Tuesday, January 06, 2009
The Birthing House by Christopher Ransom
When Conrad Harrison impulse-buys a big old house in Wisconsin, his wife Jo doesn’t share his enthusiasm, reluctant at the idea of leaving their LA life - so Conrad is left to set up their new home as she ties up loose ends at work. But Conrad’s new purchase is not all that it seems. Soon Conrad is hearing the ghostly wailing of a baby in the night, seeing blood on the floor and being haunted by a woman who looks exactly like Jo. With his wife away, Conrad becomes obsessed by the pregnant girl next door, Nadia, who claims to be a victim of the evil in the house. The crying leads him to a bricked-up body, and the mystery of the Birthing House unravels, pulling in Jo, Nadia and leading Conrad to a nightmarish conclusion…
The Birthing House held me riveted. It is not the easiest book to read. It is also not the easiest book to define. Yes, there are aspects of truly creepy horror, but there is more to it than that. A lot more. It is a descent into madness. It is a very fine set piece of how relationships can go wrong, very quickly.
When I say it is not the easiest book to read, I do not mean that it is badly written, shoddily plotted or that the characters aren’t interesting or that the storyline does not grab you. It’s not an easy book to read because the full-time examination of the main character’s internal dialogue and processes is so all encompassing, you enter a dreamlike state where you start to feel that you are losing your own perception of what is actually going on.
The author has worked very hard to create and establish the peculiar setting of the novel. The feeling of “oh my god don’t buy the freaky house you just randomly saw in a newspaper whilst suffering emotional trauma” hits you on page one of the novel. This is apparently a debut novel – if all debut novels written by new horror writers are as chilling as this, I think that the established names had better watch out. The writing is fluid, practiced and the plotting annoyingly skilled.
I read the book in one day and felt physically exhausted afterwards, like I’ve sat through a condensed version of someone’s life rapidly falling apart.
Conrad’s purchase of The Birthing House in Black Earth Wisconsin, without telling his wife Jo, immediately does not bode well. But, they keep their act together and initially, for a short period after moving in, there is a honeymoon period where the house is beautiful, the grounds are lovely, they lightly tip-toe around one another, avoiding confrontation. Then the previous owner of the House pops by with a crate of things that belong “to the House”. Conrad makes the mistake of looking at the photo album and discovers a strange picture of a group of women, one of whom looks very much like his wife.
It all kicks off, satisfyingly and brutally. And the headlong rush to the conclusion leaves you more than slightly stunned. The book is not for you if you suffer from nightmares. Or an overactive imagination. It is for you if you like good solid horror writing with brilliant characterisation.
The Birthing House has just been published by Sphere and you can find the website for the book here.