if you like reading horror novels for their rich character development where all your questions about their individual and collective pasts are answered, move along. if you like reading horror novels because you want to be in the same WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT? headspace as the characters for a little while, have a seat—you’re gonna love this haunted house story.
a group of five friends reunite in japan for a destination wedding, renting a heian-era mansion where obscenely wealthy golden boy-heir phillip will officiate the sacred union of faiz and talia. it would all be picture-postcard idyllic, except for the fact that the mansion’s already got a bride in it—or what’s left of one: the bones of a woman whose almost-husband died on the way to their wedding, who had herself buried alive in the foundation to wait for his ghost to come home. and every year after that, another girl was buried alive in the walls, to keep her company.
now, in a typical ghost story, this tragic-wedding backstory would be an unexpected discovery, causing concern and dismay amongst the wedding guests, but here it’s a selling point. these particular friends grew up ghosthunting through malaysia together, and blushing bride talia’s girlhood dream was to be married in a haunted house. wish = granted.
…the interior didn’t smell like it’d had people here, not for a long, long time, and smelled instead like such old buildings do: green and damp and dark and hungry, hollow as a stomach that’d forgotten what it was like to eat.
the dream wedding quickly becomes a nightmare, but not—at first—for the reasons you’d expect. the guests have all brought their own ghosts with them, in the form of old grievances, secrets, flirtations, and conflicts, and none of them seem to like each other very much.
our ingress into the story is cat, a woman whose unspecified mental instability; her ‘terminal ennui,’ made her suicidal and led to a hospitalization from which she has not really recovered. there’s also a particular hostility between her and talia, and with the arrival of lin, a consummate disruptor, the tensions between all of them escalate, fueled by alcohol, creepy games, and, you know, being assailed by a parade of demons.
there’s a lot left unsaid here, when it comes to the characters’ shared past, and who has beef with whom and why, but when it comes to the horror elements, every disturbing and grotesque situation is laid out in thick chewy prose, even if i couldn’t always wrap my head around the visuals, which is a long-standing me-problem.
although wayyyyyy more graphic than shirley jackson, it’s very shirley jackson-esque in the way it sets up the seductive nature of a haunting to a character whose fragile mental health empathizes with the loneliness of the restless dead and catches that yearn:
You know how poets say sometimes that it feels like the whole world is listening?
It was just like that.
Except with a house instead of an auditorium of academics, collars starched, textbooks like scriptures, each chapter color-coded by importance. The manor inhaled. It felt like church. Like the architecture had dulled its heartbeat so it could hear me better, the wood warping, curling around the room like it was a womb, and I was a new beginning. Dust sighed from the ceiling. Spiderwebs fell in umbilical cords, a drape of silver.
It felt like the house talking to me through the mouths of moths and woodlice, the creak of its foundations, the little black summer ants chewing through what remained of our food like we’d left bodies, not balled-up, slickly gleaming cling wrap. The air smelled of raw meat, lard, and bits of seared protein.
I hoped to hell in that moment that she was listening.
Half because I was tired of being unloved, being pitied like a fawn panting its last handful of breaths into a ditch. Half because I hoped it was all true.
A little bit of magic.
Even if it was hungry.
Even if it was a house with rotting bones and a heart made out of a dead girl’s ghost, I’d give it everything it wanted just for scraps. Some unabridged attention, some love.
Even if it was from a corpse with blackened teeth.
Anything to feel alive again right now.
it’s a dark and icky story, but lin’s frequent “You guys go do protagonist shit” meta-commentaries on horror tropes provide some welcome comic relief through the onslaught.
you’re gonna be left with some questions at the end: relationships are messy, mental health is messy, hauntings are messy. there are books that do a better job making you understand and care about the characters, but sometimes you just wanna turn over a rock and watch things squirm.
P.S. i want whoever did the cover art for this book…do the work, karen…samuel araya—DEAR SAMUEL ARAYA, please illustrate some of the…occurrences in this book, specifically dolls and kitsune and tanuki k thx.
P.P.S. my ARC informed me that there is a ‘preorder campaign with promotional item’ for this book, so i RACED to find out what this item could be.
it is one of these:
i do not have a phone—who has suggestions about how to repurpose one of these things?
i want to wallpaper my apartment with this cover.