on 29 December 2013
To be honest this is a really difficult book to review. There are both some truly wonderful and totally awful parts to it. Lets start with the good:the images that Nevill creates are fantastically disturbing and dark. The best parts are the descriptions of the contents of the twisted house which really leap out of the page and stay with you long after the boook is closed. Nevill is very successful at taking the old cliche of a haunted house and doing some new and intriguing things with it. I have read a lot of horror and I must admit I am fairly jaded but this book actually managed to scare me (Nevill's other books succeed in this as well). However the plot is a little meh. The actual story doesn't go anywhere,the main chracter is merely a victim who doesn't seem to possess her own agency and she makes some rather nonsensical decisons which lets down the story. In general I'd say that Nevill isn't very good at female characters which is a pity because his male characters are actually very good.
Read this book for the amazing (and terrible) images but don't hope for the plot to go anywhere. But even with its flaws it is still vastly superior to 90% of so-called "horror" published these days. Overall I think the concept of "the journey is better than the destination" applies quite well here.
I’ve read a couple of books by this author, and they are great spooky horror reads. The Ritual in particular was both horrifying and enthralling so I held out great hopes for this book.
“DON’T NEVER COME BACK”
Catherine Howard works for Osberne, a firm of valuers and auctioneers, and is asked to value the contents of the Red House, which had been the home of M H Mason, master taxidermist and puppeteer until he committed suicide many years previous. Since then, his niece, now 93 years of age has been the curator of his works, most of which have never been seen by the outside world. (See – spooky already!) Only the elderly Edith and one servant live in the house; the rest of the rooms seem to be filled with specimens of Mason’s work – horrifying, vivid recreations of desperate moments of war and death and destruction; skilfully captured animals frozen in a moment in time; dark visions, chemical aromas, skitterings around the corners of each corridoor, hushed noises outside the closed door of Catherine’s bedroom. Catherine has always lived on the edge of her nerves; will this experience drive her over the edge?
My goodness, this novel spooked me. Almost all the narrative is that of Catherine, as she finds herself in a nightmare she can’t seem to get out of. So the reader is drawn into that nightmare as she descends into it, and we feel and discover the things that she feels and discovers at the same time. I found this book totally riveting; I was engrossed from the first page to the last, but only put it down when I couldn’t bear to keep reading at night – I think this is a ‘to be read in the bright light of day’ book. Great stuff.
on 9 February 2016
Okay, I never write bad reviews normally, especially about authors whose work I have really loved... but this truly is a massive, frustrating disappointment. Adam Nevill's novel The Ritual is one of the most scary, disturbing horror novels of the decade, something really close to a modern classic. But since then the wheels have fallen off. His last book, No One Gets Out Alive, was a gigantically over-written, dull and repetitive bore in which pages and pages of endless description, all of it very good and atmospheric, existed only to distract the reader from the complete absence of any action. And this latest, House Of Small Shadows, is more of the same, in fact even worse, in that in amidst the spectacularly over-padded prose is the potential for something amazing, a kind of weird Wicker Man horror story. But the plot is so convoluted it is simply gibberish - it's like Nevill had ideas for ten different novels and decided to just stitch them all together into one giant mess which makes no sense even at the climax. The lead character, an antiques valuer drawn to a creepy old house to value a collection of weird stuffed animals, seems so dim it's quite flabbergasting. For 300 pages she is terrified in this house, and never, ever, ever just walks out the door. Barely anything actually happens, she just wanders around the house endlessly, bemoaning her situation, and, I repeat, NOTHING happens ! She asks herself a thousand questions, trying to work out what is happening, but the problem is that WE are also wondering what the hell is happening too... and nothing is ever explained, even in the end. It's just a huge, and hugely repetitive dead end. Which is such a shame, because as with The Ritual, Nevill is capable of amazing horror fiction, I've given this book two stars because he is truly brilliant at creating atmosphere and genuinely creepy imagery, but after his excellent first three books he now seems to have literally lost the plot; there's a great, Ben Wheatley-esque story lurking in here somewhere, but it's hopelessly lost in endless descriptions of creepy rooms, the character's non-stop repetitive onslaught of inner thoughts, and a story which makes absolutely no sense. Horror fans, read The Ritual, it's amazing, but everything after (so far), forget it.
on 22 October 2015
We read horror fiction - and watch slasher films, and gruesome documentaries, and online terrorist videos, and accident footage, etc. - because of what Joseph Conrad called "the fascination of the abomination." We like to view things that disquiet us, don't we? We hope that we see something that isn't meant for innocent eyes. Death revealed - and dodged - is as exhilarating as it is horrifying. Our minds sometimes can't take it, but also can't willingly turn away. We seek out the abominations, because we are fascinated by them. We can't help it, apparently, due to a misfire in our individual development, or the natural condition of the human brain.
Abominations are on full and varied display in Adam Nevill's House of Small Shadows, and I as a reader of this exceptional novel am incredibly fascinated. It was as if Nevill was ordered to craft a contemporary Gothic novel twisted inside out - and sewn back up again - that incorporated all the things I find spooky, including but certainly not limited to:
- Small forgotten towns
- Incredibly old houses, owned by incredibly old people
- Antique dolls
- Puppet shows/marionettes
- Non traditional taxidermy
- Ritualistic parades
- Secretive groups
Throw in circus clowns and unnamed creatures with impossibly long appendages (which do not, to my memory, appear in House of Small Shadows, although the lighting is pretty dim in some of those scenes, so you never know), and you've run the full gamut of my own personalized Creep List.
As it stands, House of Small Shadows contains enough of the truly terrifying to make it a landmark read, and an unforgettable exercise in horror imagery that has not dimmed since regrettably finishing the book a few months back. It's all still there, raw and vibrant, like a fresh coat of paint on a wooden puppet face. The places, the lighting, the sounds and smells are still raw in my brainpan, and threaten to stay that way. Probably more impressive still is Nevill's ability to sustain suspense and dread throughout nearly 400 pages, starting very early with the arrival of our protagonist Catherine Howard, an appraiser (a "valuer" in British parlance) for estate auctioneer Leonard Osberne, who is sent to an aged Gothic manse in the English countryside known as Red House, which lies just outside the mostly deserted town of Magbar Wood. The interior of Red House lives up to its name in terms of sumptuous decor, and Catherine discovers that each of the numerous rooms of the house serve as staging areas for impossibly intricate dioramas of World War I horrors played out by stuffed and positioned rats, as well as a bedroom populated by half animal, half human marionettes tucked into a tiny bed like sleeping children. The entire collection Catherine was sent to appraise for a possible career-making and record-setting estate sale was created by secretive genius M.H. Mason, who was once a man of the cloth until the blood and mud of trench warfare stained that holy fabric, twisting him away from God and into the arms of utter seclusion at Red House, where he devoted his sizable talents and the rest of his life to the creation of tiny, static horror shows, and the recreation of Medieval "cruelty plays" acted out by marionettes for live audiences, and eventually a BBC camera crew. Footage of the latter never made the airwaves, as the imagery was too disturbing, too bizarre even for the notoriously eccentric British.
This is the set-up for Catherine, and for us, and as we get the sneaking suspicion of what is to come for our hard luck protagonist, we can't help but sit back and watch, breathless and silent and squirming with claustrophobia, as she is forced to confront all sorts of weird, out-of-the-way, and mostly forgotten places, bringing her face to face with a litany of weird, out-of-the-way, mostly forgotten things. Old traditions, based on older knowledge of arcane wisdom blotted out of human memory for a reason. But things linger in the quiet places untouched by modernity. Eyes look out, and prayers are whispered to ears that don't belong to god or beast. Catherine has come to escape her past, avoid her present, and secure her future, and these powerful urges give her the courage to remain on site and finish her work, lest it all unravel for her. Unfortunately, as this is horror fiction we're talking about, it unravels for her anyway, in a multitude of unsettling ways.
Nevill's language is perfectly balanced, clean with a perfect dusting of melody, and his ability to build atmospherics is masterful. We're in those rooms with Catherine, dealing with these incredibly lifelike dead things. We can see the clothing and wig and skin and teeth and wheelchair of Edith Mason, the elderly niece of M.H. who now oversees Red House and the weird, multi-million dollar installations that clog the place. We can hear the heavy footsteps of Maude, the mute maid whose inscrutable expression hints at deeper mysteries surrounding this family and their strange house. And those marionettes... We're inches away from them as they are arranged in their tiny beds, facing away from us, grotesque hair covering the backs of their misshapen heads. We don't want them to turn around.
That expectancy, that impending doom, all blossom organically from the foundation Nevill lays like black soil, so fertile it literally pops and fizzes with potential life. And we as readers are caught in it up to our necks, our chins. Something very bad will happen, and happen soon. But when? And where? Will it be as bad as you imagine? Will it be worse? We scream for Catherine to leave the house, for her unfit boyfriend Mike or her boss Leonard or even her backstabbing coworker Tara to show up and wake her from the nightmare, but things are never as simple as that, and Nevill deftly spins a web that invisibly traps Catherine from the beginning, giving her just enough twine to allow her a frantic run at hope, at escape, before reaching the end of the sticky tether, and winding it back up again, slowly and determinedly, drawing the moth to the spider waiting at the center of the beautifully constructed latticework nest.
House of Small Shadows reads like one unbroken, spellbinding tracking shot capturing places that you never want to see where things happen that you that you never thought possible, Nevill's grainy camera picking up details along the way, hinting that something terrible can and probably will occur in the next frame. Martyrs will be torn to shreds, and parades will begin in the streets. A booming voice track begins, narrating the spectacle, as the images become more and more unspeakable. And we just sit and watch. Fascinated.
I'm a real fan of Adam Nevill having read all of his novels and even gone to great lengths to search out his short stories. I'm used to his style of writing. Ready for the bizarre and wacky. Waiting for him to wander away from his original thread only to return pages later with something truly dark and scary. House of Small Shadows starts off as typical Nevill, completely off-the-wall, but once he hit his stride I was hooked, at least for the first half.
In this novel Nevill has gone back to traditional, typical, horror and added his own unique, nightmare, twists. An old house in the middle of nowhere shelters weird, demonic characters and offers to reveal a particularly evil history. Dolls, puppets and stuffed animals abound around the house and are used to great effect to create a sense of unease with their ever watchful glass eyes and the subtle suggestions that maybe that one moved?. Nice twist in the name of the house, 'The Red House', which throws up suggestions of madness, war, blood and murder and it's obvious that once a mentally frail woman, damaged by inexplicable events in her past, is called to the house it's not going to end well for anyone.
There are some nicely written macabre details set around the character of The Red House which seems to shift and alter with a life of it's own, while the old town at the end of the lane has it's own fair share of secrets and shadows. Most of the 'nasty' comes in the form of taxidermy, bizarre ritual and a real sense of building insanity. The puppet angle is well constructed and packed with themes almost too horrible to contemplate. I was fascinated by the history and tradition of the puppet troupe but amazed at how little was made of that towards the latter stages of the novel, which brings me neatly to my real criticism; House of Small Shadows is a novel of two distinct halves.
The first half of the novel sets up the mystery, sets the stage and introduces the main characters. It can be a little vague at times, does repeat itself but has enough eerie, supernatural angles I'm willing to forgive that. However; the second half of the novel is little more than a ramble. There are times when it's so far fetched and Nevill has to reach so far to join the threads the whole thing becomes unbelievable and almost impossible to stay with. What was a wonderfully original plot packed with 'nasty' dissolves into little more than a cliche and the repetitive themes of insanity and breakdown amble on far too long. I'm sorry Adam Nevill but this really isn't one of your best.
How can I give 4* to a novel I was disappointed by? Adam Nevill is usually one of the best writers of horror and the first half of House of Small Shadows promised to be one of the best horror novels I've read for a long time. That's why I've given 4*. His initial themes of insanity, missing children, huge displays of dead rodents and a troupe of macabre puppets were thoroughly unsettling and chilling. I'm just sorry to say that at half way the plot loses it's way and the predictable, rather confused ending doesn't save it.
on 10 April 2015
In the end the book wasn’t a hit for me. It started out interesting; I wanted to know the mystery with the house. Then the story goes weird and confusing. And suddenly I turned the last page and the book was over. And I felt let down. It was never ever scary, if stuffed animals creeps you out, then perhaps this book will scare you. But for me it felt just like a waste of time, I could have read something much better that this book.
on 17 December 2013
Enjoyable, I think id have liked a little more explanation to the plot, but managed to enjoy the story anyway. I liked the idea of an old mansion and its contents in need of evaluation. Creepy. Wouldn't like to give away any of this books secrets, so I'll say no more. Discover it for yourself.
on 25 February 2016
Nevill is constantly compared to Stephen King. Frankly if I was King I would take that as a real insult. Having already tried and failed to vaguely enjoy another book by Nevill, Apartment 16, I succumbed to the glowing endorsements of the writer to try again, to see if I could discover what the hype was all about. All I can say is that I failed.
Just like Apartment 16, House of Small Shadows has an extremely plodding pace with a basic, unoriginal concept, a ridiculously irritating and quite pathetic central character, and the sole claim to fame of being able to present page after page after page where precisely nothing of interest happens.
Believe the other negative reviews. If you want something scary, or entertaining, or in fact anything of interest, look elsewhere. I won't be reading anything else by Nevill that's for sure.
on 16 November 2013
I bought this book having read all of the authors previous novels. They were excellent, especially 'The Ritual', which is one of the best horror novels i have ever read. I bought the latest with great expectations but was disappointed. I just found the whole thing disjointed and confusing with gaping holes in the narrative, i was so disappointed. Maybe its just that i was expecting much more, but if you are a first time reader of this author i suggest you start with 'The Ritual'.
on 10 October 2013
Adam Nevill weaves this story around the main character Catherine, who, as the reader, I connected with immediately. Her childhood life and experiences were so similar to my own, (almost spookily similar) that it would have been impossible not to connect with her. Catherine has had many tribulations throughout her life and I found myself being drawn to her character and feeling almost protective of her. As the story progressed I became increasingly worried for this vulnerable young woman.
Adam's style of writing makes reading this book a very visual process. I found the imagery, whilst not derived by cataloging every little detail, but by giving the reader enough to draw a hard outline in their mind and allowing their own imagination to fill the colours, sat vibrantly in my mind, and now, some time after finishing the book, I am still haunted by flashes of scenes from the book that can still surprise me with their clarity.
House of Small Shadows will take the reader on a terrifying voyage of discovery. As the mood of the book darkens and the revelations cause more confusion and disorientation to the main character, the reader is drawn along, dragged through experiences that will leave them feeling that they have just been living the ordeal themselves.
To me, any story that can leave me feeling as shaken, violated, sickened and just plain old scared as House of Small Shadows did is a triumph. Any story that causes an actual physical response such as when goosebumps would raise on my arms and hairs would prickle on my neck is pure genius.