The House at Midnight by Lucie Whitehouse

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The House at Midnight by Lucie Whitehouse

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: Some young professionals find a spooky predilection for falling in and out of bed with each other when one inherits a country pile. The imbuing of their lives by the secret past is more interesting than their current goings-on, but all round this never really sparked as it should.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 384 Date: January 2009
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
ISBN: 978-0747596257

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Lucas has something to be very grateful for, even though it came at a hellish price. His closest relative, an art dealing uncle of some renown, has committed suicide, leaving him a sprawling country pile. Inviting his best and closest, ex-college, friends for a new years' eve party there, he finally takes it upon himself to get a lot closer to our narrator, Joanna. But why is she feeling something spooky about the mansion, and how much import can be given to flippant comments such as 'we're only together because of the house'?

What we get is a sort of malevolent Peter's Friends – the movie of 30-somethings getting back together and sorting their relationships out – although within those walls there is something awry. It would be fine, I think, if the book could hold to that premise more, or less, and not exactly the way it does. One starts off thinking the house – the very nicely realised pile, and the cover star no less – will be the prime subject of the book, and it's a little alienating to leave it so quickly. Still, events contrive to make us keep on returning, and the claustrophobia Joanna feels does remain evident.

There is also the sense that we are being told things about our characters that we don't want – their constant levels of drinking, their shenanigans with their careers. And what can we derive from the spread of details regarding the paintings on the walls in the house?

Thus are divisive characters created – where we don't care what they're drinking, what bad taste in music they have, what classical education they have forgotten. Especially when the book comes down to a gothic, distorted, anti-romance. Once the reader has overcome the characters and their milieu, and the sheer spitefulness shown by one of the more prominent bed-hoppers, there is a stronger mystery behind the story.

It is this slight sense of the book being a bit indefinable that actually serves against it more than anything. Is it a case of people reaching the great age of 30 and finding their relationships are forcing them to grow up? Is it a ghostly pastiche, with hidden clues to some earth-shattering mystery? Is it a case of a man struggling against the modern world, and finding the past has secrets that have bearing on his present and future?

In fact it is all of those. One can read it and scoff at elements of the society these people live in, or alternately cringe at some elements of the puzzle. One can also empathise strongly with several of the characters, who all come across as nicely formed, once we struggle past being introduced to them all en masse. That would allow for a very engaging read, as then we can follow Joanna up and down the M40 (the author seems to forget the car was unreliable on page one – it must have clocked come the end chapter) and in and out of a hellish torment caused by the innocent and the guilty.

So while I cannot strictly define what people will get out of this book, I have to say that I for one found some of the events a little melodramatic, some of the motives for the characters a little too implausible and broadly drawn, but all told the book was a lot better than it could have been. I approached what I thought to be the last big scene scorning the book for reaching an obvious conclusion. Not only was what followed not predictable at all, it wasn't the last scene at all.

I can still see people for whom 370pp of these kinds of people doing this kind of thing a little wearisome, but for those getting across that divide, there is a satisfying read within. It is a little uncategorisable, to repeat, which shouldn't normally be a problem. It's just that this mood piece does sometimes have a mood about it of not quite hitting all the bases. No-one edited the piece to include the recent smoking ban, and that is one instance I could mention of it losing the perfect edge it might have carried.

We at the Bookbag are grateful for Bloomsbury for sending us a review copy.

We loved Critical Incidents by Lucie Whitehouse.

If this type of book appeals to you then we think that you might also enjoy The Outcast by Sadie Jones.

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Buy The House at Midnight by Lucie Whitehouse at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The House at Midnight by Lucie Whitehouse at


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