The Night House

Book Review: The Night House by Jo Nesbø

Teenager Richard Elauved is taken in by his aunt and uncle in the small town of Ballantyne following the death of his parents. His cruel attitude towards his classmates leaves him with few friends, aside from fellow outsider Karen for whom he harbors a burgeoning crush, and Tom who himself is often ridiculed for his stutter, including by Richard. One day while walking along the riverbank, Richard and Tom come upon a weirdly isolated phone booth and Richard comes up with the idea to prank call a random number in the phone book. Though initially hesitant, Tom relents and dials up the first name they land on: Imu Jonasson. After seeming to pull off the gag perfectly, things take a dark turn and the phone’s receiver begins to pull the boy into itself, leaving Richard stunned and alone.

Unsurprisingly, no one believes Richard’s version of events. That the name and number they dialed no longer appear in the phone book doesn’t help matters. He sticks to his story however, to the consternation of his family and the authorities. When another of his classmates vanishes in his presence, it is decided to send him away to the Rorrim Correctional Facility for Young People, which harbors its own dark secrets and sheds further light on what exactly might be happening. When the book then flashes forward fifteen years to Richard attending a class reunion, things take an even more unexpected turn.

This slim book doesn’t waste any time in dialing up the horror and doesn’t pause much for air from there. Nesbø adapts his writing style to smartly match the age of our narrator in the different sections, while maintaining a pervasive sense of dread throughout. The threat in the novel, and perhaps even the novel itself, seems to operate outside of any hitherto understood logic, keeping readers disoriented and on the edge of their seats. Some of the later turns the story takes don’t feel as successful as the earlier portions, but all in all The Night House winds up being a satisfyingly eerie thriller that questions the very nature of the truth and the fallibility of memory. ★★★★

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★★★★★ = Excellent | ★★★★ = Very Good | ★★★ = Good | ★★ = Fair | ★ = Poor

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