Review: The House of Small Shadows
My first introduction to Adam Nevill as a writer was by a guy across the pond named James on his blog Speculative Horizons. His was a book-review blog (now retired) that I really enjoyed reading because we seemed to have similar tastes in books. Somewhere along the way, Orbit UK came along in 2010 and snatched James up as an editorial assistant. He reviewed Apartment 16 by Adam Nevill on his blog shortly before signing off, and although I never picked the book up at the time, James’s positive opinion of Mr. Nevill stuck with me. So much so, that when I recently happened across another of his books, I immediately picked it up and started to read.
THE HOUSE OF SMALL SHADOWS (Amazon) is a strong, slow-building, atmospheric novel that, honestly, took me a while to get into. I’d just come off the soaringly-high buzz of a Mark Hodder book, and the sudden gear shift from fifth to sub-first nearly caused a car wreck, to say the least. However, once I got into the groove of things, my world took a hard left turn into creepy town.
Catherine is an antiques appraiser who is called on to help an elderly lady put a price to some of the things in her uncle’s house, where she resides. When Catherine arrives at the house, however, it becomes quickly apparent that not everything is as it seems. The old lady seems more intent on showing her the house and all of her uncle’s twisted taxidermy and ancient dolls, instead of giving Catherine any time to determine the worth or age of the items. In a very short time, Catherine is introduced to not only some of the most valuable items that she’s ever come across, but also some of the most twisted and weird taxidermy. But it’s not only the dolls and the taxidermy that put Catherine on edge. There are shadows in the nearly empty house, and small footsteps in the halls at night. There are mysterious people she sees from afar both within the house and without that never directly evidence themselves to her, and dark, psychotic plays she’s shown that portray certain stories. Stories that begin to make a decidedly unwelcome connection to events in her own past. Events that she’s tried oh so hard to forget.
The story is told completely from Catherine’s perspective, except for a single (and unnecessary, I might add) chapter about three-fourths of the way through the book. As such, we get to know her in quite some detail. She has a pretty traumatic childhood that we learn about, including a child abduction and some creepy kids from a decrepit, old school building near where she lives. And there’s the bad break from her previous job, which she lost due to being bullied. Still, she’s finally starting to figure things out with her new job, in the new small town in England, and then she gets this doozie of a job. Her characterization was quite well done.
I absolutely loved the experience of reading this book. Although, I’ve never been in a position before where I wanted to put a book down and walk away from it because of how creeped out I was. I got that this time. Totally new experience for me. As far as horror novel go, this one takes a pretty big cake.
So, story… check. Characterization… check. Creepy factor… check. What’s the issue you ask? There one fairly big one that kept this book from getting some love: transparency, or, understanding why things were happening the way they were.
This piece of the plot puzzle was, unfortunately, a long time in coming. I can take the weird and I can take the creepy, but if that’s all there is, then I eventually get a little tired of it. This book wasn’t overly long, but it was still longer than my patience allowed for when it came to this concept. The ending was probably the hardest part for me to swallow. Catherine makes a choice that I didn’t understand in the slightest. It’s like she takes everything that has happened to her throughout the entire book and then just tosses it away. For me, the ending was the biggest let-down of the book. Well, the resolution was anyhow. The climax of the story built up to a totally crazy, super creepy, gore fest. The actual end of the story was very similar to a horror movie that I’ve seen (which I won’t mention the name of because I don’t want to spoil any of the book for those that have seen it) but in this case the movie did the leg work to justify the ending and the choice the main character makes there. That just wasn’t the case here.
Still, freaking brilliantly scary book. Yeesh.
- Recommended Age: 18+, there's some pretty twisted stuff in here with regard to taxidermy and manipulation of the human body
- Language: Occasional profanity; fairly strong, as expected in a horror novel of this caliber
- Violence: Mostly implicit, although the ending gets rather gory
- Sex: A very few references