"Abode" Book Review
Written by Tony Jones
Published by Bloodshot Books
Written by Morgan Sylvia
2017, 253 pages, Fiction
Released 10th July 2017
Although Morgan Sylvia's debut novel is initially both entertaining and intriguing, ultimately it's a frustrating take on the traditional haunted house story. Much of the action takes place in a remote house in Maine, which could have been lifted from the Amityville Horror or any other modern scary story. However, the author mixes things up just enough to keep the reader on their toes for much of the novel before a disappointing climax.
The plot unfolds in the form of long rambling emails and is told second-hand by an unreliable narrator who believes the recipient of his emails (whom he has been stalking) is the reincarnation of his long dead little sister. So what we are reading (the emails) is the elder brother unburdening himself by revealing the circumstances which led to his family moving to the house he sees as responsible for her eventual death of his sister.
So what leads to the death of the six-year-old girl? We are told very early on that this happens, but the circumstances are revealed more slowly. Their father loses his job, drinks too much and buys a dilapidated house in the middle of nowhere. Seen through the eyes of the nine-year-old brother (our narrator and email writer), things very quickly start to go bump in the night. Doors slam on their own, ornaments jump from the shelves and scratchings can be heard in the walls. The father isolates himself in the cellar, the mother puts on a brave face but is a nervous wreck, and when the kids start their new school, they're told they live in the "murder house".
The initial hauntings revealed through the eyes of the nine-year-old are pretty good, however, after a while it begins to get repetitive and the story does not really move on as it should and the horror does not really escalate and the parents seem to accept these weird goings on way too easily. The supernatural element eventually begins to extend beyond the house and the boy narrator is fascinated by the ever-changing forest and the wild and evil things which might live there.
The narrator is recalling the events of thirty odd years earlier and this first-person style is a very limiting narrative device when it comes to this. There is way too much of "I said, you said", which gets pretty boring and really is a tension killer. There are also major plot elements which are under-explored, such as the email recipient's reactions. I felt the novel was building up to a climax that never really amounted to much and the suspense deflates somewhat.
Writing a convincing ghost story really is a tricky business and for a debut novel, Abode is an admirable attempt, but Morgan Sylvia falls way short of the likes of Adam Nevill, Ronald Malfi or Paul Tremblay, who have the true ability to scare and unsettle. Writing a novel in email form is never easy and one wonders whether it truly suits the horror genre as the fear level is diluted. As horror fans that's the last thing we want.