On the surface, Sam West’s Bad House sounds a lot like Stephen’s psychological horror classic The Shining, but once you get past the central premise – a haunted building that torments its new inhabitants and sends the man of the house insane – the two novels are incomparable.
Ian Webster, a successful artist, moves into 29 Aberdeen Road with his wife Holly and six-year-old son Jacob. Despite feeling a negative vibe towards the estate agent and the house itself, he decides to buy it anyway as it is such a bargain. As soon as they move into the property, weird things happen to Ian – he starts seeing and hearing things, and Jacob adds to his fears by saying weird stuff about the house being ‘angry’ and ‘bad’. His wife is immune to the house’s evil and gets frustrated with Ian, and things go from bad to worse at lightning speed.
This is the first problem I had with the story. While The Shining is rich with descriptive language, building up tension very slowly and subtly as it documents very convincingly an ex-alcoholic’s descent into murderous madness, Bad House is anything but subtle. It cuts straight to the chase, with the house starting to ‘talk’ to Ian (in the form of sick thoughts that pop into his head) right from that first viewing. So quickly does his character change that you don’t have time to build up much empathy for him, and it doesn’t help that every single woman he meets happens to be attractive and flirtatious towards him. Would he have been less lustful towards these women if his mind wasn’t warped by the house’s evil spirit? It’s impossible to tell, and this ambiguity doesn’t help his case when you’re trying to sympathise with him. He just ends up coming across as a bit of a perv.
My main gripe about Bad House, though, is the lack of editing. In one scene West describes hungry families in a Manchester pub as waiting for the ‘cheap cavalry’, and there are many terms that have been hyphenated unnecessarily (estate-agents). Also, I’m pretty sure use of the phrase ‘spastic’ is frowned upon these days, yet it appears in a simile in this novel.
Having said all that, Bad House is an entertaining read if you can ignore these issues. Despite not caring much for Ian, I did want to find out how his predicament ends, and I particularly liked the surreal imagery in some of the scenes when Ian is losing the plot. The excellent cover art also deserves a mention. Many horror fans will enjoy the mixture of psychological suspense and gory gross-out scenes, but for me it would have been better if the story was slowed down and the writing refined in places.
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Length: 112 pages