Welcome, seekers of the light, to a spooky haiku review with me, your host, Mad Martha. Today’s book focuses on a fear common to fleshlings and sock-creatures alike: the fear of the dark. Light your candle/gas lamp/super-powered LED torch and let’s creep quietly down the darkened corridors of Nyctophobia by Christopher Fowler.
Callie hasn’t had the easiest of journeys so far in life, but since marrying older, dark, handsome Spaniard Matteo, things have been looking up. Giving up work as an architect, Callie moves with Matteo to Spain and is immediately drawn to the remote and mysterious Hyperion House, with its strange architectural style that keeps the majority of the house in direct sunlight for the greatest part of the day. After moving in, Callie begins to research the history of the house in an attempt to discover the reasons behind some its more bizarre features; apart from the lack of shadows in the main living area, the back of the house appears to be built into a cliff, rendering it into almost total darkness, and the servants quarters seem to be built as an exact replica of the main house, but at a third of their size. As Callie digs deeper into the house’s secrets she becomes convinced that there are “others” living in the locked, dark servants’ quarters – others that wish to do her family harm. As Matteo is increasingly absent due to work and Callie has no one to turn to but his nine-year-old daughter Bobbie, things become very confusing for Callie very quickly. But perhaps some secrets are best left buried: for if we do not heed the lessons of history, we may be doomed to repeat them.
Noises in the walls
are the least of her worries
What price, happiness?
This is not your typical gory, deaths-aplenty horror story (although there are a few deaths here). Nor is it your run-of-the-mill ghosts in the attic story (although there are indeed ghosts inhabiting various rooms also). Nyctophobia is instead a psychological, mess-with-your-head, things aren’t what they seem (or are they?) type horror story, and as such, Christopher Fowler has done a very thorough job at creating an atmosphere of confusion and secrecy throughout the book.
If you enjoy haunted house stories, you’ll probably enjoy this. While defining it as a “haunted house” story is a major simplification – this is a complex book that layers traditional motifs with Spanish history, familial history and episodes of mental illness – it is Hyperion House itself that is the star of the tale here. I love the idea of a house built specifically to cater to those who are afraid of the dark – for in this story, the original builder of the house designed it with his nyctophobic wife in mind, to ensure that not one shadow penetrated the facade. The bizarre architectural quirks add interest to the tale and provide Callie (and the reader) with hours of fun as she tries to figure out why they were built and why they are kept perpetually locked and in darkness.
The story has a well-thought out twist in the end that I didn’t see coming. I won’t give you any clues as to what it might be, but it really threw everything that had happened before into a new light (pun intended!) and had me re-thinking earlier parts of the story. The twist was nicely handled in that it was revealed matter-of-factly and the realisation of the implications of the twist were allowed to slowly percolate through Callie’s head (and the readers’!) before a slightly ambiguous ending.
The one problem I had with this book is that it felt to me like a hefty, dense read. It’s only 320 pages, but it seemed to take a long time to really get into the meat of the “horror” elements – in fact, Callie’s first really frightening encounter with the suspected “others” doesn’t take place until chapter twenty-two, and for some people I suspect that’s going to be too long a wait. If you are in the market for a ghostly, psychological thriller that takes a few Spanish siestas here and there, Nyctophobia could well be the book for you.
Until we meet again, may your torch batteries be ever inserted the right way round,
* I received a digital copy of this title from the publisher via Netgalley *