St. Martin's Press, 2015 (US edition)
It's nighttime and it's very quiet. I'm sitting at the table in the breakfast room and all I can hear is the tick tick tick of my neon pink pig barbeque clock (don't ask) coming from the pantry room off my kitchen. I'm in the middle of page 400 something of this book and suddenly the phone rings and I actually felt myself jump out of my chair. I'd say that's a pretty good indicator of the book's intensity -- it grabbed hold of me and just wouldn't let me go.
82 Edgehill Road, London is an older Victorian home where a young woman named Stephanie has taken a room. The rent is dirt cheap, which is good, since Stephanie works temping when the agency actually has any jobs for her. Stephanie lost her mom at an early age, and that was bad enough, but her father remarried and stepmom turned out to be something of a lunatic who has it in for Stephanie for no good reason. After Stephanie's father dies, she stays with her stepmother, but things got so bad that she had to leave. Now she's on her own, having left her boyfriend, and finds herself at the point of poverty. The price of the room is unbelievably low, so 82 Edgehill Road becomes her new home. Right away she notices something is wrong -- from under the bed she hears the sound of plastic crinkling, she hears women crying, a voice coming through the fireplace, and when someone unseen joins her in her bed, she decides she can't spend another day in the house. Sadly, she's forked over what little money she has for the room and the landlord refuses to refund her deposit; soon we discover that he's doing everything he can to keep her from leaving. She tries to get help from friends, but everyone's been hit hard economically and no one has enough cash to help her out. Her situation gets increasingly worse, but when she meets the landlord's disgusting psychopath of a cousin, living in the house turns into something akin to a nightmare. So Stephanie is stuck while the strange occurrences continue and escalate, and as time passes the situation gets beyond bad to the point where for Stephanie, death just might be preferable.
The supernatural terrors of this novel are creepy enough, but Nevill adds in some very real-life horrors that intensify Stephanie's experiences. The media (and some social media-ites as well) and its relentless attacks on her character point to the tabloid-ish tendencies to blame the victim:
"It was the media that had driven her into what two doctors had called 'emotional breakdowns', not the house... Her best defence had been the screaming of her own story straight into the maelstrom of competing voices; the opinionated and ill-informed voices that always knew better.. But she would never forgive the world for what it had done, nor trust it again. Because of how it had interpreted her without restraint or remorse, for the purposes of its own entertainment."There were times in the first half of the novel where I found myself wondering whether this house was actually haunted or whether Stephanie's own mental state brought on her terrors; it's to Nevill's credit that he can keep his readers guessing at every turn. What I really loved about this novel is that this story is just downright scary in a very "old-school" kind of way, while staying very much grounded in modern times. So if you need splatter, gore and sick pornography to get your horror jollies, you just won't get it here. Part one was definitely the best of the book, although obviously it remains creepy enough for me to jump out of my chair while reading part two.
Super super super book -- any novel that can make me jump from the ringing of a telephone is one well worth reading. Huzzah. Keep them coming!
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