There comes a time in a writer’s career, where everything they have written before gels and coalesces into the novel that they were meant to write. It can be a frightening time for a writer when this happens, what if this is the pinnacle of their career? What if everything else they write after this book doesn’t match up? It must be a troubling time for a writer.
Adam Nevill’s No One Gets Out Alive is one such book, but if I was him I wouldn’t be too concerned about reaching a pinnacle, as I have been saying this about his writing ever since Apartment 16. His novels just get better and better. He is a master craftsman of the horror genre. Fully aware of what has come before him, he plucks tropes and themes form the genre with perfect precision then proceeds to spin a captivating tale that really does stay with you long after you have finished it.
By all accounts this was a difficult book to write, Nevill was concerned with some of themes and situations that he puts Stephanie through during the course of the narrative, and I can see why. This is a brutal book, no brutal isn’t the correct word. Brutal implies that this is a derivative slasher / torture porn novel. Which it most certainly not the case This is an intelligently crafted novel of sheer terror and suspense. One that is not afraid to play around with the well-worn and often silly topes of female victims in horror.
The character of Stephanie in many ways shares a similar heritage to that of Catherine from Adam’s previous novel The House of Small Shadows, she comes from a tortured past, of broken relationships and broken families. Almost meek and timid she is buffeted along in the narrative like a lost soul at sea. Passive and scared, she makes mistakes, does things that will have you thinking why did you do that. Incapable of finding a way out, she is forced to play along with and is at the mercy of her landlord Knacker. To some readers who are so used to having protagonists take charge and save the day, this might be frustrating at first, but stay with it, Nevill has full control of Stephanie’s story and her character’s development. He takes her on a journey of discovery and change. Her journey from victim to hero is a considered and steady one that is a revelation to read. So when she finally does take charge of her destiny it feels completely natural, rather than like the fighter who suddenly finds his strength in the final round.
During this journey Nevill puts her through hell, and I mean Hell. No One Gets Out Alive is a novel of terror, and for this jaded reviewer it has been a long time since a novel had such an effect on me. I’m not a man prone to nightmares, but halfway through reading this novel I had a nightmare that had me reliving the story as Stephanie. It was one of those nightmares that severely changed my mood for a couple of days. So much so I had to put the book aside for a while. However I had to finish it, such was the power of this book, you become so invested in Stephanie’s story you have to finish the novel.
Probably the strongest part of this book is the way in which Nevill has managed to craft a story that when taken as a whole is one of the most terrifying novels you will read. Yet when you look at the isolated incidents in the book, with the exception of one or two scenes, there is nothing that is any more graphic or brutal than you would see in an episode of EastEnders. This is an insidious novel, it slowly creeps under your skin and starts to twist away at your psyche. A gradual and ever building sense of dread starts on page one and doesn’t let up. Nevill hooks you into the narrative and takes you on a trip of sheer unfaltering terror so much so that the once innocent and playful Pop Goes The Weasel will never be the same again.
Nevill use of a small cast of characters, essentially four, Stephanie, Knacker, Fergal, and the mysterious occupant of the locked room, adds to the dusty, dark and claustrophobic feel of the novel. The interplay between Stephanie and Knacker is pitch perfect, the dialogue between the two of them will have you on edge, waiting for an explosion of hate and violence from the nasty landlord.
On that note Knacker is wonderful creation In the hands of a lesser writer Knacker would have come across as a pure cliché, there is a fine line between scary and sleazy landlord from The League of Gentlemen one that Nevill never crosses. A dirty sleazebag in a pair of jogging pants, he is a distillation of every slumlord committed to page or film. He is well written and well developed, to the point where there are a few occasions where you almost feel a tiny bit sorry for him.
Fergal is a different character altogether. There is not much to him, both physically and character wise. It’s as though Nevill has kept his character as lean as his description. He is more of an avatar of violence and hate, than a fully developed character. Which is a clever move, we know right from the start that Fergal is a feral creature, barely housetrained, and barely kept in check by Knacker, always straining at the bit waiting to strike. And when he does boy does he strike.
As for the mysterious occupant, let’s just say keep an eye out from a good harvest.
The clever use of a time dilation at the two thirds mark changes the tone of the novel, from a dark, dusty and claustrophobic feel, to one that almost feels light and airy, it's a little disorientating at first, but it soon finds it's feet and gives you all the answers you need and the ending that the book deserved.
No one Gets Out Alive is one of the most accomplished and terrifying novels I have ever read. Intense, unnerving and gripping this is a novel where No One Gets Out of it Unchanged.
Darkness lives within . . .
Cash-strapped, working for agencies and living in shared accommodation, Stephanie Booth feels she can fall no further. So when she takes a new room at the right price, she believes her luck has finally turned. But 82 Edgware Road is not what it appears to be.
It's not only the eerie atmosphere of the vast, neglected house, or the disturbing attitude of her new landlord, Knacker McGuire, that makes her uneasy - it's the whispers behind the fireplace, the scratching beneath floors, the footsteps in the dark, and the young women weeping in neighbouring rooms. And when Knacker's cousin Fergal arrives, the danger goes vertical.
But this is merely a beginning, a gateway to horrors beyond Stephanie's worst nightmares. And in a house where no one listens to the screams, will she ever get out alive?