How often is it that you come across a horror story (novel or even movie for that matter) where the main POV character has both drive and motive for doing the things that make us go, “Oh please, don’t go in there. Just please… NO!” Instead offinding these words bubbling from my lips, however, I frequently find myself saying, “Why are they going in there again? Do they WANT to die a horrible, gruesome death?” There are relatively few instances of the former that I’ve come across, and I just wish there were more. Makes horror stories so much better when they do. The only example that I could think of, in fact, was the movie “The Ring.” Can you think of any others? Drop a comment here, if you do. I’d love to find me some really good horror. In the meantime, there’s this one, and it ain’t half bad.
NYCTOPHOBIA (Amazon) is a horror novel by Christopher Fowler about a relatively young woman named Calico Shaw that gets married to a much older, very rich man and moves to the Spanish countryside where they purchase a home that has history. Significant history. (Don’t they always, in these kinds of stories?)
Callie’s in all sorts of new situations right from the get-go. Newly married, playing the wife; new to the house, playing the detective; newly responsible, playing the stepmother to a precocious eight year old. She’s brings with her some history of her own. Most notably her fear of the dark (thus the title) and some other pains, yet more personal.
The house not only has history: it has segregation. It’s a massive house that is constantly filled with light. Windows and open doorways and mirrors all act in concert to make even its most remote corners shine continuously from the first rays of dawn until the last glint at sunset. A housekeeper comes with the property that keeps things in order, including lighting candles all throughout the house just before sundown, according to an almanac time chart, and also keeps all of the doors to the other half of the house locked.
For not all of the rooms are filled with light. There is a significant portion of the house that is kept continually in the dark. Shutters on the windows, doors locked. The back of the house is pushed up against the vertical face of a cliff so that there is very little room between the two surfaces. These locked doors and dark portions of the home, expectedly, make Callie curious at first and then furious when the housekeeper refuses to give her all the keys she needs to explore the full house.
The balance of this book was really quite well-done. The first portion of the novel being dedicated to settling Callie into the house, the second with her realization of the house’s oddities, and the third dealing with the revelation of the house’s secrets and what is to happen in the end. The back and forth between detail and story movement was probably some of the best that I’ve read in a very long time. Even though the story felt rich and detailed, the pacing of the book kept moving along, slowly building up speed as I got closer to the end.
Even though the conversations between characters could have used some help, the prose detailing Callie’s trips into the shadowed portions of her new home (oh, come on, you had to know she was going to go into them) were brilliantly good. These portions of the story was really where it shined. Sooo freaky. When it comes to horror novels, I absolutely use my “creep out” factor as a gauge of its goodness, and after reading this one, I was jumpy enough at nighttime while walking around my house, that I can’t help but call the book successful.
The ending, while satisfying and logical, was somewhat frustrating, as there were quite a few portions of the novel that were confusing and lacked important detail expressly because she didn’t know what was going on. Probably the only point where the balance was skewed, this time between knowledge and ignorance.
A good read, and one that I’ll remember for a while for its deftness in balance and creepiness all around. Check it out.
- Recommended Age: 16+, for some freaky moments and sexuality
- Language: Not much, but there was at least one token F-word toward the beginning
- Violence: There are some fairly gruesome deaths and death in general
- Sex: One scene that get fairly detailed and lengthy