PAGES: 371


YEAR: 2013



House of Small Shadows is a library book. I’ve never read him before but heard good things about his novel, Apartment 16. I picked up the book because of the quote Britain’s answer to Stephen King on the front cover. I read the blurb and had to read the novel.



The Red House; home to the damaged genius of the late H M Mason, master taxidermist and puppeteer, where he lived and created some of his most disturbing works. The building and its treasure trove of antiques is long forgotten, but the time has come for his creations to rise from the darkness.

Catherine Howard can’t believe her luck when she’s invited to value the contents of the house. When she first sees the elaborate displays of posted, costumed and preserved animals and macabre puppets, she’s both thrilled and terrified. It’s an opportunity to die for.

But the Red House has secrets, secrets as dreadful and dark as those from Catherine’s own past. At nigh the building comes alive with noises and movements, footsteps, and the fleeting glimpses of small shadows on the stairs. And soon the barriers between reality, sanity and nightmare begin to collapse…


As if by dream, Catherine came to the Red House. She abandoned her car once the lane’s dusty surface was choked by the hedgerows , and moved on foot through a tunnel of hawthorn and hazel trees to glimpse the steep pitch of the roof, the ruddy brick chimneys and the finials upon its sharp spire.


I wasn’t impressed with House of Small Shadows for the first sixty pages or so. The novel started off as another run-of-the-mill horror novel. Nevill offered a stereotypical scary house with scary occupants. Mason’s surviving relative and her house-keeper were almost caricatures. Then something remarkable happened. Nevill got going and House of Small Shadows became something quite remarkable.

STRUCTURE: I like the way Nevill deftly moves the plot in and out of the past in House of Small Shadows. There are a fair amount of flashbacks to various traumatic events in Catherine’s past. Nevill effortlessly weaves these into the narrative without making them intrusive or slowing down the past or getting the reader lost. Nicely done. Nevill gradually builds tension in House of Small Shadows. The dark secrets of Red House and Catherine’s link to the creepy place is revealed in tiny amount rather than dropping all the bombs at the same time. This created lots of tension and a compulsion to read on. I like this carrot-stick approach.

PLACE: With the exception of a few scenes almost all of Hose of Small Shadows is set inside Red House. Nevill does a good job of bringing the sinister house to life. The creepy place lived and breathe. Nevill created a lot of atmosphere and setting through the way the house was depicted. I did, however, think some aspects were very stereotypical of other spooky house novels. The house wasn’t as original as it could have been.

CHARACTERISATION: I thought the characterisation was a bit uneven in House of Small Shadows. The strongest character was Catherine, the main character. This is good because we’re inside her head most of the time. She’s drawn to the house because of its proximity to where she was abandoned as a child. I like the way Nevill gradually reveals her dark, traumatic past and her link to Red House. She was very real, flawed and human. I found her boss, Leonard intriguing especially when it is revealed he was deeply involved with the sinister goings on at the Red House when Mason was still alive. I never saw that coming. I thought Edith Mason and her house-keeper Maude were little more than stereotypical creepy old spinsters. They were caricatures of what creepy old women in horror novels should be. I thought Nevill could have done a much better job with them.

PLOT: They story doesn’t get going until around page sixty or so. Until this point I was considering pushing House of Small Shadows to one side. Then creepy Edith talks to Catherine like she’s a small child and tell her they’ve picked out a pretty dress for her to wear to the pageant. I was hooked. I thought Nevill offered a very original story after the first hurdle was over. The Red House and its inhabitants were creepy as hell. One of my favourite scenes is when Catherine finds Mason’s scrap-books and discovers his darkest secrets. I loved it when Edith and Maude dragged Catherine’s old enemy out of Mason’s workshop, horribly disfigured into a half-puppet and half-human. Eww! I loved all the twists and turns in the last couple of hundred pages and the ending was sad but great.



Up next: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson   



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