The LodgerJanuary 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.