They say you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, and some people say you shouldn't judge a book by its opening line, however sometimes the opening to a book is perfect, you can't help but judge a book in this manner.
The opening to Kaaron Warren's THE GRIEF HOLE is a perfect encapsulation of why this book is such a triumph. At first glance, it is a simple statement, but when you delve below the surface, this opening sentence is full of subtext, dread and a sense of finality three things which perfectly sum up this powerful and evocative novel.
Theresa can see ghosts; she can see the ghosts of how you are going to die, swarming around the victim like a plague of vultures, mimicking the way you are to do. If you are going to drown the ghosts will be the ghosts of drowned people, but since she works as an emergency housing officer for abused women, the majority of ghosts she sees are those of battered women. When she crosses paths with Sol Evictus, a powerful, charismatic singer, who sent her cousin a young artist into The Grief Hole to capture the faces of the teenagers dying there and who subsequently died there, Theresa makes it her mission to bring Sol Evictus to her own brand of justice.
The Grief Hole is a poignant and moving novel, blessed with a fluid narrative that captivates the reader in its subtle and unnerving horror. Warren entices the reader into a world of broken characters and broken lives. A world where everyone is circling their own personal Grief Hole, where broken and battered lives urge people to take the final permanent journey into the pit of despair. Even Theresa, the hero of the novel is circling her own grief hole, disenchanted with her personal life and reeling from her tragedies; her job brings her into contact with situations that force her ever deeper into her grief hole. However rather than being battered into submission by the slings and arrows of her life, she makes a stand, not for herself, but for the future victims.
As protagonists go, Theresa is an excellent focal point for the book, painted with a pragmatic, down to earth sense of morality, she is an everywoman for everyone. Instantly engaging and likeable her battles against her demons act as a perfect canvas for Warren to paint the subtle, and unnerving narrative. At first glance she is Theresa could be described as plain, yes she can see ghosts, but other than that your initial reaction to her is rather neutral. However, as the story unfolds and secrets are divulged your respect and admiration for Theresa grows exponentially, with all the wonderful character traits converging into one of the most believable protagonists in recent years.
Sol Evictus, on the other hand, is the literally, and moral counterpoint to Theresa. Drawing on inspiration from some of the most mysterious singers, he is a pure distillation of the attraction and submission that we have for that artist that act like light bulbs to moths. A Golden God that shines brightly in a world of broken worshippers. Such is the power of Warren's creation, we the reader also fall instantly under the spell of Sol, despite knowing right from his first introduction in the narrative, that he is genuinely dangerous and morally bankrupt person, we can't help becoming enthralled with him.
The real power of The Grief Hole comes from the deceptive nature of the story's narrative. Eschewing the trappings of the majority of ghost stories, The Grief Hole carves out new fertile new ground in horror's most ancient of sub-genres. Beautiful and touching prose masks the dark depths that this novel will take you to. This isn't an easy read. The book doesn't so much demand an emotional investment as draw one out of you like some emotional leech." That adage of a book staying with you after you finish has never been more apt; such is the power of this compelling story.
Warren peppers the story with perfectly timed reveals, and revelations into the characters and their stories, which leads the reader through a bleak narrative landscape to a truly stunning conclusion.
The Grief Hole is a chilling and disturbing look into the world of loss and abuse, one that takes a compassionate look at how we deal with loss, and how those in power have the ability to use and abuse those people looking for something to fill the void in their lives. Rich characterisation and even richer dialogue combine to produce a masterful modern gothic ghost story for the twenty-first century.