First published 1858, reprinted 2004
Some time ago my friend and fellow bibliophile, Alison, and I were searching online for future reading ideas. She stumbled upon a little known book titled A House to Let which was co-authored by five authors, among the most notable of the five were Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell, and Wilkie Collins. Intrigued I put the book on my list to read one day... That day finally came. At the May meeting of my book club both A House to Let and Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens were selected as our reads before the next meeting in July.
A House to Let was first published in 1858 in an edition of Dickens' Household Words magazine. The story is split up in six chapters or segments. And with the exception of the first and last chapters, which were co-written by Dickens and Collins, each chapter was written by one of the five authors. Gaskell wrote the second, Dickens the third, Procter the fourth, and Collins the fifth, with Dickens handling editing for the entire novel. Apparently the story was enough of a success and enjoyment to write to encourage the group to join forces again and co-write The Haunted House in 1859.
At 102 pages, A House to Let is a short novel told in the first person by an elderly spinster named Sophonisba (a.k.a. Sarah), who has moved in across the street from a run down and abandoned house. Sophonisba's interest is sparked when she learns that the house, shrouded in mystery, has not been let for years and will never let. With the aide of an old admirer, Jabez Jarber, and her devoted servant, Trottle the research and sleuthing begins and by the end of the story the mystery is solved and things are put right in typical Dickens fashion. Throughout the story various characters, stories, and possible solutions to the mystery are submitted to Sophonisba, including stories of romance, tragedy, epic poetry, suspense, and swashbuckling adventure.
Overall I enjoyed A House to Let. I admit, I did find it a little slow at first, not because of the wording, but because I had no idea what I was getting into (the used copy I bought turned out to be a different edition than I expected and it didn't include a description or introduction to the story on either the inside or outside of the cover). Nevertheless, if the reader is persistent the story does pick up and reward the reader in the end.
On a scale of 1-5, 1 being horrible and 5 being excellent I would rate A House to Let a 3.5. I really enjoyed the story. I think it was a fun read, especially considering the number of celebrated authors involved in its creation. But I don't think it was said authors' best work. Still, if a reader is curious to read something by Collins, Dickens, or Gaskell, but is daunted by the length or wording of their individual novels, this might be a good place to start.
Unfortunately copies of A House to Let are hard to locate. None of my local libraries possessed a copy, so I ended up buying one online from a used bookseller for $3.50. Although it wasn't the edition I wanted, I decided to keep it and it now rests amongst my other Collins, Dickens, and Gaskell novels.
Note: For those interested in reading one or more of the stand alone novels by these authors I recommend: North and South, Wives and Daughters, Ruth, and Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell. I've only read one by Wilikie Collins entitled, The Woman in White, but it was excellent! As for Dickens, my favorite so far has been Bleak House, but I've heard many wonderful things about David Copperfield and Oliver Twist, and A Tale of Two Cities, I know they are great reads and I plan to read them one day. Oh and, stay tuned for my review of Little Dorrit.