The Death House by Sarah Pinborough

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The Death House by Sarah Pinborough

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Category: Teens
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: My first knowledge of this author shows she can provide a pin-sharp portrayal of love in a hellish environment. For teens and above, this book cannot fail to resonate for a very long time indeed.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: February 2015
Publisher: Gollancz
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781473202320

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Toby would appear to be lucky, having the run of an isolated country mansion on a small island off the coast of Britain. But no. His domain only exists at night, and only then because he sleeps in the day and refuses to take the 'vitamin' pills given him by the staff of an evening. He is a captive of a mansion that works as a place of exile for teenagers with the Defective gene. Whatever it would normally lead to, even having it risks becoming suddenly really quite ill, and being the cause of the night-time lift ride on the one way route to the top floor Sanatorium. But Toby has it good as these things go, the teenaged head boy almost out of the small collection of children in his Dorm, the only one not to have suffered a loss of life. But things are about to change – new inmates arrive to bulk up the numbers, and one of them, Clara, is the agent of that change. For when she stumbles on Toby's nocturnal habits she doesn't want to sleep either…

This is one of those books that is a little awkward for the reviewer, but most importantly is really quite sublimely wonderful for the reader. For the likes of me there's not only (a) the awkwardness around what and how much to reveal, but (b) the ease with which one could easily descend into copious references – this book really is a bit of this, a bit of that, and a lot of the other (Narnia is constantly but lightly evoked), all wrapped up in the style of something else again. I could so easily call it the fantasy *** ***** ** *** *****. But were I to be less cagey and come clean and say what it reminded me of, I'd then have the task of (c) impressing upon my small readership how damnably easily this book takes on the job of turning so much that is old and familiar into something completely, delightfully new.

There are a couple of odd elements that don't seem to sit. This is a world where climate change problems are mentioned, and snow hasn't fallen for a hundred years, yet vinyl records are still around for a novelty plaything. Also, while Toby et al seem to have arrived before any child in the house had fallen ill there are already legends and rumours about what the Matron there had done to earlier inmates. The latter seems more of a mistake, while the former may be the author having her cake and eating it or it may be part of her brilliant way at creating an unsettling other-worldly feel. The whole mansion, with its skeleton staff of nurses and disinterested teachers, and seemingly lax security, is one thing, although the completely real way Pinborough evokes teenage life and strife, even in such a rarefied setting, is equally remarkable.

Finally there's the fact that on this rare occasion I did read the blurb first, only to find the book itself could still really pull the rug from under my feet. I had no idea this would become a teen read, and forget the genre trappings my proof copy implied, for this is a love story at heart, and one with a very big heart too. The way Toby goes from begrudging Clara's presence to experiencing first love (and all that entails) is incredibly well conveyed, and come the end one will certainly be reading this with a very strong emotion in their own heart, of whatever size it may be. This is a teen read then, but certainly one adults will very much enjoy, even if they will have to take half a mark off that there five star rating for one element of the plot being so easily guessable far too early. I mentioned my small audience above, but this deserves a huge one. It surprised me, it warmed me, it charmed me and shocked me both, and it's brilliant.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

As I suggest the book reminded me of many others, but for another teenage child starting in a place of peculiar imprisonment I would shelve this next to The Girl With All the Gifts by M R Carey. We've only met Ms Pinborough before now here. You might also enjoy the author's 13 Minutes

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Buy The Death House by Sarah Pinborough at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Death House by Sarah Pinborough at


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