It’s been a while, but today Shouty Doris is back to interject during my review of The Women in the Walls by Amy Lukavics, a YA thriller that we received for review from Simon & Schuster Australia. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:
Lucy Acosta’s mother died when she was three. Growing up in a Victorian mansion in the middle of the woods with her cold, distant father, she explored the dark hallways of the estate with her cousin, Margaret. They’re inseparable—a family.
When her aunt Penelope, the only mother she’s ever known, tragically disappears while walking in the woods surrounding their estate, Lucy finds herself devastated and alone. Margaret has been spending a lot of time in the attic. She claims she can hear her dead mother’s voice whispering from the walls. Emotionally shut out by her father, Lucy watches helplessly as her cousin’s sanity slowly unravels. But when she begins hearing voices herself, Lucy finds herself confronting an ancient and deadly legacy that has marked the women in her family for generations.
Before we get into it I have to ask: Doris, where have you been for so long?
Washing my hair.
For seven months?
But surely you couldn’t ha —
Just get on with it Bruce.
Haven’t lost your charming personality, I see, Doris. Right. Let’s crack on. Just a warning – there will be some spoilers in this review.
I had high hopes for The Women in the Walls when I requested it for review. The blurb sounded spooky and mysterious, the cover was creepy, with a hint of old-time menace. I honestly thought that this would be a five-star read and something I would thoroughly relish. But….
Well, quite. From the very first chapter I started to have misgivings about how creepy this book would turn out to be, mostly because from the very start it seemed that the author was having trouble getting a handle on her protagonist’s voice. I was finding it hard to pick up from the dialogue, thoughts and actions of Lucy, the main character, just what kind of a person she was – what made her tick, what her strengths might be…in short, who she was going to be as a character. But, I decided to press on regardless because I didn’t want to give up on the prospect of creepy voices in the walls.
Well, that was a mistake.
The voice problem never gets any better. It’s like the author decided to pick obvious, wooden dialogue for all the characters and just throw it at the page in the hope that it would create a spooky atmosphere. Quite frankly, I would have been happy if the walls had collapsed on the lot of them by the end of chapter five. Spoilt, selfish brats, all. Even the adults.
You’ve got a point there, Doris. None of the main characters – Lucy, her cousin Margaret, and Lucy’s father – were particularly likable and none were developed in any deep way. We get told (through Lucy’s thought processes) about the various tragedies that have befallen each of them, but their behaviour toward each other is so cold and unlikely that I couldn’t muster up the motivation to care about what happened to any of them. Yet still I pushed on, hoping for the atmosphere to take a turn for the creepy.
Strike two! The author doesn’t know anything about creepy. There’s no suspense, no atmosphere, no tension; just a bunch of whinging young girls bickering and some supposedly spooky happenings plucked out of thin air and slapped down in front of us with no build up. I think the author was going for shock value rather than bothering to craft a story that felt suspenseful. It’s like bringing a bag of salt and vinegar chips to a party – people will be disgusted on first seeing them, but it won’t leave a lasting impression (luckily for you. Who brings salt and vinegar chips to a party?)
I’d have to agree, Doris. I was hoping for this to be a real psychological thriller, with voices in the walls causing madness and mayhem to ensue. It does ensue, admittedly, but the execution is so ham-fisted and unsubtle that any sense of tension is completely lost. There are a couple of violent and outwardly gruesome scenes – Margaret’s death being one of them – that the author describes in detail and then keeps bringing up, as if to try and raise the scare factor, but the narration and plot arc are so clumsy and signposted that these scenes feel like they’ve been included simply to add a bit of gore to the book.
There were also parts of the narration that made absolutely no sense. My particular favourite of these is Lucy noting, after Margaret’s brutal and frankly dubious (according to the laws of physics) method of suicide – she throws herself out of a window, landing on a spiked fence, causing her to be impaled through both body and head, in case you’re wondering – that she had no idea why Margaret did what she did.
HA!! Yes, that had me chuckling a bit too. No idea why she did what she did? Really, girly? So the inappropriate giggling in the middle of the night, the claim about hearing voices of dead relatives, the scribbling out her mother’s face in every photograph in the house, the waking to find her standing over you with scissors, the dissection of a rat, the previous gruesome suicide of another member of the household ….none of this gave you a hint that Margaret was unhinged and might do something even more unexpected? Like launch herself out of an unfastened window onto a fence worthy of Vlad the Impaler’s summer home?
Exactly. That, and the intermittent introspection about “Did I ever really know *Margaret/Penelope/My Father/insert name of character here* at all?” felt stilted and pedestrian and did nothing to add any depth or realism to Lucy as a character.
I think the author had some good ideas for a truly creepy story here, but the execution is amateurish. There are supposedly interweaving plotlines involving magic, the disappearance of Margaret’s mother and the involvement of a country club, but the author couldn’t seem to bring these together in a coherent, suspenseful story. Every time I felt any kind of suspense building, the author would cut to a scene that allowed the suspense to deflate. The parties with the country club were a big culprit here. I mean, her aunt has disappeared, her cousin has killed herself and Lucy is quite content to hang out with her father’s country club buddies?
I don’t know why you bothered to finish it.
Weeeellll. I didn’t. I pushed on for 227 pages and then I just couldn’t face wading through any more stilted, disconnected events narrated by a bitchy, self-centred teen. It’s sort of my two-fingered salute to the book for not being what I expected.
I’m sure the author is cut to the bone that you read seven eighths of the book and then put it down in protest.
Yeah, yeah. I just honestly kept hoping it would get better.
Let that be a lesson to you, boyo. Now, I have to go and wash my hair.
But didn’t you just wa —
Get on with it.
In case you haven’t picked up on my mood yet, I was disappointed with this one, but at least I know I gave it every chance. Have you read The Women in the Walls? What did you think?
Until next time,