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The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian
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The Night Strangers (2011)

by Chris Bohjalian

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Lesson learned: don't read reviews before reading the book. I know this; I just sort of forget sometimes. Don't do that. There's a lot of negativity out there about this book – and spoilers.

Totally pointless note to start: I'm a little disappointed; when I kept hearing "carriage bolts" I pictured flat door bolts. In fact, they're just ("just") basically screws on steroids.

I wish this had been purely and concentratedly the story of this little traumatized family and the big creepy house they relocated to, and the little door in the basement with the extraordinarily excessive thirty-nine carriage bolts securing it. The little door to, apparently, nowhere.

I wish this had been the story of the voices the family – some of them – hear, and the subtle effect the house has on them. Of the investigation into what happened there, and of the axe and the knife and the crowbar, and the twins who had lived there years ago.

I wish this had not been the story of the "herbalists" of the small Pennsylvania town. It felt in places like a 60's horror movie, for some reason, with this exclusive, evil club plotting terrible things for a child. It was incredibly creepy that just about everyone in the little town the family has moved to simply know everything about them. Chip or Emily meet someone for the first time, and that person will very casually reveal some piece of information about the family which they not only should have no way of knowing but have no business knowing. It's also deeply creepy that everyone – especially all of the flower-and-herb-named women – are so fixated on the twins. The prepubescent twin girls. It's extremely unsettling for everyone to know everything about them, and to engage them the way they did. I do wish, however, that the author didn't borrow a page from the mystery or fantasy novels that always annoy me by showing the villains' point of view. Here it is the herbalists who get POV's, pondering how useful prepubescent, traumatized twin girls would be in whatever creepy things they planned. Of course they don't perceive themselves as evil; after all, that other child who died wasn't supposed to die, and really if a child dies isn't it a fair price for all the benefits so many people derive? If anything, for me it canceled out a lot of the creepiness. I felt it would have been much more effective if point of view had stuck firmly to the family.

And the ending – which I'm not going to talk about, don't worry – was almost exactly what I would not have chosen to do had I written this.

The narrative used a typical omniscient third person past tense narration for the viewpoints of most of the characters, and a present-tense second person POV for Chip, the pilot. It worked well to emphasize his separation from his family and new neighbors in his grief and confusion and pain – and haunting. In the audiobook, everyone in the third person is read by Alison Fraser, who while not one of my very favorite narrators does a nice job; the little girls' voices are managed without being annoying, which is a coup. And Chip is read by Mark Bramhall. I was ambivalent about his narration for a while, as his inflections felt off now and then … but as the story developed I appreciated him more and more, and now I can't imagine anyone else doing it. The transition from affable Chip to the voice of the menacing ghost – a snarling growl that is quite possibly the very last thing I would ever want to hear in the dark – horrifying. Well done. ( )
  Stewartry | Mar 27, 2017 |
I don't want to waste any more time on this book collecting my thoughts to write a review. It's all been said in other 1 & 2 star reviews. ( )
  janb37 | Feb 13, 2017 |
If you are a fan of "The Skeleton Key", "The Shining", "Rosemary's Baby" and "The Amityville Horror", you will find this book enjoyable... or frustrating. The theme is repetative but as a huge fan of the "hauted house" genre, I don't mind the same scenario being rewritten. Bohjalian is a gifted writer, and I don't find this particularly predictable, even if the themes are ones I've read many times. ( )
  Juliasb | Dec 1, 2016 |
So much of this book was good, probably because it was written by a very good author. But the story turned from a rather delicious haunted house story to a crazy-town-of-witches story, and not even one of the best of those. I was reminded of Thomas Tryon's Harvest Home, which was better. Bohjalian tries to stretch his boundaries; I appreciate that, though. ( )
  jjaylynny | Nov 12, 2016 |
A solid novel, I enjoyed most of it. However the ending wasn't so much surprising as it was disappointing. ( )
  TheBishop34 | May 31, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 92 (next | show all)
KIRKUS REVIEW

Bohjalian’s (Secrets of Eden, 2010, etc.) latest effort finds its dark magick in a coven of herbalists, ghosts from an air crash and the troubled history of a derelict Victorian house.

Chip Linton was an experienced pilot for a regional airline, but the aircraft he was flying one sunny August day hit a flock of geese upon takeoff. Chip’s chance to duplicate the heroic flying skills of Sully Sullenberger and the miracle landing on the Hudson River are lost to a rogue wave in the middle of Lake Champlain. Thirty-nine people died during the emergency landing. Until that day, Chip’s life had been the American dream: a profession he loved; a beautiful wife with a successful law practice; adored 10-year-old twin daughters. Now Chip fights posttraumatic stress and has crashed into clinical depression. Emily Linton decides the family needs a new start. She persuades Chip to move to the White Mountains of New Hampshire where she’s found a gingerbread-trimmed house crying for restoration. Emily joins a local law firm. The twins, Hallie and Garnet, try to fit in at school. And Chip goes to work remodeling the house, right down to obsessing over a door in the basement sealed by 39 carriage bolts. Chip, haunted by victims of the crash, wonders if the bolts are macabre symbols for the 39 dead. Like the Lintons, numerous houses around the small town have greenhouses, each owned and lovingly maintained by one of the herbalists. And the herbalists are especially interested in the Lintons’ twin daughters. The narrative develops an aura of malevolence early on, but perhaps too slowly for some horror fans. Many characters, especially all but one of the herbalists, seem one-dimensional. Some plot points are unresolved or take odd turns, perhaps in anticipation of a sequel. Chip’s story is the most compelling. It's presented in the second person and closely parallels the fugue state that sometimes haunts those with depression.

A practical magick horror story with a not-entirely-satisfying resolution.
added by kthomp25 | editKirkus
 

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Chris Bohjalianprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bramhall, MarkNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Our bodies are gardens, to which our wills are gardeners.

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE, Othello
Dead . . . might not be quiet at all.

MARSHA NORMAN, 'night, Mother
Dedication
For Shaye Areheart and Jane Gelfman
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The door was presumed to have been the entry to a coal chute, a perfectly reasonable assumption since a small hillock of damp coal sat mouldering before it. (Prologue)
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Book description
Chip and Emily Linton have just purchased a rambling Victorian house in New Hampshire and hope to make a happy home there for themselves and their twin daughters. But in a dusty corner of the basement is a door sealed with 39-inch long carriage bolts. Then the haunting begins.
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After he crashes his plane into Lake Champlain, killing most of the passengers, Chip Linton moves into a new home with his wife and twin daughters and soon finds himself being haunted by the dead passengers.

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