House of Small Shadows is a surreal descent into a frightful nightmare filled with creepy dolls.
House of Small Shadows is a supernatural psychological horror story that plays out in a creepy old mansion with even creepier dolls. It’s a visceral horror story, that creeps under your skin. With a slow buildup to surreal horror that turns into a body horror nightmare, it really knows how to scare you and when the idea of what is going on, gets into your head, well, then be careful your don’t get some creepy nightmares of your own.
Catherine works as an appraiser of antiques and recently returned to her hometown after an incident in London. When her boss sends her to an old mansion called the Red House in Magbar Wood to appraise the doll collection and other antiques in the house, she has to stay there to make the inventory. Reluctantly she agrees, but the house, the strange old Edith and her maid Maude have some sinister feel to it, but aren’t half as spooky as the dolls and stuffed animals and the dioramas with stuffed rats dressed as little soldiers.
At night she hears strange sounds and the little village of Magbar Wood seems all too familiar. It brings back some bad memories of her childhood and before she knows it, past and present collide in a terrifying surreal nightmare.
Why you should read it
The story has an overall eerie and ominous feel to it. It’s gets from just spooky to terrifying to eventually extremely gruesome body horror. This decent into a nightmarish story has a great buildup. Slowly Catherine’s childhood intertwines with what is going on right now. This mystery unravels very meticulously. The psychological analyses of Catherine, her background, her characterization play an important part in the development in the storyline and are very well-crafted.
Catherine’s life wasn’t exactly a party. With a childhood trauma, the bullying, her personal problems and seizures have something to do with all these sinister things that are going on. Without becoming too sentimental, her in-depth analysis is realistic and sinister at the same time. Her psychological problems also add to the question if she is in fact an unreliable narrator or not.
The setting of the house and the little village are very creepy. You know there’s something terribly wrong, but what, that is only shown in the end. And still it remains a little intangible and elusive what exactly is and was going on. But that makes it all the more scary and creepy. When reading it’s absolutely terrifying, but afterwards when you start thinking about it, it gets even creepier. The story gets under your skin and gives you the chills.
Everything about this book is creepy. Asides from the setting, Edith and Maud are two illusive creatures. Again you know there’s something not right, but what? That intangible feeling is present in the whole story and almost about everything and everyone.
The more terrifying it is for Catherine, who is basically cut off from the outside world, with no telephone range, she can’t call for help. No other villages nearby, in the middle of nowhere. This is an extra element that adds to a claustrophobic feel.
But the dolls. The stuffed animals and the puppets that all were made by taxidermist M.H. Mason who was traumatized by WOI are absolutely terrifying. Dolls can be creepy for just being dolls, and even creepier on film, but Adam Nevill has a way, just like Mason, to bring them to life with words and it really scares the hell out of you. Some puppets are created by combining stuffed animals parts with doll parts and more creepy stuff and play a part in a cruelty play ‘The Last Martyr’ that Mason performed and shot on film.
Adam Nevill knows how to scare you and seizes everything to make it even scarier. It’s a relentless read, hard to put away, and a real treat for those who crave a scary read. It’s a story about madness, nightmares, decay and reality, mixed into an absolutely terrifying surreal night terror.
My favorite part
The ending of course is surreal scary fun, and a vortex of evil that is hypnotizing and so gruesomely scary, and very imaginative, it gave me the creeps.
But the scariest part for me was when Catherine lies in her bed at night in a strange creepy old house and hears creepy spooky sounds. Scenes like this really come to life. It’s so well-written. And when she takes a look, well, then it really gets spooky. It gave me the chills and I don’t recommend reading this book alone in bed at night, or at least at your own risk.
Honestly I didn’t immediately like the psychological background of Catherine, it felt a little too much at times, and her decisions might not be all that logical or smart. But when the story progresses it fits into the storyline and intertwines the surreal scary madness with all her personal anxieties. It can take some time to getting used to her character, but when you do, she can be very relatable or at least very real and sincere. So don’t let it put you off, because it’s a clever setup for the overall story.
Books don’t scare me that easily, because it’s up to you to make it as scary or not in your own mind. But this book honestly doesn’t leave you much choice. How hard you try not to make it too scary, it’s going to be scary nonetheless.
A favorite quote
‘The face retreated quickly, or was yanked away, but had lingered long enough to give the impression of being masked, or made of cloth. Soft and pressed into the glass, the features had appeared flat, the mouth black and open in surprise. Thick dark curls of hair spilling from a lacy hat made the figure look like a child, a girl. So it had been a doll?’
Scare factor: ★★★★★
Surreal factor: ★★★★★
Gruesome factor: ★★★★★
House of Small Shadows is written by Adam Nevill. It was first published by Mcmillan in 2013 and was reprinted by Pan Books. It consist of 375 pages.