"Inhospitable" Book Review
Written by Tony Jones
Published by Camphor Press
Written by Marshall Moore
2018, 302 pages, Fiction
Released on May 17th, 2018
Inhospitable began life as a component of a PhD in creative writing taken by the author Marshall Moore at Aberystwyth University in Wales. In the UK this has recently become a common way for debut novels to find their way into print. Once in a while such a project hits the top of the bestseller list and the publishing world gets excited; a famous recent example would be Emma Healey’s Elizabeth is Missing, which is also being filmed for television in the UK. However, these successes are rarely genre-based titles, and horror as a genre is often overlooked in these types of literary and writing university courses. To the best of my knowledge, Leo Hunt’s YA horror 13 Days of Midnight is a rare example of a success from the field of the supernatural. I read elsewhere that Marshall Moore’s PhD also covered the intersection of ghost stories, both Western and Chinese, with horror. On paper this is a potentially fascinating project, but as a supernatural novel Inhospitable fails to click and is an uninspiring read.
Initially, in the early stages of the story, my interest was piqued, as it was unclear which direction the novel was heading. However, I quickly lost interest in the exceptionally dull daily and business life of Lena Haze, an American who has recently moved to Hong Kong after her husband Marcus inherited valuable real estate which they hope to convert into a posh hotel. Seeking local investors, Lena (Marcus is still in America) then tries to impress rich locals with their ambitious proposal with fancy food and pricy wine. Much of the early stages focus on Lena struggling to cope with the culture change of living in Hong Kong; she witnesses a suicide and fusses over which booze to buy for her rich guests. These high-class problems make exceptionally tedious reading, as Lena worries over whether she will have time to have a shower before the guests turn up or buy fresh wine after the previous batch mysteriously goes bad. At this stage you’ll be wondering whether this is a horror novel at all or may already have given up.
Two further, exceptionally dull, characters are added to the story; Isaac, the son of the couple looking to invest in the hotel, who comes across as the stereotypical younger gay best friend, and a lonely drunken American ex-pat who befriends Lena. All too often they sit around drinking or eating in repeatedly uninvolving and repetitive scenes. Before long Lina, with the help of Issac, looks for a new smaller flat to rent and a supernatural element is unconvincingly added into the story. Lena sees ghosts, she always has, Isaac sees them too, and it is implied that this phenomenon is more common in Hong Kong and the far east than you would think. All this is put across very matter-of-factly. There is no suspense, horror, chills and everything is exceptionally bland. There are also a couple of decent childhood flashbacks which caught my attention, which went underdeveloped.
Eventually Marcus turns up and it’s worth pointing out that the couple are not allowed to sell this property, which is where the crux of the story heads, at a snail’s pace I may add. I read in a preview that this book has references to Stephen King’s masterpiece The Shining, well okay, the latter part of the novel is set after the hotel finally opens, but here the comparisons end. Sadly, everything that makes The Shining a masterpiece is lacking in Inhospitable. One of the major problems is the lack of identity the novel suffers from, it does not convince as either a horror novel, a thriller or literary fiction. So, what is it? I am unsure and equally uncertain who the book should be targeted at. This novel is highly unlikely to find much love with the horror crowd, who way well laugh at the ridiculous nature in which the plot concludes.
The author fails to convince the reader that the supernatural world he presents in modern day Hong Kong and China is real. Marshall Moore really drops the ball here, as I do not believe a word of any of this, so it fails as a horror novel on every level. It may well be based on genuine folklore, but if the author’s reinterpretation fails to convince, then you have problems. When did ghosts and demons become so boring? If you want to check out an author who does this very well, read the YA horror novel The Girl from the Well by Rin Chupeco, who seamlessly merges the supernatural into believable everyday life.
What reads successfully as a university creative writing exercise does not guarantee a smooth transition into a readable novel. I have no idea how many people read this when it was still in university format, or how much it has changed since, but as a novel it fails because it is boring, uninvolving, the characters are dull and the way in which the supernatural world is presented is incredibly tedious.