by Jonathan Aycliffe
Charles and Laura are a young, happily married couple inhabiting the privileged world of Cambridge academia. Brimming with excitement, Charles sets off with his daughter Naomi on a Christmas Eve shopping trip to London. But, by the end of the day, all Charles and his wife have left are cups of tea and police sympathy. For Naomi, their beautiful, angelic only child, has disappeared. Days later her murdered body is discovered.
But is she dead?
In a howling, bumping story of past and present day hell, Jonathan Aycliffe's haunting psychological masterpiece is guaranteed to make you sink to untold depths of teeth-shaking terror.
I have come to the conclusion that I am a picky reader. I make what are probably unreasonable demands of authors. Reading this book reminded me of one of those tightropes I expect a good author to walk.
I've complained (more than once) that so much ghostly horror doesn't even try to explain itself-- and when there are "explanations", they are often disappointingly weak and thin. Usually, this leaves me unsatisfied with a book-- but now I'm about to complain that this book provides too much explanation! Impossible to please. I guess I want something to go on-- to feel that I more or less know what the author intended-- but not a too-clearly spelled-out and delineated specter.
The first half of the book is wonderfully atmospheric and creepy-- full of promise. Then the narrator finds a diary, and things start to go downhill... Evidently it is possible to simultaneously go into too much explicit detail and yet leave one or two of the biggest questions unanswered.
Ah well, despite shortcomings, I "enjoyed" reading this, if you can say you enjoyed something that made you shudder, squirm, and occasionally feel guilty that you were even reading it...
If you don't mind a slight pall of depression and darkness hanging around after you turn the last page, give it a try! Aycliffe is still one of the best modern authors of atmospheric horror I've yet come across-- though I believe this book has more graphic violence than any of his other novels I've read so far.
Recommended for fans of ghost stories that blend psychological and physical horror-- but you may want to give it a pass if you're particularly sensitive to violence against children in works of fiction.
Specific Tidbits (with SPOILERS):
--Liddley's "origin" leaves me scratching my head and thinking, "Is that all? Dude needed to get over himself..." We're probably supposed to find it especially awful that Liddley started out as just an ordinary man-- even a good man who wanted to spare his patients unnecessary suffering. That a good man could end up being so evil is frightening, of course, but I find it difficult to believe (in a ghost story, where above all else one demands plausibility, darnit!)-- particularly when the things that drove him to it seem so... insignificant and ordinary. He didn't love his wife, then felt betrayed by his mistress? Well, boo-hoo and cry me a river. I guess we're supposed to be appeased by the convenient explanation that he had dabbled too far into the arcane (plus he contracted syphilis and may have been driven mad by that-- though I think insanity doesn't manifest for years)... Maybe I just don't like the idea that a good person could go so bad-- not just everyday kinds of bad, but beyond the pale.
--The cover I've linked for this book is awful. It has nothing to do with the book at all-- except maybe the watching eyes... Who is that woman supposed to be? It's not Naomi, obviously. It looks nothing like the description of the narrator's wife, either. And those eyes, while somewhat more related to the novel, are hilariously close-set! (This author has at least one other mass market cover in a similar style, with similarly close-set eyes behind a woman with no relationship to the story.) Embarrassingly bad!
--"The act of forgetting has itself become the trigger for memory. Some things are like that, they lodge in your mind for ever. Trying to forget just makes it worse."
--"...I harboured a belief in an essential current of goodness running through things, I saw a shape, a pattern to the whole, even if life in its particulars seemed at times shapeless or inchoate, even if children died in pain. It was, I suppose, a religious sense of the world, though I did not formulate it in theological terms. A sterner theology, a dogma, might have seen me through what happened. But my innocence was not made of such iron stuff, nor so well defended. It was half-formulated, lax, too much in tune with the time and too little with the experience of generations."
--The idea of law enforcement officers who work on the case dying mysteriously (murdered, coming down with serious illness) after coming into such close contact with the affected family-- it's familiar, to the point that I think the author might've used the same device in one of his other books. (Not that it's unheard-of in other works, of course. I can think of several other examples, off the top of my head-- such as in The Grudge) I find this especially eerie. Someone just doing his job happens to get this assignment, and then he's somehow cursed. (Creeeeeeepy!)
--The title of the book is a bit of a stretch-- not the title I would've chosen. It's explained near the end (Naomi's "new room" is the attic torture chamber, where she says she's allowed to play any time she likes), but it's weak and misleading. Obviously, the reader expects there to be some special significance to Naomi's original bedroom-- and I can't see that there's any point in that little deception.
--The last bit of the book is reminiscent of The Shining-- the movie, not the book, which I've never read. The loving family man "possessed", turned into a violent, sadistic monster who turns on those he's meant to protect.
--"They will fit into my old trunk, the one I bought when I was an undergraduate. I never thought then that I would have such a use for it."
--The next candidate, the prospective buyer, a "medical man" (like Liddley was) is a Galsworthy-- an old family for the area. Liddley's wife's maiden name was Galsworthy.