriguing premise, cute cover
    Read If You’re: Looking for a good ghost story, or a story about friendship
    Rating:  ★★★★ [ratings guide]
    GoodReads IndieBound Chapters | Amazon 
    I received a complimentary copy from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

    Publisher’s description: In 1960s Toronto, two girls retreat to their attics to escape the loneliness and isolation of their lives. Polly lives in a house bursting at the seams with people, while Rose is often left alone by her busy parents. Polly is a down-to-earth dreamer with a wild imagination and an obsession with ghosts; Rose is a quiet, ethereal waif with a sharp tongue. Despite their differences, both girls spend their days feeling invisible and seek solace in books and the cozy confines of their respective attics. But soon they discover they aren’t alone–they’re actually neighbors, sharing a wall. They develop an unlikely friendship, and Polly is ecstatic to learn that Rose can actually see and talk to ghosts. Maybe she will finally see one too! But is there more to Rose than it seems? Why does no one ever talk to her? And why does she look so… ghostly? When the girls find a tombstone with Rose’s name on it in the cemetery and encounter an angry spirit in her house who seems intent on hurting Polly, they have to unravel the mystery of Rose and her strange family… before it’s too late.

    Recently, I read Doll Bones. I was most looking forward to the creepy aspect of that book, but the ghost story line seemed to fall by the side in favour of the friendship/growing up story line. Happily, The Swallow satisfied my desire for an eerie middle grade read, striking just the right balance between belonging and friendship, and ghostly terror. A handful of frightening scenes made me anxious while reading this book in the dark before bed! But the fright is not prolonged or overwhelming. There are humorous scenes that do not detract from the creepy of the story, but add to the realistic portrayal of a budding friendship between two young girls. The scene in which they meet for the first time is a particularly good example of this. I enjoyed the focus on the relationships between the two girls and their respective families. I liked that the ghost story is integral to their own lives, and not part of some outside adventure like in Doll Bones. I was surprised to find some emotional parts in this book well – I actually teared up! The story of searching for belonging at that age is one I think many children might relate to.

    The story is written in first person, with chapters alternating between Polly and Rose. Some may find such a narration confusing, especially given the short chapters, but I thought the transitions felt seamless and comfortable. I appreciate this sort of narrative because I think it gives you a better understanding of a character than if you learn about them solely through a third or first person perspective. In The Swallow particularly, this style keeps the reader on their toes about whether Rose is a ghost.

    Please Note: The next paragraph discusses the conclusion of The Swallow. Skip to The Bottom Line to avoid.

    The twist!! There is a twist, and I didn’t expect it at all. I assumed the setting of the 1960s was for atmospheric purposes, so when the timing became significant to the plot I thought “Doh!” I was totally prepared for the main drive of the story being the conclusion of whether Rose is a ghost. So, when a twist came, I was very pleased that it was not over the top (i.e., preceding by heavy foreshadowing and anticipation that something was going to happen), and that it really came as a surprise to me. It was hinted at shortly before the reveal, so I did guess, but I believe you were meant to – it wasn’t dragged out for very long and while the actual revelation was still a surprise, I was excited to read it and I exclaimed “OH OH YES VERY GOOD!!” Well done, Ms. Cotter. I do have one criticism about the conclusion, however. There is no resolution between Polly and her brothers. There’s a moment where they mention they feel like her death was their fault, drawing a clear parallel between how Willie felt about Winnie. I think some sort of farewell between the three of them before Polly moved on would have been appropriate.

     

    The Bottom Line: A great debut novel that will grab your attention from the start, The Swallow provides equal enjoyment for those looking for a good tale about belonging and friendship, or for those looking for a spooky ghost story.

    Further Reading: 

    Review: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton

    Author: Leslye Walton 
    Title: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender
    Format/Source: Hardcover/library 
    Published: March 2014
    Publisher: Candlewick Press
    Length: 301 pages
    Genre: Young adult/magical realism
    Why I Read: Description sounded fantastic
    Read If You’re: New to magical realism or YA
    Quote: “After failing every other attempt to get the ornithologist to notice her […] Pierette took the extreme step of turning herself into a canary” (14).
    Rating:  ★★★★½ [ratings guide]
    Links: GoodReadsIndieBound Chapters | Amazon 

    I finished this book near the beginning of June. It’s taken me weeks to write this review because I kept lending it to people. This is my favourite read of the year so far.

    Before I discuss the story, I want to note that The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender is a fantastic example of young adult fiction that does not hold to the usual tropes and conventions of the genre.  I thought about not labelling this book as YA, but I think both people who only love YA or only love literary fiction should try out this book. The book doesn’t feel like YA to me, aside from the teen protagonist. I read a few interviews with Leslye Walton where she mentions that she did not intend to sell the book as young adult. She notes, “I actually didn’t write it with the intention of selling it as Young Adult because there isn’t a lot of strong literary YA out there, not that there isn’t any” (The Poetics Project interview; click for more).

    I think this could be a good read for those unsure about magical realism, or for those who want to give it a try. Magical realism is “a genre where magic elements are a natural part in an otherwise mundane, realistic environment” (Wiki).  There are light touches (i.e., don’t have major impact on the plot/major component of the plot) of magical realism throughout the first part of the novel, until Ava’s birth.  Ava’s wings are the major instance of magical realism in the book, yet they are not treated as wholly unremarkable. Most characters find her wings fascinating and unusual but don’t seek reasoning for them.

    The book’s titular character only begins to feature a third of the way through the story – first we are introduced to her grandmother and mother. I enjoyed this generational approach. It was not as sentimental or nostalgic or romanticized as it might have been. Emilienne and Viviane are as fascinating and well-developed as Ava. They take a less prominent role when Ava starts to tell her story, but they remain present and active.

    Other characters will grasp your attention just as well. I found myself frightened of Nathaniel (rarely am I truly frightened of a character), who initially appears to be very grounded – perhaps this is why he is so frightening. I read Henry, Ava’s twin brother, as autistic but given the genre of the story his peculiarities seem to be part of the magic (which might raise thoughts on what’s truly real, or magical, or abnormal…).

    I haven’t yet mentioned the prose, which is another area where Walton shines. I doubt my own words could do it justice so here is a random passage (I literally opened up the book and wrote down the first paragraph I saw…it’s perhaps not the most magical or stunning but it gives you a good taste of the rhythm and style of the prose):

    In the end, Viviane all but raised herself – meals were yesterday’s pastries; baths and bedtimes were rarely enforced. Her childhood was spent amid the scents and sounds of the bakery. It was her sticky fingers that topped the Belgian buns with glazed cherries, her hands that warmed the pie dough. As a toddler, she could easily whip up a batch of profiteroles, standing on a chair and calmly filling each choux pastry with cream. With barely a sniff of the air, Viviane Lavender could detect the slightest variation in any recipe – a talent that she would perfect in later years. Yes, Viviane spent many hours in the bakery. Her mother barely acknowledge she was there. (53)

    Please noteThe next paragraph contains spoilers. Skip to The Bottom Line to avoid.

    The only part of the novel that I thought fell short of the rest of the story was the denouement. I thought the assault scene itself was well-written: intense and painful without being graphic. However, Ava’s recovery is practically non-existent. She narrates the story from a personal perspective but suddenly the reader receives little of how she feels, how this event affects her beyond physical consequences. Perhaps we the readers are now cut off from her because of her suffering?

    The Bottom Line: A lyrical, sorrowful novel straddling the boundaries of magical realism, literary fiction, and young adult. Plot, characters, and prose are all in strong form. Highly recommended.

    Elsewhere:

    Review: Torture Team by Philippe Sands

    Author: Philippe Sands
    Title: Torture Team: Deception, Cruelty and the Compromise of Law
    Format/Source: Hardcover/library 
    Published: May 2008
    Publisher: Allen Lane
    Length: 315 pages
    Genre: Non-fiction
    Why I Read: Library browsing, looked interesting
    Read If You’re: Interested in the intersection of law + politics or the legality of torture
    Quote: “…[all] aggressive interrogative techniques recommended by Jim Haynes and approved by Secretary Rumsfeld [were] used” (8).
    Rating:  ★★★ [ratings guide]
    GoodReads IndieBound | Chapters | Book Depository

    In Torture Team, Sands explores “the role of lawyers who are required to give legal opinions on sensitive political matters, and asks what responsibility they bear”. He does this by focusing on the ‘enhanced interrogative techniques’ approved and used on Guantanamo detainee Mohammed al-Qahtani. I did not think I would review this book. It took me a long time to read, due to the high level of detail and wide cast of characters with titles and relationships that took some effort to keep track. My understanding of the American political system and the intersecting branches of the CIA, FBI, army, navy, etc. is limited so at times I found it tiring to try to keep track of how everyone related to each other. Thankfully Sands includes a list of “principal characters and the positions they held during 2002”.

    The bulk of this book consists of in-depth interviews with most major players in the decision-making process (then President Bush and Vice President Cheney excluded). I had not expected to find conversations between Sands and the villains of the book.  I expected such people would not grant interviews to be published in a book condemning their actions. The inclusions of such interviews makes this a revealing read. I also like that Sands includes his own perspective to temper the wealth of interviews. He documents the ease or difficulty of securing an interview, and the interactions that arise from his interviews, thus giving a sense of each person as just that – a person, not just a player for the ‘torture team’.

    “John Yoo had declined my invitation to discuss the Alstotter case but I had a slightly more willing response from Doug Feith, although our conversation was far from easy. It had the great merit, however, of teasing out the main issues ” (228)

    The chapter goes on to document the banter between Feith and Sands, with Sands concluding “Dough Feith went some way in persuading me that the Alstotter case wasn’t exactly comparable and that further inquiry would cause offence in some quarters at least” (232). Sands writes with personal investment and doesn’t just fall back on relaying “he said, she did”. This makes the book easier to swallow as I think it would have been very dry without these touches.

    Sands takes an odd turn towards the end of the book in his attempt to draw parallels between the White House lawyers and Nazi lawyers.  Sands concludes, “What happened in Washington in 2002 bore no comparison with what had occurred sixty years earlier in Nuremberg” (245), but he immediately follows this with a sentences beginning “Yet it wasn’t quite that simple…”. Although I agree with Sands’ argument that the White House lawyers acted far beyond their bounds, I don’t think its appropriate to compare to them to Nazi lawyers. This side-track does not add anything to the book. I would have preferred to read more about the connections (or lack-thereof) between torture at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, as Sands occasionally mentions a connection but does not flesh it out. He writes in the conclusion, “At the very least, however, it is clear that the pictures of abuse that emerged from Abu Ghraib would have been less likely without the Haynes memo and the culture of ill-considered aggression it embraced” but I’m not sure how this is ‘clear’.

    Also alluded to throughout the book is the process of revelation, or declassification, or investigation, of al-Qahtani’s treatment – I wasn’t too sure because Sands never explains clearly. He writes like the public knowledge of what happened was something I should already know about (I think the book was published shortly after everything came to light). Perhaps Americans know all about the case but I did not, so I would have appreciate more context regarding what was publicly known and what was investigated.

    While preparing this review, I came across a cover that said ‘includes new material’. I couldn’t find specific information on an updated edition, but maybe one does exist?

    The Bottom Line: An extremely in-depth exploration of the role of lawyers in how the torture of Guantanamo detainee Mohammed al-Qahtani came to be permitted, but Sands tempers the information overload by portraying the persons involved as real people rather than mere information sources.

    Further Reading: