Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Book Review: The Night Strangers, by Chris Bohjalian

The Night Strangers scores a 10 on the creepiness scale. It's a very detailed book, with two story lines that are both disturbing.

Chip Linton crashed his airplane into Lake Champlain, killing 39 people on board, but surviving himself. Of course there is extreme guilt on his part, even though it wasn't his fault, and he did everything correctly.

He suffers from debilitating PTSD, and so his family (wife, Emily and twin daughters Hailey and Garnett) moves to a new town in northern New Hampshire. They buy a very old Victorian house with a shady past. In the basement, there's an old door, fastened with 39 6-inch carriage bolts. Chip becomes obsessed with this door, wondering what's behind it. Add that to the knife, ax, and crow bar they found hidden in various rooms in the house and we have the perfect setting for Chip to become haunted by three of the passengers who were killed on the plane. One of them is a little girl, similar in age to his twins.

The new town proves to be another macabre aspect of the story. Greenhouses are pervasive, including the one on Chip and Emily's property. The women who own the greenhouses call themselves "herbalists" and these are no ordinary plants. They are adept at making various tinctures to heal whatever problem you may have. These women take an obsessive interest in the twins and insist they learn how to tend to their various plants, but it soon becomes apparent they have ulterior motives. This group's story is very slowly revealed and becomes more and more horrifying as the book goes on. It's really masterfully told.

This is a very detailed story, and there's much more to it, but I think you can get the picture. The telling is also unique. Part of the story is told from Chip's POV, in the second person. It is amazing how well this technique works. In the audiobook, these sections are narrated by a separate male narrator. The rest of the book is in the third person POV, told from various characters' perspectives.

If I have any complaints, it's the detail and the length. Especially at the beginning, when describing the airplane crash. It takes a long time, and is exquisitely detailed, and I kind of got tired of hearing about it over and over. But, the repetition is also a literary tool that I came to appreciate. As an aside, the author was interviewed at the end of the audiobook, and he actually went to a pilot training facility where they have a dunk tank which simulates various types of airplane water crashes. He was dunked several times!

Since I was listening, I'm also more forgiving of length. If I had been reading the novel, I may have done some skimming.

The characters are so well drawn, that I felt like I was living in the neighborhood (but thankful I'm not!) The end was thrilling enough to get my heart pounding. Oh, the epilogue. I must admit, it was perfect. Not what I expected. Not what I wanted. But....perfect.

Bohjalian is an artist at description. He's extremely creative, weaving the crash, the house, the herbalists, and  the family all together in a tale that is difficult to describe, but enjoyable for the lover of the macabre. I highly recommend this book to those readers.

Published by Crown, 2011
Audiobook published by Random House Audio
Audiobook obtained from the library
400 pages

Rating: 4/5

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  1. I've seen this one at the library, but wasn't sure what it was about so thank you for the review. I haven't read anything by the author. I believe I have his first book, The Midwives, on my bookshelf but never got around to it. I'm a bit surprised at the paranormal aspect of the book considering I never got the vibe from the description or cover. I'm intrigued and might have to get this one.

  2. Sounds really interesting. The amount of detail you've described reminds me of The Night Circus, which is downright amazing in the carefulness of its details. And it is painstakingly slow in building its plot because of it.

    1. Yes, it's somewhat comparable, although I read The Night Circus and enjoyed the descriptive prose immensely. Night Strangers I listened too...and that might have made a difference.

  3. One of my library patrons was raving about this book the other day. I'm intrigued, but I'm not convinced it's the right book for me with all of those descriptions. And second person narrative? You don't see that every day! I'm wary but curious. Thank you for such an informative review.


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