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3.7 out of 5 stars
3.7 out of 5 stars
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on 11 June 2014
I bought this book having downloaded the sample from Kindle.

I was a bit disappointed. The book did seem to ramble a little and I found it hard to pin it down - maybe it left too much to the imagination for me - never quite sure where it was going - was it a supernatural tale or was it a mystery story which was going to be resolved at the end?

It does successfully evoke a very unnerving and unsettling atmosphere and it was in part the very unusual scenario it creates in the house with the animals that hooked me in. However the female protagonist became a little tiresome (I like to have some sympathy for the main character) and I did not feel her back story worked in as well as it could have done.

Very much a book that stands or falls by your own particular tastes in reading.
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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.
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I found this a most chilling and disturbing book.

Catherine Howard is a professional valuer. Called in to examine the private collection of a noted taxidermist, she encounters a house seemingly preserved intact from the 19th century. Filled with mystery, it houses much that is grotesque. There are tableaux of Great War battles, featuring hundreds of preserved rats. There are chilling child puppets. There are the taxidermy tools, enough in themselves to put you off your lunch... lastly, there are the custodians, a pair of eccentric - and, yes, grotesque - humans.

Catherine has had a troubled life. Adopted, bullied at school, and scarred by the disappearance of her friend when she was 10, she suffers from mental heath problems and lost her promising London career when she hit a colleague (we never learn exactly why). Now she encounters things that awake dark childhood memories, and soon seems to be being drawn into a bizarre carnival, centred on the decaying village beneath the Red House.

Catherine is a sympathetic and believable character, whether as a cool professional dreaming about how this job will make her reputation, a vulnerable child taunted by cruel classmates, or an anxious young woman desperate to attract and keep her boyfriend after - something bad happened (which we learn a bit about - but not all). That said, there were times when I wanted to scream at her to to something - to turn and fight, or to get out. Her self-doubt, while believable, betrays her into a frustrating passivity in face of what threatens her. And Nevill creates a truly threatening, a repellent yet fascinating enclave of Middle England. It's a kind of "Wicker Man meets Bagpuss" experience where mouldering puppets, embalmed flesh and decayed locals are distressingly hard to tell apart. Something really nasty is stirring, but what? Catherine has been taught to reject her childhood fantasies and hang on to reality - but what do you do when the world turns inside out? How do you know what's real? How do you tell where the real threat comes from?

I have to admit that I nearly stopped reading the book twice. The first time was at the start. Although Catherine's first visit to the Red House immediately shows how grotesque it is, little then seems to happen for a long time. But hang on, when it does, it has real bite. The second time was towards the end, when the story seemed to be getting very unpleasant indeed. But I did keep reading and would encourage you to do the same - the book repays that. Yes, in the end, "House of Small Shadows" is threatening and repellent - but also compelling. While I had sort of guessed what was going on part way through, I had to read on to see what finally happened.

It is the kind of book that really does leave a stain. Nasty, but very, very readable.
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on 10 October 2013
I am a big fan of rural horror: 'The Woman in Black' and 'Dolly' by Susan Hill; 'The Ritual' by Nevill both immediately spring to mind. (Having spent a year in rural N. Lincolnshire, having lived in London for far too long, one can perhaps understand the need for space.)

This book fits that bill perfectly: Old house in the middle of the English countryside, weird interiors which may (or may not) be inhabited by more than the normally anticipated residents etc. In this Nevill does very well, creating a sense of atmosphere and equally importantly of place. Linked with the sense of threat one gets from the presence of marionettes and dolls, we are on to a winner.

Yet my feeling is that whilst this book starts well and continues on a good upward curve, it loses its way towards the end. The plot regarding the dolls is transformed into something else entirely, and whilst horror should never be too plausible (there are too many horrors in real life for us to want to add our own fantasy ones), it is taken off down a side-road of fantasy that does nothing for the novel and, for me, spoils the sense of impending dread and horror which has been developed throughout the preceding book. In just becomes too implausible and the plotting too improbable that much of the horror is lost as one is left trying to fathom how and why the plot has reached this point.

As with any good English horror story there is no particular 'happy ending', yet there is a sort of final catharsis at the end, which again spoils the ending. In 'Ritual' there is a sense of escape, but not of completion - in this novel, the horrors end (in a way), but there is a sense of it being incomplete. For me 'The Woman in Black' does this far better, by ending, but also showing that in some ways there can never be a true ending to horror, once we encounter true horror nothing can ever be the same again and we must live with its consequences. There is no sense of even that kind of ending in this novel. All of which makes a five star novel, worth only two stars.

Sorry Adam!
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 8 February 2014
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.


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.
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on 29 January 2017
I recently read one of the authors latest novels under a watchful eye for review via netgalley. It really reminded me of my love for the genre, so I've been making a conscious effort to include more horror in my reading pile! I also wanted to distract myself from 2017 by falling into a good story.

This novel is very protagonist based & essentially that is what makes it work so well. Everything about the protagonist Catherine is surrounded in mystery, unhappiness and a general eerie feeling. Catherine is written so very well, that it is possibly up there with my favourites. Catherine suffered a childhood marred by bullying & suffering. Her only childhood friend a disabled little girl named Alice disappeared in a cloud of mystery. As an adult Catherine is plagued with 'trances' leading me to believe she has suffered mental health problems. She has worked hard to overcome them & other issues in her life and now has a new job as a valuator for a small firm.
Catherine is asked by her boss to value the objects of the late M.H Mason at his estate The Red House. Now this is where the novel really ramps up the creepy factor!

Catherine attends at The red house, which has been kept in its original Victorian style and is met by the mute housekeeper Maude & M.H Mason's niece and beneficiary Edith. Edith is a cantankerous old battle axe, but Catherine ultimately see's the potential of financial gain for her firm, from the sale of the items up for valuation. So whilst feeling uncomfortable & weary herself agrees to stay. ( This is the part at which I screamed at the book..........NO .........DON'T STAY). The items for valuation include taxidermy animals, antiques & puppets! The description of the items & house did not scare me as such, there is just this constant eerie feeling throughout the novel.

To say anymore would be to provide spoilers but the mystery at Red house is thoroughly haunting & I would recommend to fans of horror and anyone looking for something different!
An impressive read and I will be adding 'no one gets out alive' & 'apartment 16' to my TBR pile! 5*
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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.
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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.
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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.
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on 5 December 2016
One thing I always like about Adam Nevill’s books is that, as well as thinking about the story itself, his work always makes me think about the horror genre in general - about my own beliefs about how horror works. From his novels I assume (perhaps wrongly) that Nevill is the kind of writer who is thoroughly aware of the tradition he works in as he writes, and some of that consciousness about the tropes and themes of horror seems to rub off on me when reading.

Which is possibly the most self-absorbed and pretentious start to a review I've written, but sod it.

Nevill’s latest novel, House Of Small Shadows, is a very different beast to the last of his books I read: The Ritual was a wilderness based horror about people trying to stay alive - as I said at the time, it was a novel driven by the fear of death. By contrast, House Of Small Shadows never seems to place its central character (an antique valuer called Catherine) in any mortal peril. Instead, the novel is shot-through with another, equal, terror: the terror of losing one’s own sense of self.

Death is a loss of self, of course, but so is madness, especially when madness is seen not as something internal but as some external force, remaking someone's thoughts in its own image. Catherine is subjected to just such a force when she is invited to value a treasure-trove of taxidermy, puppets, and priceless dolls at The Red House. The house is occupied by the wheelchair bound Edith and her silent housekeeper Maude, and neither it nor they seem to have changed in nearly a hundred years. Isolated, remote, and with a somewhat clichéd lack of phone signal, The Red House is a world unto itself, a microcosm that Catherine becomes trapped in.

It’s a better reader than me, I'm afraid, who won’t become frustrated with Catherine’s repeated decisions to leave the house which she she fails to follow through on. To be fair, the threat she half-senses in the house is somewhat nebulous, but Catherine’s listlessness in the face of it causes a few pacing issues around the halfway mark, at least for me. Still, when she does finally attempt to leave, the resulting episode in the nearby village, where strange rituals and pageants are enacted by what she takes to be wizened, shrunken old people, is like a Ramsey Campbell or Ligotti story in its intensity and half-seen imagery.

And really, this is where Nevill seems to excel - at vivid imagery, at atmosphere. And what is horror fiction if not the art of sustaining atmosphere? The book overflows with macabre detail and suggestion, the implications piling up for the reader in the same way they seem to be piling up for Catherine - each event perhaps something she could cope with individually, but the cumulative effect threatens to overwhelm her. The fevered, claustrophobic Red House (like Hill House before it...) seems to reflect and amplify the fears and neuroses that Catherine brings with her from the outside world, from her troubled past. (Her back-story is wonderfully dovetailed with the present day action). There's the constant sense that her sanity is being eroded by what she encounters in the Red House, and that the space which sanity leaves is open for invasion by something more dominant. The reader worries that, like the stuffed animals and the taxidermy displays, Catherine will be remade, twisted into another’s poses, fashioned by an older and crueller view of existence into something she's not. Or is the real fear that she was like that, or along? The ending of the novel is without respite, without pity, and a finale that is, in its own way, darker than anything in The Ritual.

Overall, this is another fine horror novel whose minor flaws are overshadowed by its many manifest strengths. If you're anything like me, this is one you’ll remember for a long time afterwards.
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