Monday, October 28, 2013

Review: Adam Nevill's House of Small Shadows

There are some books you read because you’re intrigued what happens next. Books you might only read once, and which you give up on reading when a cruel, party-pooping soul gives away the ending.

And then there are books you read because they are like a gorgeous meal. Just because you enjoyed them once doesn’t mean you’ll never eat them again. No, you’re coming back to it like a shark that smelled blood. You enjoy the beauty of the language, you love the characters, you want to relive the atmosphere and setting, the story.

Well, in the horror genre wanting to relive things might be a bit strange... but then, there is a wee bit of a masochist in anyone who enjoys a good creepy tale. I dunno why I do it to myself, because Adam Nevill – like Stephen King put it once – doesn’t just press your creep-out buttons, he hits them with a hammer. And he does so gleefully in his new book, House of Small Shadows.

The story already begins with an uneasy sense of foreboding...the odd isolated setting and description of the introductory scene feel like they might well be happening in an unsettled dream of the protagonist – a young woman, herself with a somewhat spooky mysterious past, is fragile and susceptible to strong emotions from the start. And the twinge of dread hinted at in the beginning will build and build into full-blown terror.
The descriptions are lyrical, beautiful, but in their vividness manage to trap the mind and draw them into a world it will struggle to free itself from, and, absurdly perhaps, will crave more of. The horror characters, marvellously larger than life, without ever slipping into clichés.

I won’t give away any of the story; I won’t deprive you of the deliciousness of discovering it yourself. But be warned.
This is a book written for those of us who are still afraid of the dark and the nameless living shadows it holds, who are gripped by the visceral and unexplained, who are haunted by images we can’t explain why they disturb us... they do it on a level that will make us small children again, with no words to explain the fear. It’s a book for those who love folklore, the nostalgia of beautifully made things from over a century ago, and who cannot help even loving the barely perceptible taste of rottenness of it once properly savoured. As you would admire a beautiful old doll, but at the same time never infest your house with its creepy porcelain features.

House of Small Shadows is a truly gothic tale, containing all the wonderful elements that recently have been revived in  good horror features.  Haunted, mysterious mansions. Antique dolls. Taxidermy. Abandoned villages with hints of the Wickerman-esque. A mad Miss Havisham type woman, a truly terrifying hag, who seems as much conjurer and victim of the scare fest going on in the house. A mentally unstable young woman thrown into this maelstrom. Flashes of children – are they ghosts, flashbacks, hallucinations? We cannot know. It is a spiralling nightmare of ever-increasing Victorian grotesque, stirring a progressively unstable reality and the haunting dreams and flashbacks of protagonist Catherine into a terrifying concoction able to push her, and with her, the reader, over the edge.

Nevill might not have done himself a favour by writing about creepy dolls – a lot of people flinch away from that subject like from a fat, hairy spider. But I knows youse got guts! And I, for once, squealed with joy. Creepy dolls are just PERFECT!

Needless to say, on plenty an evening home alone, in my creaky attic room, I was on the verge of regretting it, having to put the book aside in shock, for a quick breather and an expletive bursting from my lips like a corrupted spring bud, then sobbing to myself “why am I doing this?”.

I tell you why. Because Adam Nevill is literary crack. He knows how to get you, and he knows how to keep you. While you’re being watched by a thousand glassy eyes.

And you’ll come out a stronger person for it. Trust me. >;D