The House of Ashes by Stuart Neville
9/7/21; 304 pages
The House of Ashes by Stuart Neville is a highly recommended ominous, malevolent novel of psychological suspense.
After her nervous breakdown, Sara Keane's husband Damien moved them
from England to Northern Ireland into a house called the Ashes that his
father bought for them. Damien has been isolating Sara from her friends
since the beginning and this move makes that separation complete. Damien
is emotionally abusive and threatening to Sara and this has increased
over the years. When Mary Jackson, an old woman, pounds on the door one
morning claiming that the Ashes is her home and talks about the
children, she is taken back to the care facility where she was sent,
leaving Sara wondering about the history of the house. Damien dismisses
her concerns, but Sara defies him and begins to uncover Mary's past imprisonment at the house as a child and the terrible history of the Ashes.
The writing is excellent in this novel, although the actual subject
matter of abuse makes it difficult to read. The dual narrative tells two
stories set at the Ashes, that of present day Sara and Mary's story
from sixty years ago. Sara is experiencing abuse currently, but the
abuse Mary experienced and lived through is chilling, horrific, and
evil. Tied into both narrative threads are ghostly apparitions. While
the abuse Sara is currently experiencing is awful, Mary's story of abuse
is the more terrifying, frightening, and nefarious - so much so that at
times it is difficult to read. The
Both Sara and Mary (as a child) are well developed characters and the
dual narratives unfold through their individual points-of-view. Sara's a
wounded adult experiencing gaslighting and being manipulated, and
controlled by her husband. Mary's story is mainly told through the eyes
of a child which in many ways makes it so much more powerful and awful
because she literally has no way to escape. The outcomes of both dark
narratives are violent but necessary to reach the final denouement. The House of Ashes is an exceptional novel but all the violence and wicked behavior also makes it emotionally draining. 4.5 rounded down.
Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Soho Press/ Penguin Random House.