Title – The Death House
Author – Sarah Pinborough
Published – 26 February 2015
It’s funny how coincidences happen between the books you read – I picked this up after finishing Runaway and found quite a few similarities (as well as contrasts) between the two. Both feature lead characters who have unexpectedly changed direction in their teens, both facing difficulties in making the most of the situation. But where Runaway is perhaps a story of missed opportunity The Death House offers something different.
Horror works best when the ‘monster’ is left to your imagination, and this is a perfect example. It’s not quite a conventional horror, but I’m not sure how else to describe this book – perhaps a sort of “YA sci-fi horror” and a good example of how you can’t really categorise books. In fact the story is most reminiscent for me of Never Let Me Go, but with something darker lurking in the attic.
The story is sixteen-year old Toby’s. Toby is taken from his home following a blood test and put in a communal home with other children, both older and younger, who are all similarly afflicted. Initially Toby is careful to keep himself to himself and maintain some distance from the others. They have all seen at first hand what happens if they show any sign of sickness and there is an atmosphere of dread permeating the home. Then some new ‘Defectives’ arrive, disturbing the balance in the home, and Toby finds himself re-joining life, despite the potential emotional consequences.
Echoing the form of Runaway, the story is told using flashbacks (in Toby’s case back to his forced removal from his home and the early days at “the home”) although in this case the present day is told in the first person.
One neat touch I liked was the books the children were reading – Lord of the Flies and The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. It’s easy to see these as two alternative outcomes when children are left to their own devices. You’re left to see how things will pan out for the Defectives.
In contrast to Runaway, which is very firmly fixed in place and time, The Death House is a set in a time and a place that are never quite made clear – the time is at least a hundred years from now, the place an island somewhere off the English coast. None of this matters, and the things that are hidden only serve to pique your interest.
It’s difficult to describe this as an enjoyable read, but is certainly moving and absorbing, and it’s hard to shake off the sense of foreboding and dread that permeates the book – it’s one that lingers long after the last page.
Thanks to the publisher for the review copy – you can see another point of view at Reader Dad.