This is an updated, modern take on the supernatural gothic tale. Set in present day, a young British man (only identified as A.) inherits an estate in rural Virginia. The house is over a century old and it seems each of its prior occupants has met with a premature end. This beneficiary is a rather distant relation, but he is the last. He brings his companion Niamh (girlfriend?) with him. She does not speak — by choice — and many make the mistake that she is also deaf.
The novel progresses in a current epistolary format. Niamh writes her thoughts in a notebook, and via his responses, we get the dialogue. The two are also documenting the strange things that begin happening in the house. The reader is given detailed descriptions of the video recordings, pieces of A.’s diary, and other documents like receipts from the pool service and invitations.
Together, they all sketch the story of a group of adventurers who formed a club centered around a mysterious object. A. and Niahm follow the clues, Goonies-style, to figure out what secrets the house (and his ancestors) hold.
The informal tone of the novel suits the youthful protagonists. Yet, these are not the typical dumb kids who are going to be killed by the chainsaw killer in the woods. They are smart and articulate. Through them Cantero manages to generate atmosphere as well.
I was walking barefoot on muffin snow along the spine of a steep roof with stair-shaped battlements. The sky was unnaturally yellow above. And below, ashen fog covered the ground, nothing but bare trees sticking their heads out. ~Loc. 754
The woods are petrified. Tall, balding birches stand Struckneresquely, mimicking the Gothic style of the house, just as the house used to mimic the environment. The grounds are yet snowless, but also … everythingless. Bare naked. November has settled. ~Loc. 2401
The story is absorbing and rolls by quickly. The reader will become swept up as the characters discover one clue, that leads to another.
The unusual format works. There is enough that resembles a standard form to allow the reader to go with the presentation at play here. And for the most part, the story itself is quite plausible. There are even attempts to give the supernatural elements a scientific explanation.
I got caught up in the fast pace of the tale and was ready to barrel through to the end. I was like a kid who sat on my bike at the top of a tall hill. I took my feet off the pedals and let go. Unfortunately, I did not come away without a few scrapes. With only a few pages to go, the narrative takes a weird turn. The tone and style changes. It’s not that I wish it had ended differently; it’s that the conclusion didn’t follow from the well-told, closely-constructed story. After the intricate lead-up, the reader is left with a messy, random pile of pieces that are supposed to make up an ending.
Despite the unsatisfying ending, I enjoyed 90% of the book. I would still encourage readers to give it a try. Perhaps the disjointed finish will not pose the same problem for others.
Read via NetGalley
Hardcover: 368 pages
Publisher: Doubleday (August 12, 2014)