Haunt Me Still: A Novel

Haunt Me Still: A Novel

by Jennifer Lee Carrell

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780452296763
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/22/2011
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 537,724
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Jennifer Lee Carrell holds a Ph.D. in English and American literature from Harvard University and is the author of The Speckled Monster: A Historical Tale of Battling Smallpox. In addition to writing for Smithsonian magazine, Carrell has taught in the history and literature program at Harvard and has directed Shakespeare for Harvard’s Hyperion Theatre Company. She lives in Tucson, Arizona.

Reading Group Guide

INTRODUCTION

Abandoning a life of academia, Kate Stanley is a theater director and expert in occult Shakespeare who is summoned by former actress and Scottish aristocrat Lady Nairn to direct a production of Macbeth in the very castle that inspired the tale: Dunsinane. On the trail of a secret uncovered by Laidy Nairn's late husband, Kate soon discovers that this production will prove to be more of a riddle than a piece of theater.

Kate learns that at the heart of this mystery lies a forgotten Shakespearean manuscript that may include an actual magical rite, a dangerous bit of sorcery for which some people are prepared to kill. Once Lady Nairn's granddaughter Lily is kidnapped, the race is on for Kate to solve the puzzle, find the manuscript, and save both herself and the endangered girl from a bloodthirsty cult who will stop at nothing to unveil one of Shakespeare's most powerful secrets.

Haunt Me Still is a story of superstition and magic. It is a tale that explores our eternal quest for knowledge and the extremes to which some of us may go to acquire it.

 


ABOUT JENNIFER LEE CARRELL

Jennifer Lee Carrell holds a PhD in English and American literature from Harvard University, as well as degrees in English literature from Oxford and Stanford Universities. She has directed Shakespeare for the Harvard’s Hyperion Theatre Company, and currently lives in Tucson, Arizona.

 


A LETTER FROM JENNIFER LEE CARRELL

I don't know.

Three simple words.

One potent and seductive phrase.

In spinning stories about history's mysteries, I like to combine things I know (say, Shakespeare) with things that I don't know. For instance, my latest book, Haunt Me Still, is a thriller that riffs on the witch-haunted play of Macbeth: its weird, dark magic and its continual power to scare the socks off the actors who play it. Where does that power come from? How much did Shakespeare know about the occult? What was the fountainhead of his genius?

I don't know: and nobody else does, either.

As a novelist, however, it's my privilege and my responsibility to concoct answers that are both plausible and page-turning. That's a heady combination. At its best, it leads to adventures of the real as well as the fictional kind. So it was that on a snowy November afternoon two years ago, I set out to find a mysterious and remote Scottish loch that until a few weeks before I'd never heard of.

I'd been wrestling with how and where to end my novel. Although it's set mostly in the present, it's closely shaped by history. In a footnote, I'd discovered that a ruthless Scottish countess—one of Shakespeare's near contemporaries—may have been part of the playwright's inspiration for his legendary man-eating seductress, Lady Macbeth. Following the countess's faint trail, I'd learned that in the 1580s, she was said to have hidden from her enemies on a small island in the midst of a loch in the Highlands. Google Earth showed me a tiny speck that might be an island in the middle of water that might be the loch in question. But the map also showed a blank expanse around its shores: no roads led anywhere near the place, and none of the professional guides or pony trekking outfits I'd contacted had ever heard of it, in any case. Regretfully, no one could take me there.

Eventually, though, an internet search had led me to a Scottish landscape photographer, Colin Campbell, who said he knew the place and offered to take me there. My husband and I had scrutinized everything we could find about him on line: he didn'tseem to be an axe murderer masquerading as a photographer.

So there I was, pulling into the car park of a pub in a tiny Scottish village. I can't tell you how glad I was to see Colin's wife behind the wheel of their snow-spattered black Land Rover (what self-respecting axe-murderer brings his wife along for the ride?). A happy Labrador retriever was lolloping around the back. I clambered in the back seat and we were off, bouncing down a long rutted track slippery with new snow, through a forest filled with eerie blue light and silence.

The trees came to an end, and a little ways on, so did the road. Colin, his dog, and I got out and began to walk. For a ways, a path wound between folds in the land. Beyond that, trackless white moor rose into mountains that reared into a dark, cloud-torn sky. As far as the eye could see, there were no roads, no houses, no warm twinkle of lights: as if we were standing at the edge of another era, at the brink of a world still untouched by humans.

It was the dog, of course, who broke the spell, bounding into the emptiness before us; we followed. Presently, we came through a fold in the hills, to find the loch glimmering at our feet, its water still as black ice. Far off, near the opposite shore, a tiny island, spiky with fir trees, rose from its surface. Overhead, light streaked downward like jagged spears. Standing there, I suddenly understood the eerie terror of Scottish myths: the water horses, the washer-women, the blue-faced hags, and the tall fairies, bright and dangerous and fey.

We toiled around the shore, splashing in the water, or curving inland to sink knee-deep into snow-covered heather, drawing as close as we could to the island. So close and yet impossibly far: we had not carried a boat, and a swim on that frigid day would have been folly. I had come to the end of my road—as a hiker.

But as a writer, I had come to the beginning. For standing on that rocky beach, it was hard not to hear the howling of wolves—though they've been extinct in Scotland for centuries. I could see no trace of a building, but I knew that the surrounding slopes were dotted the ruins of Neolithic and Iron Age stone structures—the buildings of the pagan Celts whose beliefs survive in Scottish tales of magic and mystery. I knew, too, that much later, in the sixteenth century, on that island had stood a house grand enough for a great Scottish lady and her love: a woman said "to consort with witches" and a man whose enemies had ambushed him after he left this place, had cut off his head and brandished it on the end of a pike.

In an instant, I knew that I'd found the finale of my novel. I did not yet know exactly what would happen: but I knew that over on that island that I could not quite reach there would be blood and fire and a woman filled with fury, while the howling of wolves rose over the surrounding hills, and a great storm swirled out over the loch.

All this came from an accidental find that woke a hunch, doggedly followed. A footnote glimpsed in a little-read book, which led to even less-read tomes gathering dust in great libraries.

Which brings me to my favorite word. If "I don't know" is my favorite phrase as a writer, my favorite single word is "serendipity." Horace Walpole coined it in the eighteenth century, after the heroes of a fairy tale called The Three Princes of Serendip, who "were always making discoveries by accident and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of." Serendipity, says theOxford English Dictionary, is "the faculty of making happy and unexpected discoveries by accident."

Okay, so maybe I'm not finding things like my eerie Scottish loch entirely by accident. I was on a quest for something, after all, when I discovered the Scottish countess and her hideout. Just not that. I'll settle for modified serendipity, but you get the point. In my writing life, serendipity is anything but accidental. It's necessary.

I don't sit back and wait for wonderful places, intriguing characters, and marvelous ideas to just skitter across my desk. I work hard to put myself in the position to find them. As I trace my way back through thickets of footnotes and old books that gather history, gossip, and legend, I expect to bump up against a lot of dead ends, and I do, but I try to keep my storytelling antennae super-sensitive, so that I can recognize the promise of barely cracked doors and faint trails, and follow wherever they may lead. In my experience, it's not what you expect to find that sparks a story into imaginative fire. What you expect—what youintend to write about—is merely the groundwork. It's the unexpected, given rein, which makes a story burn with life.

One of my favorite bits of Shakespearean wisdom, which figures strongly in my first novel, comes from Julius Caesar: There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. It works for the craft of building stories, as well as for life—except that writers can't sit on the shore and hope that the moon will pull the tides of story back and forth across their feet. We have to get down and dirty in the trenches, digging canals that will funnel the tides to us. Speaking for myself, I then have to summon the courage to let go of the story I thought I wanted to tell, and hoist sail in whatever direction the tide wishes to carry me.

In story, as in life, I believe in opportunity: in making it, and in taking it.

So here's to not knowing all the answers. And to the adventures of serendipity.

All best,

Jennifer

 


DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
  • In the first chapter, it is stated that knowledge is the "oldest temptation." What is your take on this idea? What role does the quest for knowledge play in Haunt Me Still?
  • Who is Kate Stanley? What draws you to this character? Why does Lady Nairn entrust so much to her?
  • The story of Haunt Me Still centers on Shakespeare's Macbeth, a play notorious for the superstitions surrounding it. How does this book address these superstitions? What relationship does live theater have with the themes of magic and ritual found throughout this book?
  • Who is Lady Nairn? What is her relationship with Lily? What role does her bloodline and religion have in her life and how does it inform what she does in the book?
  • Throughout the book, the author intersperses scenes set in Shakespeare's time. How do these scenes serve the story? What impact do these scenes have on your understanding of the events taking place today?
  • Eircheard and Kate discuss the idea of magic stemming from creation or creativity. What do they mean by this? How do you feel about this idea?
  • Much of the action of Haunt Me Still focuses on Wicca and witchcraft. What is your take on how these ideas are discussed in the book? How did this book challenge your ideas of Wicca and witchcraft?
  • Ritual plays a big part in the events of this book. What is the relationship between ritual and magic? Between ritual and religion? What importance do these characters give ritual?
  • Several characters are murdered by Carrie's group in their hunt for the lost Macbeth manuscript. What impact does the murder of Eircheard have on Kate? How does it inform her actions?
  • On his plan for resurrection, Lucas Porter imagines "the great death and the little death converging." For Porter, what relationship does sex have with death? With life? What is your opinion of this relationship?
  • Ian's remains are found in the castle's remains at the story's end, but not Carrie's. What do you think happened to Carrie Douglas?
  • How would you describe Ben and Kate's relationship? What future do you see for the two?
  • Customer Reviews

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    Haunt Me Still 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 22 reviews.
    Giglee More than 1 year ago
    For anyone who is a fan of Dan Brown's books and style of writing, Jennifer Lee Carrell's book will be right up your alley. Haunt Me Still brings back Kate and Ben from Interred With Their Bones. In this book Kate is taken to Scotland where she has been asked to direct Shakespeare's most haunted play Macbeth. Soon after arrival, Kate is once again thrust into the middle of a mystery involving the bard. Not only that, but she also starts questioning herself when she begins to see things that aren't there. Will Kate be able to solve this mystery before people get hurt? Or will Shakespeare's most cursed play claim its next vision...her?
    rizeandshine on LibraryThing 8 months ago
    I really enjoyed Jennifer Lee Carrell's, "Interred With Their Bones," a mystery involving Kate Stanley's search for a missing Shakespearean play. This second Kate Stanley novel centers around an early manuscript of Macbeth containing a scene which includes magic rites. I found the story to be fact heavy and a bit too focused on the occult. It wasn't a terrible book, but it didn't compare with the author's first novel.
    kraaivrouw on LibraryThing 8 months ago
    The first play I remember seeing was Waiting for Godot, but the next was Midsummer Night's Dream. The Godot was utterly simple (as it should be) - just some guys in a blackbox theatre with some stools. I remember clearly how funny it was. The Shakespeare was performed as part of a college festival and we followed the scenes about the campus as they were performed in various locations suitable to the play. I fell in love with it and it remains one of my favorites.I spent a goodly portion of my twenties and thirties as a theater artist - first as an actor and then as a director (an activity which appeals both to my love of words and my innate bossiness). I had the privilege of acting in some Shakespeare and have read all of the plays, several of them multiple times. There is something so wonderful about Shakespeare. Wonderful stories told in beautiful language with an incredible flexibility. As an actor you need only trust in the language and the rest will take care of itself. It is a great tragedy that to so many the work is dead - presented as dead, no longer played with - dead words on a dead page. It's so much more. So much fun. So much play.And then there is the Scottish play and all the amazing and fascinating and Gothic history that surrounds it and its own intrinsic macabre weirdness. It's one of my favorites so I was pleased to pick up this book that sets itself around and about it and even more pleased to find how much fun the book was. An excellent and above all else fun book filled with occult happenings and mystery and danger and just a bit of romance. I loved it (and don't much care whether people want to agree with or disagree with the author's Shakespearean scholarship - it's a Gothic thriller, people, get over it).
    dianaleez on LibraryThing 8 months ago
    Haunt Me Still,' the sequel to the highly successful (and satisfying) `Interred in Their Bones,' is Jennifer Lee Carrell's latest offering in the romantic suspense genre. Unfortunately, it seems more difficult to write that second novel in a series than the first. Readers' expectations run high, and sometimes the muse just fails. Carrell's novel lacks the panache and force of her earlier book. `Haunt Me Still' picks up Shakespearian scholar and theatrical director Kate Stanley on her way to Scotland to direct a private production of `Macbeth.' And she is heading straight into the traditional 1950-ish suspense novel set up - lonely castle in the Highlands, antique daggers, witches, and the refrain `Don't go up the hill alone.' Right. Add to that a still lovely aged retired actress, a kidnapping, the occasional bloody body to stumble over, a lost manuscript, and all the usual romantic suspense elements have come together. And often it makes for a good, if predictable, read. However, much of `Haunt Me Still' deals with the myths surrounding `Macbeth' the play. There are times in fiction when background can be a burden for author and reader alike, and that occurs here. Carrell spends far too much time on historical exposition and too little on character development. Another problem that authors too often face with the second book in a series is what to do with the romantic interest developed in the first book. Readers of `Interred with Their Bones' may remember Ben Pearl the security expert that Kate rode happily off into the sunset with. Alas, it turned out to be a bumpy ride. Put bluntly, Ben has dumped Kate and moved on; Kate hasn't. Ben reappears here as a peripheral character. But then to be honest, most of the characters seem secondary to the historical context. For those of us who need to know what happened next to Kate Stanley, `Haunt Me Still' may be required reading. Carrell is a literate author (not to be scoffed at these days) and her writing style is pleasant; her historical research, reliable. But be warned: this book did not come together well into a cohesive whole. Three and one half stars - which translates to - it's not as good as it could be, but better than so many other books that reach print. However, readers might want to wait for the paper edition.
    Karahelen on LibraryThing 8 months ago
    I enjoyed this book, but not as much as I felt I should have enjoyed it. The descriptions are wonderfully done, and you feel as if you are right there with Kate. The book is nicely written so that you feel Kate's fear and the awkwardness of her relationship with Ben. The suspense was very nice and I did not recognize the "bad guy" until the very end. All in all, it had everything a good suspense novel needs. Except for pacing. The book moved too slow. It made gigantic leaps in action, but overall the pace was far too slow. The reader gets bogged down with information about the play, which is interesting, but it makes the entire book drag along. I will say that I thought the historical interludes were distracting at first, but I did get over and enjoy the secondary plot they brought along to the story. All in all, I thought was an enjoyable book, but I would have liked it more if it had held my attention for longer stretches of time. This was not a book that I "had" to finish all in one night. I could put it down easily, but I am glad I finished it.
    readinggeek451 on LibraryThing 8 months ago
    The hunt for an early, lost, original version of Macbeth is tangled up with witchcraft both ancient and modern. Magical artifacts and blood sacrifice intertwine with hints that Shakespeare was a scholar of the occult.Somewhat confusing, and historically dubious, but it is respectful of modern Wicca while decrying the darker practices.
    MD53 More than 1 year ago
    I read half of this book because it meanders too much. I may go back to it but wouldn't be surprised if I didn't.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    ConanDoyle More than 1 year ago
    This book is not in the same league with Carrell's previous Shakespearean based book, but it still is a good, though sort of strange read with all of the English pagan religious imagery.
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    Randomlykind More than 1 year ago
    Loved "Interred With Their Bones" and found this book a disappointment. Having met Carrell, I know her to be bright, thoughtful and interesting, but I found this book to be confusing and often illogical, with a plot that required too much of a stretch of the imagination to be believed. As in her previous novel, the academic research on Shakespeare is impressive, but the magic theme is overdone and unconvincing. The development of the Ben & Kate characters and their relationship is neglected, while we are inundated by witchcraft and fantastical and improbable events. I was hoping for a page-turner, but ended up turning pages just to finish. I'm not giving up on Carrell, however, and will look forward to her next novel, hoping for tighter editing.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    bridget3420 More than 1 year ago
    Kate and her cohort, Ben, are working on a play, Macbeth with their own twist. A lot of actors won't touch this play because of it's history. Some won't even speak it's name. Kate starts to find herself in different places with no recollection of how she got there. When people start dying and the deaths look like a part of a pagan ritual, Kate is forced to believe in the curse. She and Ben set out to find a long lost version of this play that holds the answers they seek. I love a good mystery. The plot was good, the writing was good. I really enjoyed Jennifer's book and now I realize that I'm going to have to get her other books. I give it a 4 out of 5 all the way around.
    harstan More than 1 year ago
    Although she knows the rumor of a curse associated with this dark play, "Occult Shakespeare" expert Kate Stanley directs a production of Macbeth near Dunsinnan Hill, Scotland. Her partner Ben Pearl is also with her as he was when they found a missing Shakespearean manuscript and something much more lethal (see Interred with Their Bones). However, unexplained phenomena haunt the rendition as the infamous curse seems real. First there is mumblings about the boy actor who played Lady Macbeth during the Elizabethan Era opening only to die in the role. Then there is the trench filled with blood that the crew and cast wonder if it might be a warning from Lady Macbeth as there would have to have been a major monstrous massacre to produce all that crimson. Finally Kate acts possessed when she sleepwalks. When she awakens at the top of Dunsinnan Hill she is frightened as she has no idea how she got there nor why her hands are drenched in blood. The cops think they can answer that bloody question when they find the corpse of a woman on the hill. With Ben at her side, Kate investigates refusing to believe the Bard had demonic rituals written into the play as the director assumes a more mortal murderer makes mischievous mayhem. This is an enjoyable amateur sleuth take on Macbeth in which the opening theme of "Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and caldron bubble" is the prime premise of Haunt Me Still. Although over the top of Dunsinnan Hill, but rich with the Bard's lore and history of productions of Macbeth, fans will enjoy Jennifer Lee Carrell's fine Shakespearean spin. Harriet Klausner