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45. The House of the Seven Gables, Nathaniel Hawthorne (1851)

Hawthorne is best known for The Scarlet Letter, a book that I find baffling and dull. The House of the Seven Gables, however, is a different kettle of fish. In a way it’s a gothic horror novel – it’s set in a spooky old house in Salem, Massachusetts, and it recounts a series of gruesome and mysterious events which may or may not be the result of witchcraft. But that only explains part of its appeal. For me, the joy of The House of the Seven Gables is in the vividness with which Hawthorne recreates 18th and 19th-century New England – it’s the closest I’ll ever get to time travel. It’s also very funny, and even features an important and humourous chicken character. Where The Scarlet Letter is all high-minded and symbolic, Seven Gables is pacey and tough. I’ve never seen any of the film adaptations, which all sound ropey as hell. If any book’s crying out for a proper movie version, it’s this.

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