Here There Be Monsters – Just Not the Monsters You Expect
Author: Catriona Ward
Ted lives alone with his cat, Olivia. Sometimes his daughter, Lauren, visits him. His new neighbor, Dee, watches him. You see, Dee knows there is something about Ted, a secret lurking in the old home, behind the closed drapes. Years ago Ted was the only suspect in her sister’s death, but no one could prove his innocence or his guilt. But Dee will. She’ll finally have the answers she needs to survive.
Meanwhile, Ted’s cat stares out the one chink of window that hasn’t been boarded-up. She watches for a neighborhood cat, and she thinks. She thinks about Ted, about her story, about Ted’s daughter and the fact that something is wrong with the child, something that causes Ted to lock her up. Olivia hates the daughter. She brings discord, and when Lauren is there, Olivia has to hide in the broken freezer.
Lauren, for her part, hates both Ted and the cat. She is just biding her time. Wanting to escape. She knows Ted is a monster. She remembers her past, where she came from, and she wants to get out.
Nothing is as it seems in The Last House on Needless Street. The secrets have secrets, and each narrator is deeply disturbed, unreliable, broken in an essential and violent way. And, of course, when you have a cat that can reason, that narrates long sections of the story, that reads the Bible, well, you know that you have a weird story that will twist around itself again and again. In many ways, this is the worst, most disturbing kind of horror, from its brief scenes of animal abuse to the endless cruelty towards children, both shown and implied. The concepts are true horror, but if you think you know the monster here, you are completely wrong.
From the very beginning, the sonorous tones of the story, mixed with the weird, child-like voices of the main narrators (Ted and Olivia) gives off a very depressive aura. You can just feel the depravity under the surface, the unsaid mental and physical horrors. I adore horror books – indeed I found The Last House on Needless Street through one of my book clubs – yet from the beginning it was too oppressive. There was no respite from the atmosphere, from the very true horror of abuse and spiraling mental illness.
Beyond the heaviness, there is also an initial silliness with the cat’s narration, although I soon figured out what was going on there (as most attuned readers no doubt will). Nevertheless, the weirdness is a little too pronounced, almost too overdone, although the author skillfully molds it into a surprising conclusion. You think you know what is going on – and you do pick up on some of it – but the extent of what is happening and the way it will be unveiled, coupled with the secrets of the watchful neighbor, are truly impressive. I see why the book gets so much attention. It’s a quality work, although I still didn’t entirely enjoy all of it; again, there was “too much” horror in many ways.
I highly recommend readers take the time for the afterword, which further explains portions of the narrative and gives more insight into the mental disorder showcased and the real life effects it has in documented cases. This fleshes out and deepens the story. It also adds a sad amount of realism, meaning that even the dedicated horror hound will need a break after this offering.
– Frances Carden
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