Book Review: The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian
December 8, 2011 41 Comments
The 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.
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)