Ginger Nuts of Horror
I picked up this book at Edge Lit in July of this year, but due to a TBR pile that is beginning to exert its own gravitational pull, I didn’t get around to reading it until recently, and indeed was about halfway through the novel when it won the Best Horror Novel award at The British Fantasy Society's annual awards do in October.
So I guess the crude question is, does the novel live up to the hype? And the crude answer is, fuck yes, it does.
For starters, this is a horror novel that explores some of the darkest themes of the human condition. Though it is strongly and unapologetically supernatural, the roots run deep into recognisable real-world horrors - poverty, precarious employment, the de facto loss of basic legal resources such circumstances put you under, and the all-too-real life monsters that predate on such vulnerability.
Stephanie Booth is an achingly realised character - her situation frighteningly plausible. Nevill manages to avoid the horror cliches of either the hopelessly naive and clueless victim or the archetypal Last Girl, full of piss and vinegar. Steph is smart and resourceful, but also afraid and penned in by circumstances. As her situation in the house deteriorates, I found myself increasingly frantic with anxiety for her, but never once did I feel she was acting implausibly or passively.
One of the central themes of real life poverty is that it can force a person to face stark decisions, where there simply are no good choices. No One Gets Out Alive takes that as the starting point, then slowly but surely tightens the screws all the way down. Nevill’s writing in this regard is simply superlative - every word, every sentence, feel weighed and measured, delivering an emotional and psychological… well, not so much a rollercoaster as an elevator to Hell. The downward spiral for Stephanie is excruciating, terrifying, and deeply disturbing.
As indeed are the house’s antagonists. Knacker is as vile a human being as I can immediately recall from horror fiction - or at least he seems so until his positively demonic companion Fergal makes his appearance.I cannot stress enough how horrifically believable this part of the plot is - the way these two men psychologically manipulate Stephanie, keeping her off guard with an uneasy mixture of threats, cajoling, and the odd sly offer of improvement, escape, is terrifyingly plausible, and I cannot but applaud Nevill’s grasp of the psychology of such men.
This is not a short book, and one of the frankly astonishing things about it is how it manages to maintain such a relentless pace throughout that page count. In the grandest of horror traditions, this book hooks you in with the promise that things will get worse, and like Stephanie, you find yourself compelled to take the journey, looking almost despite yourself down the rabbit hole, wondering how much darker it can get.
Answer: Very very dark indeed. Nevill does not flinch, he does not bargain, he does not trade off, or skimp or sell short. When he described this book in his acceptance speech as having ‘chipped off a small piece of his sanity’, I was not entirely surprised to hear it. This is certainly a harrowing journey, made all the worse by the incredible empathy and compassion the author brings to the story. It is awful not in spite of that, but because of it, as we, the reader, are forced to confront every emotional and psychological response that Stephanie experiences on her long road down. The final act is even more breathtaking, exploring areas most horror stories never even think to go, and for me added another rich layer of storytelling and intelligence to what was already a stunningly accomplished novel.
I fear I’m in danger of rambling; suffice it to say the award is well deserved, the hype is mere description, and Adam Nevill is an absolutely exceptional horror author of the highest calibre. I look forward to devouring his catalogue of work in due course, and I can’t imagine I won’t also revisit 82 Edgehill Road at some point in the future, though I have to confess that the idea of doing makes me nervous.
It really is that good.
Purchase a copy here
THE HEART AND SOUL OF HORROR FICTION REVIEWS