I write this review on behalf of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors check here if you want to get your book reviewed) and thank Rosie Amber and the author for providing me a copy of the book that I freely chose to review.
The description of the book provides us with a good gist of what the book is about (and it is accurate) but the title itself will stir readers in the right direction. Yes, this is a book about ghosts and it centres on a house. Manor House is a house with plenty of history behind. And Mr. Travels, the old oak tree in its vicinity, has seen its share of events, mostly dark ones.
The book is a ghost story in the best tradition of psychological horror. The clever way in which the story is designed made me think of magicians and sleight of hand artists who misdirect the spectators and create an atmosphere where the most bizarre or magical things can come true. The story is told in the third person and although it mostly tells of the events that happen to the family Wilder, it also has a prologue and an epilogue that beautifully bring the story full circle and incorporate it into the mythology of the house, turning it into a representative of what the house stands for, and of the stories of the rest of its inhabitants. The story is set in the recent past, before social media and mobile phones were the norm, and it is told in the third person, in its majority from the point of view of Edmund Wilder, (although later there are some chapters told from the point of view of his brother-in-law, Charlie), who was a happy husband and father until tragedy stroke and he lost his son, Tommy. His wife is depressed and when she suggests spending a few days at Manor House to have a break and strengthen their family ties, he agrees. The plan is for him to take the opportunity to write the book he has been talking about for ages. The narration is not straightforward. Although the book is pretty short, the reader needs to remain attentive, as Edmund experiences strange events, and his story is interspersed with his writing, that includes stories about the house, a diary where he narrates dreams (sometimes experienced whilst awake and sometimes asleep), and the time frame is not as evident as it might seem at times. Edmund is not a reliable narrator. He interacts with a number of mysterious characters that keep reassuring him that everything is all right, but he is not totally convinced of that. There are moments when he feels that he is not in control of what is happening or what he is writing, but that he is rather a conduit for somebody or something else (Manor House?).
These mysterious characters who work in the house (Lucas, the housekeeper, and the groundskeeper) give him some clues as to what might be really going on, but we experience events through Edmund’s eyes and senses, and although we might be as convinced as he is that things are not right, and we have some extra information (the prologue and later the chapters from Charlie’s point of view), we still feel as lost and puzzled as him.
Matt Powers does a great job of enveloping the story in suggestion and creating intrigue, without using gore descriptions or openly violent scenes. He manages to make the readers autosuggest themselves and creates a psychological atmosphere of disquiet and dread. The fact that we only know some basic facts about the family and the protagonist rather than having a very personalised and detailed portrayal of the individuals and their characteristics helps us immerse ourselves in the story and we can easily identify with the role of observer and writer Edmund takes on (more or less willingly).
The style of the writing is atmospheric and it alternates with stream of consciousness and with descriptive writing of historical events and lore, but as mentioned, due to the state of mind of the character whose point of view we share in, it needs to be followed closely and it is not a light and easy read.
The author explains that he intended to pay homage and create his own version of the horror stories about ghosts and haunted houses he loves, and in my opinion, he is successful. Fans of horror stories will find plenty of nods to stories and authors who have written in the genre and will enjoy that aspect as much as the story itself. Although I did not find the novel scary or the ending surprising per se, it is eerie and it does a good job of exploring the psychology of anxiety and fear, while at the same time touching on the themes of loss, grief, guilt, and the toll losing a child can have on family relationships.
A short read recommended for those who prefer their frights more psychological and less gory in nature. And I agree with the author’s chosen quote by Dean Koontz:
Houses are not haunted. We are haunted, and regardless of the architecture with which we surround ourselves, our ghosts stay with us until we ourselves are ghosts.
Another author to keep a close eye on.