The House of little bones - by Beverley Lee
Updated: Jan 7
Whilst I think it is a fair comment to say that The house of little bones is a slow build horror story, I think I resent the implication somehow that that is a bad thing. I’d argue the exact opposite. Beverley has built a story, based on a myth she has invented (and in the last section of the book, illustrates as a short story included to provide background) and crafted a story around the interaction between the paranormal and the normal worlds. In doing so, she has also created a multi-generational story, a tale told through the lifetimes of both modern-day protagonists, and their families. And I love that. I love history in novels, I love stories that create the background, events in the past scarring the future.
Firstly, and most importantly, Beverley’s voice is as honey as ever, there’s no escaping her flow. Chapters are kept short but feel weighed down by her detail and love of character. The world building is lush. The characters are all fleshed out (apart from Luca’s mother, who was never really given air-time to shine), and if you’ll forgive me, I want to hang on to that for a while.
Having read the book, and having enjoyed it, I was still left with a feeling of unease. And I knew it was to do with character, and that it was probably an underlying message. So, I slept on it and woke up, and I realized that of all of the characters, Luca was the only one to whom I could sympathize. Here’s my thinking:
David, one of the two main protagonists, A writer that has been scandalized through his relationship with Luca, the son of his best friend, has flashbacks to scenes where he has basically acted immorally. His self-preservation instinct leads him to react to his lover, Luca, in a way that, actually, is a total dick move (pardon my modern phraseology, but it fits) and leads ultimately, to Luca’s demise (yes, I think that’s a fair comment).
Luca’s father sells his son out, due to fear, to a paranormal evil spirit.
Imelda, David’s agent, is only interested in the money he creates for her, the words, the business.
The press are only interested in scandal.
In fact, the whole cast and crew are pretty much repulsive. Apart from Luca and his sister, the latter of which, again, we see little. David, whom we start to like and sympathize with, sells all of his morals and beliefs when faced with the destruction of his career. So – “job over love”.
Luca’s father makes his own son the victim rather than face danger himself. So – “own life over others”.
Even the woman on the moor that “warns” David of the paranormal activity decides to distance herself from David rather than really take any time to explain the danger he is in. It is hinted that she is aware of that danger, yet is only vague in her dealings with him, telling him to research it himself. So “distancing rather than committing”.
A recurrent theme here is self-preservation. And those people that self-preserve “prosper” (we can discuss David’s fate later). The only character that commits to other people is made a victim. And THAT theme is reflected in Beverley’s additional origins story at the end of the book, explaining how the “Bone Crone” became what she was. In that short story, the good character, the one that tries to help other people, the one that is patient, the one that commits to other people and their lives, is the victim. The one everyone else treads upon.
Ok. So that’s my unease. Taken at face value, the story is one of multiple hauntings, leading to the deaths of the main characters (or whatever actually befalls David at the end). The novella is written hauntingly, Beverley builds up the tension and atmosphere, the stakes are kept alive through Luca as he pieces together the dilemma David is facing. David’s narrative is primarily centered on his own life, with recrimination and realization bolstering the emotional rollercoaster ride Beverley has built.
It’s great. It’s atmospheric, intelligently written ghost horror.
The ending is sudden, at a pace that clashes somewhat with the rest of the novel, and actually leaves questions open (Is it the mother or the daughter that drowns Luca? Why does the tree grow in the walls and burst out, if it is a real tree, and that at the exact time that David moves in? Who leaves the bones on the table? The woman on the moor said it wasn’t her, so who was that?
Honestly, that’s perfect. In a story like this that is driven by the atmosphere and the talent of the author's writing, we prefer to have those questions at the end. It’s all part of the mystery of the book. None of this detracts from the totally believable world Lee has fabricated and drowned us in. I would punch David in the face if I met him and tell him to get a life, not run from it. And I'm a pacifist. Make that two. I'd punch Luca's father out too.
An atmosphere-driven, gorgeously written, ghost hauntingly bitten - 5 out of 5⭐dream of a novella. Buy it already.
You can buy The house of little bones by clicking on the Amazon store appropriate to you.
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