Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Review: The Birthing House, by Christopher Ransom

A lot of horror, not that I'm any kind of expert in the genre, but it seems to me that a lot of horror is concerned with taking something familiar and twisting it. Making unsafe what was safe, making awful what was loved. Think clowns, or sweet little girls possessed by demons, or the quiet man next door turned into a zombie. And, of course, that old horror stalwart; the haunted house.

Because where are you supposed to be safer than within the walls of your own home? There's something uniquely unsettling about your own four walls turning on you, and nothing gets under my skin like a good old house haunting. Which is why, when I found myself in a department store faced with a truly depressing department store book display (Twilight! Books just like Twilight! Don't like Twilight? Then Jodi Picoult!) I pounced on Christopher Ransom's 'The Birthing House,' even though I'd never heard of it.

It turned out to be one of those books that presents itself in simply, but when you stop and think about you realised there was quiet a lot more going on then you first thought. Our hero, Connor, comes into some money and decides impulsively that a fresh start is just the ticket. So he leaves L.A. and buys a house in the country and tells his wife to join him, or not, whatever. (Not as harsh as it seems, his wife, Josephine, is not a very good wife, and possibly a cheater).

So far it's text book horror. Fresh start, countryside, new house. It's like he wanted to be haunted, right? Sure enough, it's not long before creepy happenings get to happening. Ransom haunts with an odd mix of subtle and ridiculously over the top. For example, Connor is in bed one night and he hears some odd scratching noises on the floor boards. Ransom expertly ratchets up the creepy factor with an agonizing slowness, and then the source of the noise is revealed to be a creepy ass little doll made of sticks. Still creepy, but it's also kind of like, 'wait? what?' It was a really unexpected juxtaposition of "modern" all show no tell horror and old school in your face horror.

Ransom builds the atmosphere expertly, with things growing steadily worse. Connor becomes more an more isolated from his wife, and this is mirrored by the growing feeling of wrongness in the house. Not surprisingly, what with the book's title, a lot of the books is concerned with sex and pregnancy. Not that there's an abundance of sex scenes, (I can remember two, maybe?). Ransom is much more subtle for that. (Mostly).

Which isn't exactly groundbreaking. House starts out great, house slowly turns out to be a seething pit of horror. Like I said at the start of this review, horror likes to make you think something is good and the reveal to be not so. And this is where Ransom impressed me. When the book opens you're really onside with Connor. He's a nice guy, and his wife seems like a bit of a jerk. And then, as the book goes on, you start to realise that just as Connor was wrong about his new house, it turns out that you the reader were kinda wrong about Connor.

I can't overstate how well Ransom pulled off Connor's character, and for me it totally makes the book. Again its that mix of subtle and not subtle that characterises the whole book. I don't want to say more on account of spoilers, so just trust me.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. It's a quick and easy read without being too simple to hold interest. I will say that for me the ending fell apart in a major way, but I'm notoriously hard to please with horror endings. And in any case, I enjoyed what came before enough to forgive it, for the most part.

How did I get this book? Bought it.

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