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3.6 out of 5 stars
3.6 out of 5 stars
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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'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 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 7 December 2015
Well, another example of Mr Nevill's unfortunate habit of fizzling out. Good atmospheric, creepy start, soggy middle, but really poor ending which was left unexplained and unsatisfactory. The chap can write, but I've found all of the books I've read of his so far have left me a tad flat. I'll persevere in the hope he gets there.
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on 13 October 2013
First off I'm a huge fan of Nevill, having read his previous four horror novels, so I was looking forward to this. When I first heard the basic plot I was a bit disappointed, thinking it had been done before. However, with Nevill nothing is obvious, and the story quickly weaves into sinister dimensions and you're not really sure whether there is anything supernatural going on. The book really gets under your skin, and has some rattling great discriptions, fear laded nights and paranoia right to the last page. It's a very dark novel, which doesn't have that many characters, with all the action focussed on the Red House, making it all the more creepy. I loved it right to the last word!
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on 12 May 2014
I like Adam Nevill. I really do. He can write, to call him Britain's answer to Stephen King is both accurate and ludicrous in equal measure, because the ability to illicit fear in the reader is there in spades, but unlike King, Nevill's characters never feel like real people. They're always characters going from A to B.

And the thing I have noticed, from reading all of his work, is that he struggles with endings. Last Days and The Ritual were perfect examples, The Ritual especially, of pure terror on the page, but towards the end, you just stop caring and there are sequences that should excite and horrify, but they merely drag until you reach the final page.

With this book however, there is a more complete ending, which is definitely progress, but in that is a weak and weird ending that makes sense in the story, but doesn't really pay off for the lead character in the way it should, or indeed for the reader. So this time around, everything feels more complete, and the ending isn't as drawn out, but unfortunately I think maybe it should have.

There are a few chapters in which this book is genuinely disturbing and Nevill is a master at world building, it's as if you can reach out and touch the Red House, smell the smells of chemicals in Mason's doll making room. The prose is alive, sadly, the story never quite reaches the same heights.

I will continue reading his work, because this is a unique and talented voice in horror, British horror too, I just hope that one day I pick up an Adam Nevill novel and it really blows me away.
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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 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'.
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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.
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on 16 October 2013
Catherine Howard is a valuer for Leonard Osberne, Auctioneer of antiques, an old fashioned firm that suits her down to the ground. Escaping from an incident in London - which resulted in her losing her previous job, home and friends - she's determined to get her life back on track and with a new job and settled relationship, things are starting to look brighter. When she's asked to catalogue the estate of M H Mason, a renowned taxidermist, she's excited by the possibilities, especially when she understands the extent of his cache of antique dolls and puppets. Upon visiting Red House, Mason's country mansion which is now occupied by his eldery niece Edith and Maude, the mute housekeeper, she discovers that it's very close to where she grew up and suffered a terrible, bullied childhood. And when Edith introduces Catherine to her late uncle's dark art, shadows from those dreaded days begin to close in.

This is another stunning novel from Adam Nevill (following last years "Last Days") and this time he uses the supernatural and unnerving possibilities of old dolls and puppets to great effect (and gives Hartley Hare, from Pipkins, a heads up in the afterword), mixing them with an out-of-the-way location and a ruined, deserted village. On top of this atmosphere - and the book is dripping in it - he weaves the story of confused and oppressed Catherine, badly bullied as a child - "Smelly Cathy Howard, dopted, dopted" - who hasn't managed to escape the pain or taunting which has followed her into adulthood. In fact, the target of her uncharacteristic violence in London, Tara, manages to create ripples that run through the whole book. Nevill creates a wonderful sense of otherworldliness about the house and some of his set pieces - looking around the village, the small faces at the window, the beekeeper where there are no bees - are genuinely unnerving whilst a sequence with Catherine, who may or may not have been drugged, trying to find light in the house is brilliantly written, playing well on our claustrophobic fear of the dark. As with "Last Days", he has created an intense and intricate mythology - cruelty plays - that constantly nips at the narrative and adds weight to the fantastical elements of the plot.

Superbly constructed, with vivid and often unnerving characters, this suffers a little in the pacing around the start of the final act but is otherwise a creepy masterclass of supernatural writing and, for a horror fan, highly recommended reading.
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