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The Lodger

January 8, 2014

Marie Belloc Lowndes’ The Lodger has been on my TBR list for a long time, but I tend to avoid horror fiction, and all I really knew about The Lodger was a basic synopsis, that it was based on the story of Jack the Ripper, and that it had been made into a Hitchcock movie.

I don’t feel like I know a lot more about it now.

The central character is Ellen Bunting, a former maid married to a former butler. The Buntings live in a poor but quiet neighborhood in East London, and rent out rooms. Only no one’s wanted to rent their rooms for a while, so they’re on he verge of starvation when the story opens. Then a gentleman arrives, eccentric but respectable-looking, with no luggage and a pile of money, and rents — well, basically all the rooms, so that he will remain the Buntings’ only lodger. He seems weird, but he’s also quiet and well-spoken, and they do desperately need money.

Meanwhile, someone calling himself “The Avenger” has been murdering drunk women (for “drunk women” I read “prostitutes”) all over the East End. As Ellen notes her lodger’s nocturnal trips out of the house, his fixation on all the most misogynist bits of the Bible, and the disappearance of the leather bag he brought to the house with him, she begins to suspect that he’s the Avenger. But she doesn’t know for sure, and she’s also just gone from being too poor to buy food to relative financial security. So while on one hand you want her to go to the police with her suspicions, on the other hand it’s hard to fault her to not being sure, and not wanting to be sure.

And that’s it, really. That’s the book. I mean, there’s also Mr. Bunting, and the suspicions he eventually forms. And there’s the unromantic background romance of their policeman friend Joe Chandler and Daisy, Mr. Bunting’s daughter from his first marriage. And there’s the complete letdown of the ending. But mostly The Lodger is Ellen having lots of suspicions she can’t quite voice and stuff happening to cause her to have more of them.

It’s perfectly serviceable psychological suspense, I guess. I mean, I felt uneasy and slightly apprehensive for most of the time that I was reading, which I think is how you’re supposed to feel when you read about someone possibly being a serial killer. It’s only now that I’ve finished it that I’m feeling kind of meh about it, and I’m inclined to blame the ending. When you’re waiting on some kind of impending awfulness, and then nothing in particular happens, the looming fear seems silly in retrospect. So, it’s hard to tell now, but I think the rest of the book was pretty solid, and I almost recommend it.

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8 comments

  1. That’s been on my TBR list for a while too, and I think maybe it will stay there a bit longer!


    • Yeah, it’s definitely not the must-read I was led to believe it was.


  2. Something tells me the movie might be better.


    • I don’t know, actually — I read a synopsis and it sounded kind of awful.


  3. I found The Lodger so weird. I couldn’t get into it. The only part I liked was their visit to the Black Museum. So creepy and morbid. I think something like that still exists today but is for police use only, no tourists or friends of police officers.

    Haven’t read much MBL, but you definitely have to read The End of Her Honeymoon if you haven’t already. It’s one of those stories where the mystery gets more and more frustrating and impenetrable until a single sentence at the denouement suddenly makes you see the light and you go, “Why didn’t I think of that! It all makes perfect sense now!”


    • I think I’ll give that one a try, then!


    • It’s a pretty weird book, for sure. And there were a few sections, like the Black Museum one, that I found convincingly creepy and tense. Also, I think I read about the Black Museum somewhere else recently, and I can’t remember if it was in an old book or a new book or an article or what.

      I like impenetrable mysteries, and will definitely read The End of Her Honeymoon if it’s not miserable. So far MBL consistently leaves me feeling kind of terrible about humanity.


  4. I have mixed feelings about it. The somewhat ambiguous nature of the ending worked for me on some level. Then again, I am fond of ambiguity and always have been. The text is somewhat naive by today’s standards. I have read a lot of things in the genre from that period and this is on par with most of it.



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