Book #71

The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian

In a dusty corner of a basement in a rambling Victorian house in northern New Hampshire, a door has long been sealed shut with 39 six-inch-long carriage bolts. 

The home's new owners are Chip and Emily Linton and their twin ten-year-old daughters. Together they hope to rebuild their lives there after Chip, an airline pilot, has to ditch his 70-seat regional jet in Lake Champlain after double engine failure. The body count? Thirty-nine – a coincidence not lost on Chip when he discovers the number of bolts in that basement door. Meanwhile, Emily finds herself wondering about the women in this sparsely populated White Mountain village – self-proclaimed herbalists – and their interest in her fifth-grade daughters. Are the women mad? Or is it her husband, in the wake of the tragedy, whose grip on sanity has become desperately tenuous?   

This story was sold me as something old and well-loved - the standard horror trope of a family moving into a haunted house, only to experience some seriously weird goings on and to accumulatively lose their minds in the supernatural onslaught. Not so.

It begins with some seriously tiresome and dull commentary on airplanes, their bits and bobs, how they work, and, ultimately, how they fail. It’s an incredibly tedious way to begin a story, and I wouldn’t blame anyone for giving up at the first hurdle. Having read the whole book, I’d actively encourage it.

So, Dad crashes a plane, kills a bunch of people, and begins to display the effects of PTSD. Bohjalian chooses to depict these in the form of an ineffective second person narrative, which felt jarring and utterly pointless. This narrative swims between the lanes of haunted and crazy, with some pepperings of more fucking airplane descriptions. He’s an infuriating character.

Mum and the twins aren’t much better, with Mum being entirely incapable of seeing deception in people, and although becoming suspicious of peoples’ intentions, does literally nothing about it. The twins are written like sixty year olds in childrens’ bodies, with overly advanced vocabularies and a succinct understanding of Dad’s mental health. Seriously, if you’re ten and Dad enters the kitchen holding a knife and bleeding from his stomach, you don’t immediately put it down to the traumas he’s experienced.

I’m not sure how I lasted until the end, but I was bitter when I got there. The finale was rushed and utterly unbelievable (which is somewhat of a chore, since the rest of the novel was ridiculous in its logic). I won’t spoil, but I don’t see why I shouldn’t as I’d recommend avoiding this book entirely.