Friday, January 11, 2013

Book review: Your House Is On Fire, Your Children All Gone

A quick look at the book's description from its cover would indicate to anyone why I picked this up: "Shirley Jackson meets The Twilight Zone in this riveting novel of supernatural horror." They had me at Shirley Jackson, but the rest helped too.

I finished the novel feeling more perplexed than anything. I wondered, "Did I miss the horror? Was I not paying enough attention?"

The town featured in the story is an odd one, to be sure. Hemmersmoor is a small rural village in Germany where the four main characters grew up together. The villagers are close knit, but suspicious of outsiders, nosy to the point of obsession about their neighbors and highly superstitious. After a brief introduction to the adults as they come together for a funeral, the remaining chapters are each a story of some tragic event that occurred during their collective childhood, featuring an array of disturbing elements including cannibalism, incest, child abuse, murder and revenge.

I think that may be the best word for how I found the book: disturbing, but not in an eerie way. More than anything, the villagers and their children are strange, crude and violent. The things they do might be shocking, disgusting, misguided, but it didn't fill me with any sense of dread. The way the children talk about these events, it's as if they don't even realize how horrible it all is or why the people in a nearby larger city would look down upon them. That just makes me sad, it doesn't make me frightened.

I also didn't feel any connection or care for the children, who were the ones telling me these stories through their eyes. Often it was these children who were doing such awful things, and I felt little sympathy. Perhaps it was the detached way it was written that just didn't agree with me.

I think this is a good example of how expectations can color one's experience of a story. In this case, I expected something much different than what I received thanks to the over-generous publisher's description. My actual experience was something so different that it left a bad taste in my mouth. Other people have loved the book however, so decide for yourself based on something other than this review if you think you'd like to try it. It is a quick read, so it's not a big time investment if you find, as I did, that it just didn't click with you.

Your House Is On Fire... via Fantastic Fiction
Your House Is On Fire... via Goodreads

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