Book Review: The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian

The Night Strangers by Chris BohjalianThe first I heard about this book was on someone’s blog, I believe. I saw the picture and thought “Ah yes, that book”, without taking in the writer or title details. While reading the review, I was getting more and more confused.

Why was there nothing about these twins that move into an apartment near Highgate Cemetery? I looked a bit closer: this was not Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger (my review)! In my eyes, the covers are very similar (see further below).

Reading more carefully about the book, it seemed that The Night Strangers might be a book worthwhile reading. And so I did.

The Night Strangers: What it is about

A family moves to a small village in New Hampshire after the father, Chip Linton, an airline pilot, crashed his plane causing 39 people to die (and 9 to survive). As he will never be able to fly again, they want to make a new start and buy a big, old house, which he starts doing up.

His wife Emily is now the main provider for the family, who also include ten-year old twin daughters Hallie and Garnet. Chip gets obsessed with a small door in the basement that has been bolted down by 39 (!) bolts.

Meanwhile Emily and the girls are making friends with a group of women in the village that call themselves herbalists and all own greenhouses in which they grow exotic plants.

Both Emily and Hallie find them a little too overpowering and don’t quite trust them. Chip is losing his grip on reality when he starts seeing some of the people that died in the crash who are now demanding dangerous actions from him.

Is Emily right to worry about the lovely old ladies with their biscuits and other bakes? Is Chip losing it completely, or are there really ghosts in the house?

The Night Strangers: What I thought

I very much enjoyed this book! That basement door gave me the creeps, and that was right at the beginning of the book.

Add a small community with strange women forcing biscuits and other foods on the family and teaching the twins how to use the herbs they grow… All very oppressing and intriguing at the same time.

There was just one thing that I was initially very excited about but turned out to be half a red herring (see under “spoiler”). Otherwise, this was a great read, well-written, well-paced.

I liked it that the book was not overly supernatural. Most or all that happened could be explained away without referring to ghosts, magic, or witchcraft. Only near the end, the reader finds out whether “normal” explanations can account for all that happens. In that respect, it different a lot from the book’s cover-sake, Her Fearful Symmetry, in which a suspension of disbelief is asked from the reader very early on.

The book was written from the perspectives of several people. The family members were focused on most (but also some of the herbalists were featured), in third-person narratives, except for the father, whose thoughts and actions were given in a second person perspective, i.e., “you”. Although at first, I was unsure I’d like this, it turned out to be quite effective in creating a look into the disturbed mind of Chip.

Spoilers

Select/highlight the white space below in order to read the spoilers

The door in the basement turned out not to be scary in its own right, but more in what it represented. I had expected scary creatures to emerge from it at night and was really spooked about the door to start with. So it was a slight disappointment for me that it didn’t play a role later on in the book.

The ending really put the hairs in my neck stand up. “No!” I was thinking, “did it have to end this way?” That ending was maybe the most unsettling and spooky part of the whole book! Very well done, of course.

End of spoilers

The ending was … interesting and not quite as I had expected. After thinking about this, the ending was in fact more intriguing than the ending I was hoping for.

I found this a very good read and if you can handle a little spooky-ness in your books, this is one for you!

Rating: 4.5/5 (round to 5)

I got this book: for review from the publishers, Simon & Schuster UK (thank you!)

I read this in: English, the original language

Number of pages: 400

First published: 2011

Genre: contemporary fiction, paranormal

Extras: Comparison of The Night Strangers (left) with Her Fearful Symmetry (Audrey Niffenegger) (right)

The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

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41 Responses to Book Review: The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian

  1. That book sounds interesting so I think I’ll have to add it to my list. Thankfully the library got it in the other day, so I won’t have to buy it.
    You’re right about the covers, they are very similar. Is it the same publisher or is this one of those strange coincidences?

    • Leeswammes says:

      Marleen, the publishers are different. It probably is a coincidence. They should ask some readers (us) about possible covers before deciding, and we would have told them about the similarity! Or maybe the similarity is on purpose. Who knows? (That is not a rhetorical question).

  2. Tes says:

    I love it :) This will be one my list. I will try to get this book this weekend :)

  3. I’m part way through this book on my Kindle, Judith (got it from Netgalley) and so far enjoying it. I will pop back and highlight your spoiler text once I have done and we can chat more :)

  4. harvee says:

    Sounds interesting but think I may pass on this as books that are evenly remotely supernatural, spooky in a horror kind of way, really scare me. Nice review.

  5. Glad you liked this one; I thought it was good. It was kinda creepy the door to the coal cellar, as I grew up in an old house like that when I was little.

  6. Great review (and I love how you did your spoiler section – very clever!). I loved this book – but we have a different cover. I like that one too – must be the Euro version, but ours (US I mean) is just a spooky door partially opened with greenish light shining in… everything else is black.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Sarah, I think your cover is the hardback version – mine is the new (UK) paperback version. Maybe that’s the difference.

      Good to hear that you loved it too. I’ll check for a review on your blog.

  7. Fiona says:

    I love Chris Bohjalian, he’s a wonderful author and I’m looking forward to reading this book so I’m glad to see another high rating. He always manages to suck you in completely. I’ve read Midwives and Secrets of Eden (I was certain I’d read another but apparently not.) I can’t wait to read the others of his I’ve got.

  8. Suzanne says:

    I have this one on my shelf. I am glad to hear you enjoyed it.

  9. If you like reading ‘spooky’-books, then I think you would like De nevelprins by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. (I don’t know the English translation.) Every time when I read it before I went to bed I couldn’t put it ou tof my mind, it was really creepy!
    I think this is a book I would like, actually.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Oh, The Prince of Mists, I think it’s called, Katrien. I’ve seen it in the shops, but I wasn’t sure what it was like. Thanks for the recommendation.

  10. Amy says:

    The covers are really similar, no wonder you were confused!
    I really enjoyed this book and I’m glad to see you did, too. I had a similar reaction to the ending! I did get a little annoyed with the mother who seemed to allow the strange women into her family’s life so easily but then I realized it probably wasn’t completely in her control. This book definitely kept me thinking about it for a few days after I finished reading!

    • Leeswammes says:

      Amy, I wasn’t sure why the mother wasn’t more in control either, but you’re probably right. Besides, she was happy to have some friends, as very soon after moving the family was shunted by the other villagers.

      Good to hear you enjoyed it too.

  11. Darlene says:

    So many people have loved this book. I’ve got it on audio and can’t wait to listen to it. I’m glad you enjoyed it!

  12. Niranjana says:

    Sounds like a juicy holiday read! Is there some special significance to the 39? I couldn’t help but think of the 39 Steps…

    • Leeswammes says:

      Ideal for the dark winter months, Niranjana. I don’t know the 39 Steps, so I can’t answer your question… To me, it seemed that the only thing about 39 was that there were that many dead in the crashed plane and that many bolts in the door. I think it could have been any number, really.

  13. Oh dear, this one sounds extremely tempting. What is it about bolted doors….?

    And those covers are too funny.

  14. JoV says:

    I don’t quite like disturbing books, did you say it’s disturbing?

  15. Helen Smith says:

    Interesting. I’d like to read it. Thanks for hiding the spoilers – that’s a clever way to do it. I have seen it done like that on forums before but not on a blog. I hate knowing too much about a book before I read it, let alone something that gives away what happens.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Indeed, Helen! I myself don’t even read the cover blurb just before reading a book because I’m always worried about spoilers (like telling you what’s going to happen half-way a book).

  16. Leslie says:

    I might like this one… so I didn’t read the spoilers.

    My copy of Her Fearful Symmetry was different. It had tree branches on it. But I think the twins cover is more representative of the story than trees.

  17. Ellie says:

    I was about to say the cover looks like Her Fearful Symmetry!

  18. Trisha says:

    Yet another for the wish list! :)

  19. Athira says:

    Now that you mention it, the two covers look so similar! Night Strangers sounds great – I am hoping to get to it next year.

  20. Pingback: Nieuwe boekjes :) | Boeklover

  21. Pingback: Paperback Dolls » Review: The Night Stangers by Chris Bohjalian

  22. Pingback: 2012: #17 – The Night Strangers (Chris Bohjalian) | Confessions of a Bibliophile

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