Title: The House
Expected publication: 17 August 2017
Young couple Jack and Syd think that all their dreams have come true when they are the successful bidders in the auction of an old house in London, even though deep down Jack has a few niggling doubts about some of the logistics of the purchase. The house itself, for example, which looks as if its owner had merely stepped out for a bit of shopping and never returned, with all his personal belongings still cluttering every available surface. And Jack knows for a fact that their bid cannot possible have been the highest, seeing how they had been up against some fierce competitors from much more affluent backgrounds than their meagre budget allowed. But for Syd’s sake he is content to bury those questions under the elation of moving into their “forever home” at last. With all their money swallowed up by the purchase, there is none left for re-decorating. Surrounded by the old owner’s possessions, it is difficult to feel a sense of home. When strange and scary things start happening in the house, Jack decides to dig a bit deeper and makes a disturbing discovery in the attic. Not wanting to worry Syd, who is struggling with anxiety issues, he decides to keep his misgivings to himself – until a body is found in the alleyway behind their house, and the police come knocking on their door ...
I was instantly drawn into the storyline hook, line and sinker by the unusual writing style, which initially plays out as a series of journal entries by both Jack and Syd to each other, reflecting on the events which brought them into their present predicament. And I absolutely loved both the couple’s voices! For example, Syd, who reminds herself to “think yoga” every time she feels stressed. To which Jack replies:
What was it Syd said? Think yoga. Which doesn’t actually help me at all, because when I think yoga the only thing that comes to mind is middle aged women in leotards.
As far as including diary entries into a novel, this is THE best and most skilful way I have ever encountered, and those who have ever read my reviews would have heard my rant about diaries that read like novels. Not so in this case. Jack and Syd tell of their experiences in a way that resembles a lively dialogue around a campfire with good mates, taking every opportunity to interrupt or correct each other if they think that the other has got it wrong (quibbling like an old married couple). Their candid banter was engaging and laugh-out-funny, and I knew I was in for a lively and interesting read. As each of the pair drop little worried doubts about things going wrong in their dream home, I was intrigued and suitably goose-bumped imagining all kinds of sinister reasons behind the events.
It was about at that point that the book took a completely unexpected turn. And whilst I think that the events following were well thought out and provided that “killer twist you won’t see coming” that so many books rave about, I also think that a great opportunity was missed here. Spoiler Alert! Because suddenly the main star of the novel so far, the house, dropped into the background, and it was as if a character had gone awol. The sinister atmosphere the author had so skilfully created vanished with the disappearance of the house as its own evil and hostile entity, which was a real shame. There was so much potential here to keep up the tension and make this a spooky and terrifying read. Instead, the different mystery that unfolded lost a lot of momentum for me – and whilst the elements of childhood trauma, domestic violence and revenge are strong themes to deliver a clever and intriguing psychological suspense story based on human relationships, I did mourn for the spooky element the house had provided.
Simon Lelic surely knows how to create lively and interesting characters, and his way of introducing Jack and Syd through journal entries to each other is a winner in terms of originality – I go as far as saying that it was the cleverest way I have ever seen diary entries included into a novel! Whilst The House did not quite live up to my expectations of a spooky and sinister read, it contained all the elements of a cleverly constructed mystery with that one element so coveted in modern suspense thrillers: the “killer twist you won’t see coming”.
Freedom: it’s just another term for living in fear.
About the only thing my father was afraid of was the prospect of maybe one day being called upon to express some emotion that wasn’t indignation.
It was like that question you get on US immigration forms. Are you, or have you ever been, a terrorist? Well, shit – you got me. And here I was hoping you wouldn’t ask.
It was attitudes to women like his that had kept our society rooted in the dark ages and political power in the hands of the privileged, penis-wielding few.
Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a free electronic copy of this novel and giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.
If you like the concept of a house as a dark and sinister presence, you may also enjoy:
The Girl Before, by J.P. Delaney