The Birthing House by Christopher Ransom

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The Birthing House by Christopher Ransom

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Category: Horror
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A man alone in a spooky house of secrets faces a mishmash of surprises in this debut horror book. A distinctive stance at throwing anything and everything into the pot means some at least works well, but it needs a little trimming.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 416 Date: January 2009
Publisher: Sphere
ISBN: 978-0751541717

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Spooky, sprawling house out in the sticks – check. Relocated, young, childless, vulnerable couple – check. Slow drip-drip of the odd to chill the male of the couple while she is away in a working assignment – check. Slow drip-drip of the odd to chill the reader? Well, given patience, yes, somewhat.

Conrad has taken the decision alone to move from LA to the middle of nowhere and a rambling Victorian pile, feeling that, even at the age of 30, their relationship needs a reboot. But things from the off are not what they should be – he meets someone he shouldn't when looking round, Jo is still cold to him, and more eerily, an old album about the house has a supernatural photograph in it.

But even when you factor in the unusual goings-on of Conrad in their new detached double garage, there is a very slow build to anything wholly otherworldly. It eventually comes to light that a certain animosity is not the only thing able to breed in the old building.

And by the time various characters have suffered time lapses, and a succubus seems to turn up, there appears a surfeit of horror elements all jumbled together. The book could have been a lot worse than it appears at thrusting them all into the story – or gently nudging, given the very slow build we have here.

In actual fact, the book left me with a lot of time to think about what might have been. It's quite a feminised horror – the themes are more regarding birth, femininity, and so on, and not the usual death and whatnot, that have perhaps more masculine energies. Having said that it looks so much at Conrad, and issues arise of the disenfranchised male, the househusband, and so we get a mixture of stances here too. Freud would smother this with marginalia. The more regular horror reader will see a lot of novelty in what's been put in, if not a perfect handling of it all.

Conrad is a very well realised character in fact. Circumstances meant I picked at this book in far too many small bits for my own liking, but several times I did so and was surprised to find it actually written in the third person. With the help of various artistic styles, such as asides to him from the narrator, we really are with Conrad all the way.

The let-down then is that the book is a little too woolly and repetitive for its own good. I shouldn't have been thinking as often as I was about other authors' approach to the topics herein. The ending is one that will be subject to personal taste.

I think some lack of editing has let the author down here – and not particularly for throwing in all the horror elements above (and I've deliberately left out some dafter ones). It reads quite pacily, and never outstays its welcome too much, but there is the sense of it not tying up as much as it could, and of being too subject to the author's will at the expense of brevity.

There is a lot here that works, and for characterisation, this book is well worth a look at. Ransom shows promise, and something snappier and further from home (he admits to making a move similar to Conrad, to a similar house) would be much appreciated in these quarters. It remains a certificate-15 horror, with same for some sexual scenes, with a novel and surprising spread of horror elements, not quite coping with them as well as might be hoped.

We at the Bookbag would like to thank Sphere for our review copy.

You might also enjoy Beneath The Lake, also by Christopher Ransom.

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