**Warning, this review contains spoilers - I'll let you know when they're about to appear**
Lucie Whitehouse's The House at Midnight is a book in the much-alluded-to vein of The Secret History. It's a book about a close-nit group of university friends and oppressive settings. It is a book concerned with the strain of friendships, relationships and the secrets of families. It embraces art, and culture, and historical pretences. In a strange way, it is a book so similar to The Secret History it's almost painful to see how far it misses the mark...
Lucas is the inheritor of a grand house in Stoneborough when his uncle Patrick commits suicide under mysterious circumstances. To help him cope with being alone in such an enormous place, and his raw emotions, Lucas' group of friends rally round him every weekend at the house - to live in it's splendour and enjoy the grandeur of a private country life and each others' company. The place becomes an escape - a summer paradise - until tensions become evident among the group.
Danny loses his high-positioned job, and begins having secret relationships with members of the group - male and female; luring them into his world and then breaking their hearts while noone else is any the wiser. Jo is falling in love with her friend Rachel's boyfriend, Greg, while starting a new relationship with her own best friend, Lucas; at the same time she is noticing a hateful attitude towards her in Danny. Lucas is drinking far too heavily - much like his estranged, dead father - and bailing Danny out of thousands of pounds of debt with his inheritance money.
All the time, Patrick's suicide looms over the group, much like the fresco painting in ceiling of the house's entrance hall: a mythical Greek representation of Zeus and the goddesses that Jo becomes fascinated by. She soon comes to realise the painting is not mythical at all, but that it depicts real people. History seems to be repeating itself...
As everything comes to a head, The House At Midnight is gripping. I was looking forward to the revelations, the fallout of the friends' actions... but this never quite arrived. The crescendo of this book is about 150 pages from it's end, and if I'm very honest, I wish it had drawn a quick conclusion right there.
Claustrophobic portrayals of houses, emotional tensions, betrayals, secrets and sex should all add up to a tense mystery thriller, but The House at Midnight seems to end on something of a sparkler, rather than the catastrophic bang I thought it was building up to. I feel that a lot of this has to do with the confusing characterisation of Danny.
**Spoilers start here**
Danny, it turns out, is the key character in this book. All the while, the serial dating, cougar-catching, film making, gold-digging Danny was supposedly so over-wrought with obsessive love, jealousy and desire for Lucas, he was murderous. Who knew?! I think it was meant to be a twist - I certainly never suspected it, but I also think the denoument was poorly executed for this fact. It just didn't seem to fit the Danny we had read about for the last 200 or so pages...
To add to the out-of-the-blue "revelation" of Danny's dark intent, he is never actually seen in the last part of the book. We are simply told by a dying Greg that Danny gave Lucas a gun, and manipulated him with poisonous words into shooting Greg. We are told that Danny had been brainwashing Lucas in his vulnerable greiving state, with the ultimate intention of this murderous act... We are told he loved Lucas too much and wanted him to himself...But there, the book ends! We are never shown anything. Danny is never found - he simply "ran away". Greg dies, Lucas is also found dead... Danny is gone, and the author probably thought not tying up that loose end left something or other for the reader to conclude. Gosh, it was lost on me, I'm sorry... I seriously thought a chapter was missing from my book.
**Spoilers end here**
Something else I found confusing in the book was the house. It was described well, physically, but it was the non-physical descriptions I was unsure of... Jo hears a "heartbeat" in the house, a thumping beat that keeps her awake and panics her while she is there. She also continually mentions the feeling of a "presence". She recognises the way being in the house changes the way the people around her behave.
Anyone who knows me and my books, will understand why this had my interest perked - ghosts! However, though there were clues that alluded to a ghost, or of some sort of imprint on the house, it was all forgotten in favour of the Danny storyline (for which, I say again, there was no allusion to!) It seemed a confusing waste of effort to bring a haunting to a house that has no part in the story?
Speaking of concerted effort in details that come to nothing - Jo's asthma. She was puffing away on her inhaler so often (and so jarringly in the flow of whatever was going on - as if to make a point) I felt damned sure an asthma attack would be a key part of the narrative. But alas, she just had asthma... that's "characterisation" folks: she has A FLAW!
All in all - I really enjoyed The House At Midnight all the way up until about 2/3rds of the way through. I felt it lost it's way at the end, and that the official "end" of the book was frustrating and unnecessary. I'm not sure that I would recommend this book to anyone, as it skirted too much around different ideas and never quite settled on one, so I wouldn't in fact know who to recommend it to! It is dark in subject matter, and it creates quite a tense atmosphere until the final party and the resulting action. I guess if I have interested you in the story you should definitely read it, as I would love to knwo what you think!!! Leave comments below :)
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The House at Midnight - Review
Emma is a designer living in Bristol, UK. A self-confessed stationery addict, book lover and TV sci-fi geek, she enjoys sketching zombie-eyed women and finding her next source of inspiration in the pages on the bookshelf.