I received a digital ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review
Rating: 4 Stars
Okay, so this one was seriously creepy. I love a good haunted house story and this certainly provided that. Typically I do not look at other reviews before reading a book, but I did kind of by accident and saw that a few reviewers seemed to have mistaken this for a work of fiction and describe it as an 'unfinished screenplay'. This is a bit confusing, as the author states why he chose to write it in the interview format straightaway at the beginning. I have to say, I agree with that format. Getting the stories right from those who lived them made this infinitely creepier. It is sometimes difficult to convey fear when a third party is recounting events (though the author also lived in the house and experiences many of the same things, more on that in a minute), so the interview format makes sense to me. However, one has to be willing to accept at face value what is being said, in order for that to work. I personally do, because I believe that ghosts exist. I believe that I have had paranormal experiences in various places (The Stanley Hotel, The Palmer House Hotel, my former apartment in Lincoln, NE). So, this was supremely spooky for me, getting the story directly from those who survived the house.
Prior to reading this book, I was unfamiliar with the author or his previous work, which turned out to be his and his ex-girlfriend's account of their time living at the same location. He sought out previous residents to see if they had any similar experiences and it turns out that would be a big, fat YES. Both couples experienced what can only be classified as paranormal activity, though the actual activity itself varied. An added bonus to the main content was that the author then included the original book, for which this one is a prequel to. Perhaps marketing it that way is what threw some reviewers off, or caused them to think it was a work of fiction? Not sure how that could happen, but maybe?
Given my own previous paranormal experiences, I am pretty open-minded when it comes to people sharing their personal experiences. However, the one that was a struggle for me to believe is this idea that a spirit/ghost/whatever you want to term it, attacked in any kind of sexual way. This scenario is also something I am very unfamiliar with and in all the books I have read relating to paranormal entities, I have never encountered stories like this before. That is not to say it did not happen, just that it was new to me and very weird, not in a creepy way, just in a weird way. The idea of incubus/succubus is not new, but is also not really what seemed to be happening in this specific case. I don't know, either way that part was off and I don't know what to think about it.
When the author first published his account of living in the house with his now ex-girlfriend, he did not come out and say at the time that the story was his own. He presented it as an interview with "John and Sarah", and shared the experiences that way - though later he came clean and admitted he was John. For logical reasons (I think, anyway) the author has tried quite successfully to keep the actual house's location a secret. Many people have contacted him over the years thinking they too lived in this terrifying location, but it was not until he came in contact with "Dai and Anne" (also pseudonyms) that he knew he was corresponding with fellow survivors. Their experiences were similar in that the house really seemed to take on a life of its own. Given the comparison of experiences, a similar path was followed wherein the couples were over time nearly driven apart by the psychological effects of the activity (and were actually so in the case of the author and his ex), and both couples ended up fleeing the house for good when it all become overwhelmingly too much. Personally, my threshold would have been a lot lower, especially when the scary stuff was going on. I have been lucky in that my own personal experiences have never felt scary or menacing. This house is the exact opposite and the minute I felt that malicious vibe, I'd have peaced-out and been willing to take a loss on the house just to get rid of it. But perhaps just as the house was able to manipulate the residents as it wished, it also kept them there much longer than they should have stayed. I am by no means suggesting something so silly as the house controlled their minds, please do not mistake my words. But it seems like whatever lurked (and still does, perhaps?) fed off the discontentment that it created with the couples, who lived there a decade+ apart. Interesting to think about, did whatever is there grow stronger, the deeper the residents sank into despair? Yikes.
Both couples outline various events in great detail, relying on one another at times when sharing past events. I felt like this is where the interview style of storytelling was a strength also, because it felt very conversational, like you're there chatting with them for real and not just reading about their experiences. Activity includes the usual suspects like cold spots and shadowy figures. The radio turning itself on and off, doors opening/closing, etc. I do not think the importance of paying attention to atmosphere can be stated enough. This one is critical, as those most attuned to their environment can really pick up on some interesting and perhaps even dangerous vibes.
I think the mark of any good paranormal investigator (or in this case, survivor. I have used this word a few times and I truly think it is fitting in this case, given how aggressive the entity/entities seemed to be in these cases) is looking for rational explanations before automatically assuming everything is a ghost. There are natural phenomena in our daily lives that could contribute to falsely getting us to believe that something was paranormal when in fact, it was not. The author details various worldly explanations, such as high EMF readings, toxic mold, radiation, and/or false memories. There are other potential culprits as well, and in many cases these are proven as the cause of one believing they had a paranormal experience. Given the intense and varied experiences, I do personally believe that this house in Wales is haunted and I highly recommend this book to those who love a good (and potentially true) scare.