The Death House by Sarah Pinborough

The Death House by Sarah Pinborough is an emotional and dark story.  A story that puts the focus on life and death and how people cope when faced with their own mortality.

I won’t deny that this is a difficult review to write and I’ve been mulling it around in my brain some.  Firstly, I’m aware that I won’t be able to do the story justice and, secondly, given the nature of the book I don’t want to portray this as really gloomy and put people off. It is undoubtedly a dark book and just a look at the cover alone gives you an idea that it’s going to be somewhat bleak, however, it’s so much more than that.

The story is set in the future although as a reader we find out very little about the time or lifestyle. We really only catch glimpses into the world when Toby takes a trip down memory lane, and these are only snippets designed to give us a small insight into what is going on.

Okay, this is my take (and I have been wrong on occasion). In this particular future it seems that children are given blood tests up to the age of 18.  Up to that age, if they’re going to develop a defective gene, it will show up in the blood.  After that they’re clear.  Not many people seem to have this defect and that would explain why all the children are so relaxed about the regular testing.  However, if the defect appears, well, the child is removed, immediately!  It’s very odd.  What is this defect. Well, I can only think that disease has been almost eradicated, however, maybe sometimes it rears it’s ugly head and it seems to manifest in all sorts of different ways – it could be worse than that but we don’t really find out! Anyway, defect equals incarceration. Why, not really sure – maybe there’s a great fear of disease once again taking a hold.

So, Toby, has been taken from his family and taken to a remote island where he now lives with a number of other inhabitants in an old mansion known as ‘The Death House’. This is a pretty horrible existence.  To a certain extent the boys and girls live a sort of boarding school existence with lessons in the morning and other activities that they can take part in to pass the time.  The problem is – they all know why they’re there and what could possible be worse than counting down your own existence never quite knowing when the grim reaper will show up. On top of that, you could call this a care home – except nobody really cares about their charges – it’s just all a means to an end. Cold and sterile and actually a little bit forbidding in the shape of Matron!

Okay, you’re probably thinking where’s the good.

Characters: I know I’m always banging on about characterisation but I do love good characters when I’m reading and this book has good characters in spades.  I mean, they’re not all as well developed as each other but we pretty soon get a good idea of the dynamics and different groups.  Toby, has become almost like a carer to the younger boys on his ward.  Jake is the tough guy and seems to have attracted the wannabee toughies.  Ashley turns to worship and given how scared they all are he also develops something of a following.  Then we have The Matron – everybody is trying to stay under her radar.  She is over starched to say the least.  Nurse Ratched could take a few lessons from her!

Plot: well, it’s all like a mystery and it’s compelling to read about.  You feel in the dark as a reader – which is somewhat ironic as Toby does like to spend most of his time wandering around by himself at night alone.  This is until the latest new additions to the house which include a young girl who is about to upset the tentative status quo. Clara.  She has an undoubted love of life that not even being brought to the Death House has squashed.

Setting: A dilapidated mansion on a remote island with lots of unfurnished, unused rooms.  It could be incredibly creepy but Toby relates the story in an unaffected manner.  He doesn’t believe in ghosts and is happy to spend time alone at night in what really could be a bit of a spooky setting.

The unexpected.  I sort of spent most of the novel gagging to find out what was going on.  What was the Sanatorium where the sick children disappeared to.  What actually happens there.  What I actually received instead was a captivating tale of love.  The love and care that some of the inhabitants found for each other in spite of such dire circumstances, the love that some of them managed to find in the most simple things – such as snowfall, and then the relationship that developed between Toby and Clara.

I will say that this is an emotional read.  I’m not going to lead you astray on that point.  But, it’s also intriguing and mysterious. You start reading and you don’t want to stop.

Pinborough has a way with words.  She’s the word master!!  I’ve read quite a few of her books now and she defiantly manages to evade genres skirting around on the edges of contemporary and speculative fiction. I love it!

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17 Responses to “The Death House by Sarah Pinborough”

  1. brideofthebookgod

    In the end I was glad we didn’t know exactly what the defective gene etc was all about, it allowed us to concentrate on the relationships. So glad you enjoyed it 🙂

    • lynnsbooks

      That’s exactly what I thought too. My review was getting so much longer than I wanted though so I just cut things out. I actually like it when the author doesn’t try to explain too much.
      A great book.
      Lynn 😀

  2. Lisa (@TenaciousReader)

    Oh, I’m quite intrigued! Dark and emotional, and don’t want to put it down? Sounds like my type of book 🙂

    • lynnsbooks

      I really like Pinborough – she’s so, well, she just won’t be pinned down! I love her fairy tale retellings, and then she writes horror and she’s just a lovely writer. I like her very much.

  3. Danya @ Fine Print

    Writing reviews for really poignant books is so difficult because like you said, it’s hard to do them justice sometimes! I am veeeeery intrigued about this genetic “defect,” something tells me it’s gonna be a big surprise. I’m so glad you loved this, Lynn! Reading a really well-written book is always such a treat. 🙂

    • lynnsbooks

      I really like SP – I think you would like her fairytale retellings – they’re retellings with a twist – Poison/Charm and Beauty. I really liked all three of them.
      Lynn 😀

  4. Catherine

    It sounds really good! I’ve got to write it down!

    • lynnsbooks

      It is really good. I do so like Sarah Pinborough.
      Lynn 😀

  5. Nathan

    I wants.

  6. Tabitha (Not Yet Read)

    But it would drive me nuts not knowing what the “defective” gene is that caused then to be taken in the first place!

    • lynnsbooks

      It’s definitely one of those books that does drive you nuts – you keep reading as fast as you can because you’re desperate to find something out.
      Lynn 😀

  7. thebookishuniverse

    I just started reading it and I love it so far. Great review!

    • lynnsbooks

      It’s a very intriguing tale that I could barely put down! I hope you enjoy it too and look forward to your thoughts.
      Lynn 😀

  8. Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

    Oh, another Sarah Pinborough book. I read her books Mayhem and Murder and loved them. I just never know when she has a new book out! I wonder if this has a US release date… Anyway, she’s so good at the dark, chilling atmospheric stuff, and this sounds like it’s no exception. Especially with the setting!

    • lynnsbooks

      Ohh, I must check out your reviews for those – I’ve read Murder and have Mayhem waiting to be read. She is really good at the dark and chilling stuff – I actually really like her writing style.
      Lynn 😀

  9. In review: 2015 so far… |

    […] Death House by Sarah Pinborough – unique, beautiful writing, emotional […]

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