The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian

Just finished reading The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian.  For a description of this story and in order not to give away spoilers I’ve stolen the text from the jacket:

‘It begins with a door in a dusky corner of a basement in a rambling Victorian house in northern New Hampshire.  A door that someone has sealed shut with thirty-nine bolts.’

Now, down to the nitty gritty.  I have mixed feelings about this book I must admit.  It starts off and is really gripping.  We begin with the story of Chip, an airline pilot, or at least he was a pilot until he had to crash land his plane onto a lake – killing 39 passengers with only 9 survivors including himself.  This introductory chapter was OMG unputdownable and quite enough to put me off flying forever, or until I forget about it (so about 2 weeks).  As you would expect, Chip is suffering from major PTSD and also will clearly never be able to fly again.  He is suffering from major survivor guilt and his wife Emily, trying to come up with a solution to help, decides upon a change of home.   A new place, different home, new people and a different vista.  So, the family up and move to a large, rambling, 3 story Victorian abode in North Hampshire.  However, far from being the relaxing retreat they imagined with the stunning views they find themselves in a house that now, instead of appearing quirky, seems more sinister, a town that seems to be held in the grip of paranoia and almost approaching hysteria and a bunch of grey haired, green fingered women who have an almost unhealthy interest in Chip and Emily’s twin daughters.

The strange thing that I can’t put my finger on with this book is exactly where it is trying to go or more to the point what to be.  It starts off with a very sinister feel.  I basically let my imagination run riot and was expecting all sorts.  And, to a certain extent there are elements of horror.  But, if you’re an ardent horror fan you probably won’t agree.  Then it seems to move into another area, more psychological thriller (not to mention a bit of ghostly visitations thrown in).  I don’t have a problem, personally, with the book spanning different genres in fact I think it made for an interesting read and clearly CB can write and set a scene, but, not only did there seem to be a mix up with what sort of story was going on but also the perspectives kept changing and there were in fact two stories going on, and, on top of that, there were too many unanswered questions – at least two major ones that I won’t go into further as they will spoil the plot.

To be honest, my main problem with this novel, is the ending, which I felt let down by and yet I can’t really pinpoint why.  It gave me the sort of feeling that I experienced with the end of Her Fearful Symmetry which actually made me a little cross for some reason.  I mean, to a certain extent I can appreciate what the author has done here and as I said he is a lovely writer.  He sets the scene, he draws you in, you feel for the characters, you think you have an understanding of them, he introduces other elements that are a bit more twisted, he explores the vulnerabilities of the family, he draws upon their weaknesses and then he sort of lets it down a little bit at the end.

All this being said, I can’t deny that I enjoyed this book.  It has a lot of tension, fear, horror and just plain scary factors going on.  But, as I said, I did have issues and I think the story tried to become too many things.  I’m thinking of elements from The Shining (check the cover out!), Rosemary’s Baby, then cut to your basic horror where visitations occur (remember Pet Sematary), followed almost by a Stepford Wives control freak type of thing!

I did have a number of criticisms for this book and yet I also enjoyed it.  There was a slight feeling of drag in the middle and a little bit of repetition but apart from that it is very well written and engaging.  I came away with queries and a sense of dissatisfaction in the ending but I also can’t say that I didn’t like it.  I’ve read The Midwives by this author, which was a great story and I won’t hesitate to read more.



13 Responses to “The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian”

  1. Novel Girl

    OMG, I borrowed this book from my library based on the fact the main character has PTSD (like Katie in book 2 of my series, Pulling Me Under). The first scene was amazing — a nightmare about the plane crash, I believe. I read it a bit longer but was disappointed.

    It was great at parts, but overall, there was nothing that caught me and I wasn’t compelled to continue, so I didn’t.

    Like you, for the bit I read there were sections that I enjoyed, but there were also sections that just didn’t do it for me.

    • lynnsbooks

      I love the author’s writing style but it seemed to do a switch half way through – to a certain extent I didn’t mind that because it made me stop and have a sort of ‘okay, the plan is changing’ type of moment but I was disappointed in the ending.
      Lynn 😀

      • Novel Girl

        Disappointing endings are the worst. You spend all that time waiting for a good one.

  2. Fence

    I think I was a little cross at the ending of Her Fearful Symmetry too 🙂 I’ve never read anything by Bohjalian before and I don’t think your review makes me want to pick this one up either.

    • lynnsbooks

      Of course you might have a totally different experience with this book than I did. I didn’t dislike it but it left me with questions and whilst I think some books can finish in an open fashion the questions that I had here I think were important and needed answers. Also the ending left me feeling a bit ‘meh’. He is a good author though and I would recommend Midwives.
      Lynn 😀

  3. Chinoiseries

    Hm, I remember this review of The Night Strangers: that was not very positive. And from your review, I get the same vibe. Apparently Midwives is a star read (and one that I’ll add to my tbr!) but it seems that this Bohjalian simply did not live up to its expectations.

    • lynnsbooks

      I can’t believe that I’d actually read this review and then still went and picked it up!! OMG my memory is awful – if I don’t make a note of the books I either want to read or, more to the point, don’t want to read! I just simply forget! I wonder where I picked up the name of it from them?? Most of my recent book choices have been as a result of RIP. Oh well, the fact is I’ve gone and read it now. I have to agree with the other review – the ending wasn’t good! (Note to self – make better notes to self ;)).
      Lynn 😀

  4. Carl V.

    enjoyed but had a number of criticisms…that perfectly describes the way I felt about the other novel you mentioned, Her Fearful Symmetry. I’ve only read Bohjalian’s nonfiction (and it is oh so good) and one fictional short story that ended that collection which was extremely well written. If I decide to try out his fiction I’ll pass on this one.

    • lynnsbooks

      I have read one other by Bohjalian, The Midwives, which I did enjoy – it was a good few years ago and to be honest I’d forgotten the name of the author. He can surely write incredibly well but this one left me with too many questions and a bad feeling at the end.
      Lynn 😀

  5. TBM

    I may have to find a copy. Not too excited about the parts that drag, but I curious about the overall story. And 39 bolts—do they all have separate keys. That’s a big key chain.

    • lynnsbooks

      Unfortunately the 39 bolts/39 passengers didn’t really go along the route I was thinking – which could have been a good thing and yet I felt I had unanswered questions at the end. If you do read this I would be keen to know what you think. I would definitely recommend this author – the Midwives was very good and his writing is very easy to read. I just personally was not keen on the end with this one.
      Lynn 😀

  6. darkcargo

    Lynn- To continue our discussion from last week, I consider this to be an excellent example of a negative review.

    • lynnsbooks

      Thanks for that. I do really worry about negative reviews. I thought this book was written well and I like the author but there was the unanswered questions.
      Lynn 😀

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