“The Dead House” by Dawn Kurtagich

Sometimes I request books from NetGalley and then put off reading them for months and months, before feeling guilty enough to pick them up and finally write the review I should have done earlier in the year. This was one of those, and initially my tardiness with actually reading it made me think I wouldn’t bother to cross-post my review to my blog, but hey, I ran out of other things to post, so here we go.

the-dead-house

I think my experience of this book was negatively affected by the fact that I read an eARC, which makes it difficult to give a proper review. It’s told in a ‘found footage’ style, with medical reports, interviews, journal entries etc, but formatting issues with the eARC made it somewhat confusing in places, as I couldn’t immediately distinguish between them and sometimes things were disjointed or misplaced within the narrative itself. This made it difficult for me to get into the book, which is why it took several months for me to get around to reading it after receiving it from NetGalley.

On the whole, I didn’t find the found footage style overly effective — I think it’s something that works much better in a visual format, and there was a little too much explanation from the unknown ‘compiler’ of the various pieces of evidence within the text, whereas it might have been more effective to let them stand alone. However, it’s possible that had I read the book in paperback and had the full experience, including visual differences between sections, that I might have found it more absorbing and therefore more effective.

It’s certainly a creepy story, raising questions about whether or not the monstrous aspects of the book are genuinely supernatural or whether it is the mental illness of the characters causing them to believe these things. I don’t know much about dissociative personality disorder, so I don’t think I can speak on the book as a representation of that; it’s definitely implied that Carly has been wrongly diagnosed and that these things are genuinely happening, but of course it’s also a matter of interpretation.

In terms of comparisons, I can definitely see parallels between this and As I Descended by Robin Talley. They both have a boarding school setting, female main characters, and they’re creepy as anything, making me regret reading them in the evenings because I’m easily scared and I don’t really like horror. (I constantly question my decision to read it. I make poor life choices; I think we’ve all realised that.)

One thing I found a little odd was the use of a fictional voodoo-type magic system, apparently originating from a fictional Scottish island. The main reason this seemed weird to me is because I didn’t know for sure whether or not it was ‘real’ (that is to say, a real folkloric / superstitious belief, rather than one invented for the novel; I’m not commenting on the actual magic itself!) until I read the author’s note, and so every time I cropped I would be trying to puzzle out why I hadn’t heard of it given how much research I’ve done into folklore and magic, particularly in the British Isles. Which was just me trying to make too much sense of a book and looking for answers where there weren’t any, but it still affected my reading, whether or not it’s a vaild point.

I don’t know. It’s hard to say what my overall impression would be, because like I’ve already said, my experience was definitely affected by the formatting issues and in a book told unconventionally, as this one is, formatting is much more crucial than in a straightforward prose novel. Moreover, despite my repeated poor life choices with regards to reading it, I’m not actually a big fan of creepy novels, or I like the creepiness to be more of a subplot than a main plot. (Just… anything with ouija boards, or even vaguely resembling ouija boards, is a No.) It would be difficult for a book like this to completely win me over.

That said, although I grew frustrated because of the problems I was having with the eARC and knew very quickly that I would probably regret continuing with it, I still found myself impatient to know what had happened and what the ‘incident’ referred to actually was, so I kept reading solely to find out. Which suggests fairly effective storytelling.

Conclusion? Who knows. If you like creepy things and people not being able to trust their own brains, you might enjoy this. If not, probably worth giving it a miss.

Because of the formatting issues, I’m not going to give this book a rating — I don’t think I could really be fair. Sorry about that!

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