In this spooky house, no one is who you think they are – not even the cat

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Image: Tor Nightfire

As soon as you open Catriona Ward’s The last house on Needless Street, you know something is seriously wrong. More than biting into a nice apple and finding a worm, this book is like stepping barefoot on the worm unexpectedly, only to find out that the worm is not a worm – and I mean that in the best possible way. . Horror fiction can scare readers, make them anxious, or make them stomach ache, but the genre’s most powerful narratives manage to create unshakeable unease, and that is exactly what this novel does.

Ted Bannerman lives alone with his cat Olivia in a dilapidated, barricaded house at the end of a cul-de-sac. He is unemployed, drinks a lot and suffers from a few undiagnosed mental health issues. His daughter Lauren comes to visit him every now and then, but they never go out when she does, and their relationship is always strained and often violent. When a woman named Dee moves into the abandoned house next door as she seeks to find her sister, who was kidnapped years ago, Ted’s life begins to spiral into chaos.

This synopsis is short and only covers the basics. It is also unnecessary, because nothing in The last house on Needless Street is what it seems. In fact, Ward’s most impressive feat here is that she leaves readers guessing from the first page to the last, even after revealing some all-changing truths. Several important facts are clear from the start: Dee’s sister was kidnapped as a child while she was on vacation and Dee is obsessed with finding her, Ted is a lonely haunted by the ghost of his mother and living in a dilapidated house, and Dee thinks Ted kidnapped his sister. .

Pretty clear, right? Well, there’s the rest: the gods buried in the woods, the mystery of Lauren’s sporadic presence and brooding mood, angry green boys living in the attic, and Olivia, a talking cat, reading. , believes in God, wants to have a TV and suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder. It might sound confusing, but it’s all part of the dark, weird world created for this unsettling story, and it all makes sense.

Ward uses unreliable storytellers extremely well. Ted remembers, for example, details from his childhood. His mother knew what he was very young after she found him killing an animal, and his words at that time never left him: “For a long time, I feared that this was in you. it is a relief. I no longer need to think of you as my son. I no longer have to look in my heart for a love that I cannot feel. He also disappears for days and finds himself saying things like “I made a mess when I was out” or realizes he’s thinking about the “bad memory”.

Dee is driven by her obsession and seems to have a bit of control, but then that image crumbles; she is afraid to fall asleep because “the red birds will fly in her head”. Lauren is not Lauren and also suffers from severe dissociative identity disorder. And I won’t even start with the talking cat. The chapters alternate between Ted, Olivia, Lauren and Dee, and none of them are trustworthy.

All in The last house on Needless Street is old, dirty or broken. The same goes for the psyche of its characters. The frightening decay of the outside world reflects their mental state. No one is who they seem to be, a fact that is lost on them. Ted, for example, does not know himself:

I took the mirrors apart a few years ago because they were bothering Lauren. But I don’t need a mirror to know what I look like. His words stung me. Big fat. My stomach is a rubber bag. It hangs down as if it had been tied to it. I get fat all the time. I can’t follow him. I knock things over, I bounce off the doors. I’m not used to my place in the world.

The last house on Needless Street is complex and multi-layered, but looks more like a multiverse than an onion. The weather is uncertain and everyone is erratic. There’s one truth we start to see relatively early on, but when you’re standing on slippery ground and the narrative keeps throwing curveballs at you, believing you know what’s going on is nearly impossible.

Ward is a talented storyteller, and she shows it here. The atmosphere of this novel is depressing and the strangeness can be confusing – “The first time I tried to run,” she said, “he took my feet. He broke them between two boards with a mallet. The second time I tried, you went out of my mind ‘”- but the experience is unlike anything else, and that makes it a must read for those who enjoy the kind of labyrinthine tales that cut you off. grass underfoot, knocking you down in a dark, gloomy room.

Gabino Iglesias is an author, literary critic, and teacher living in Austin, Texas. Find him on Twitter at @Gabino_Iglesias.

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