Katrina Monroe and the Dark Side of Fiction

Katrina Monroe is an author, mother, and professional haterologist. Her favorite things to hate include socks that fall down, grape-flavored anything, and the color 'salmon.' Grab her books here.

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Book Review: The House of Small Shadows



From the cover:

Catherine's last job ended badly. Corporate bullying at a top TV network saw her fired and forced to leave London, but she was determined to get her life back. A new job and a few therapists later, things look much brighter. Especially when a challenging new project presents itself — to catalogue the late M. H. Mason's wildly eccentric cache of antique dolls and puppets. Rarest of all, she'll get to examine his elaborate displays of posed, costumed and preserved animals, depicting bloody scenes from the Great War. Catherine can't believe her luck when Mason's elderly niece invites her to stay at Red House itself, where she maintains the collection until his niece exposes her to the dark message behind her uncle's "Art." Catherine tries to concentrate on the job, but Mason's damaged visions begin to raise dark shadows from her own past. Shadows she'd hoped therapy had finally erased. Soon the barriers between reality, sanity and memory start to merge and some truths seem too terrible to be real... in The House of Small Shadows by Adam Nevill.


First Impressions:

            By the end of the first chapter (even before opening the book—holy terrifying cover, batman), I knew this novel would encapsulate two of my worst fears when it comes to fiction: dolls and creepy children. It immediately reminded me of the film DEAD SILENCE which still haunts my nightmares. Though I wasn’t immediately drawn in by Catherine’s character (over-embellishment of a weak constitution in female characters is a personal peeve), the mystery surrounding the Red House and its inhabitants hooked me from the beginning.


The Best of it:

            Within the pages of THE HOUSE OF SMALL SHADOWS is a slowly mounting sense of doom. Like Catherine, I was tempted to turn each page, knowing that something horrible resided on the other side, because while it would have been safer to leave the story behind, the mystery beckoned—a mystery that doesn’t reveal itself lightly. Each time I thought I knew what was going to happen, and I steeled myself for what lay behind the door, a finger crooked in my peripheral and a voice said, “No, dear girl. This way.”


The Worst of it:

            During the first half of the novel, I was confronted with pages of somewhat repetitive introspection I absently glossed over and then had to return to and read again. While the repetition of what Catherine knew and didn’t know, and the mysterious circumstances surrounding her former job and missing childhood friend made a decent attempt to remind me what was at stake, it mostly interrupted the flow of the story, leaving a bump in the suspense.


Show Stealers:

            The star of this novel is easily its imagery, both of the Red House itself and of the characters as they are dragged into its depths, peeling them open to reveal their raw intensity. Most of which, if you’re paying attention, lay the foundation for the twist. For example, “Put me in a case with the kittens. So I can be safe from the pain. I can wear a pretty dress and have big open eyes and never have to go out again.”


            Nevill’s symbolism isn’t lost in the waves of terror, either. Catherine Howard, for those who don’t know, is also the name of one of the wives of King Henry VIII. Why is this relevant? Sorry. No spoilers for you. But I will tell you it’s probably no coincidence that many of the paintings described in the Red House are of Tudor origin.


Yeah, But What if it Were a Movie?

            I’ve been watching a lot of horror lately, especially the low-budget style. Essie Davis, known for her heart-stopping role in The Babadook would make the perfect Catherine Howard. Along this vein, I’d cast Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie (from The Visit) as Edith Mason and Catherine’s boss, Leonard. Their performances in The Visit still give me shivers.


Final Impressions:

            It’s not often that I’m completely satisfied with a novel’s ending. But with THE HOUSE OF SMALL SHADOWS, I don’t believe it could have ended any other way. However, I remain a little confused about the overall magic that ruled the narrative. Nevill relied heavily on an unreliable narrator (which I love), but that makes for difficulty in understanding the novel’s underlying machinations. Maybe that’s a good thing; because of the questions still lurking in my mind, I’ll be thinking about this novel for a long time still. 

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