The Apartment by S L Grey
The Apartment is a pretty short story clocking in at around 270 pages and is a fairly quick read. It’s also insidiously creepy.
A little bit about the story – and obviously I’ll try and keep this brief as I don’t want to give too much away.
Mark, Steph and their young daughter live in Cape Town. They’ve recently suffered a terrifying situation when three men broke into their home and robbed them and they have been unable to fully recover from the shock and trauma. They feel constantly afraid in their own home but more than that it has had an adverse impact on their relationship. Clearly they’ve not really talked about their true feelings and both of them have issues and resentment following the attack. Steph feels as though Mark didn’t really help to defend her and their daughter and Mark, although he tries to tell himself that retaliating would have been counter productive, feels numbed with shock at the overwhelming fear he felt during the attack (some of this does become a lot more understandable when you find out a little bit more about the prior history). So, as you can see, everything is far from idyllic. Then, at a gathering of friends, the suggestion of a holiday is brought up, nothing better than a break to help take your mind off things and, as Mark and Steph are a little bit financially challenged the idea of house swapping is thrown into the mix. Well, long story short, they find a couple from Paris who would like to house swap for a week in February. The in laws help with the flights and babysitting the toddler and the two of them pack their bags and set out to the city of love. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, as people out there may have already experienced, the internet can be a remarkable thing – it can also be a bit tricksy – and things are not always what they seem. Upon arrival, the apartment in Paris seems to be contained in an empty, run down block and is a bit of a nightmare, certainly not the shabby chic and yet desirable residence they expected. Everywhere seems to be blackened with mould, the lights in the public areas don’t work and the furniture and the decor of the inside of the apartment has definitely seen better days – in the 70s that is! And those are just the highlights – from there onwards lots of creepy occurences start to take place. Doors banging, discovering things in wardrobes, well, all sorts of things that I won’t elaborate on. It’s not that this is downright horrific but like I said a collection of things that gradually pervade the psyche and leave a feeling of tension and an expectation of horror.
The good, the bad and the ugly.
The good. The writing is excellent and very tight. Told in alternating chapters from the POV of Mark and Steph. This was a great way to tell the story because one of them is a lot more reliable than the other and there really does become a point in the story where you’re longing for the alternate view point to find out what really just happened. The pace is fast and I was pretty much on board for the story from the start – I literally read this in two evenings because I simply couldn’t resist reading more and I don’t mind admitting that I stopped reading on the first night because I was actually scared! The story also, little by little, feeds you more information about the couple and their relationship and some of this is very revealing and actually quite necessary to the overall plot. Not everything is as it seems and in terms of Mark – well, that bloke has already suffered somewhat – to say the least and in a way – yes, it’s no surprise that something malevolent might be attracted to his sadness.
The bad. Little niggles really but ones that just get under your skin and make you pick away. Why on earth did Mark and Steph stay in that awful apartment? I would have left straight away. Yes, I understand that they were strapped for cash, there was a bit of a cock up with the credit card and they didn’t want to rely on others. But, no. Absolutely no way I would have stayed there – not even for one night. They could have found a solution. Now I could also wonder about them house swapping after the experience they’d so recently suffered, but, to be honest, that wasn’t my real concern and in fact I wasn’t surprised that they wanted to get out of their home, in fact, having had my house broken into (maybe not in the way that they did) I can empathise with their wanting to get away from it because for a while there the space no longer feels like yours. I was surprised that they didn’t do a little more back checking before rushing off and I almost wondered if this was going to go in a different direction than it did (but I won’t go there).
The Ugly. Well, this boils down to Mark and Steph themselves. I guess you have to remember that their recent experience has left them a little unhinged – but – they don’t act like a couple and I struggled to think of them in that way. There seemed to be nothing between them at all other than commitments. Here you have a couple, away in Paris, okay, they’re in a grotty apartment – but, the thing is, Paris is an amazing city (and I do speak from experience) – get out of that bloody apartment and go and look at it. Walking the streets and looking at everything is actually free – and there’s a lot to see. But Mark and Steph were either cooped up in their apartment or were acting separately. What gives? I would be not a little bit naffed off with my other half if (1) he left me alone, asleep, in a creepy apartment inside a deserted building while he went off to sit in a nice warm coffee shop (for the wifi of course). Then, having found out he needed to wait a little longer – he then goes to look round one of the attractions. By himself. What? Why not go back to the apartment and actually the two of you go together? Or is that a totally ridiculous suggestion? Look, let me be clear. I’m not a clingy person and I like to do my own thing and I’m also a bit of a sleep monster – but I wouldn’t want to be sleeping (whilst in Paris) on my own in a creepy apartment! I’m just saying!
But, in spite of the ‘ugly’ above, and also a slightly (for me) rushed ending and not really any true resolutions as such – I really liked this book. I really liked it. The thing is, a lot of my qualms have been answered to some degree by the writing. I can see there were problems in the relationship. There were overwhelming past experiences that are gradually revealed. And, yes, the two of them act like a couple of morons at certain point but I can almost forgive them. Basically, they weren’t acting like rational, happy people because they weren’t feeling rational or happy. I think to an extent this could have been extended slightly, it did feel a little bit without conclusion in some respects but, even so, I was definitely creeped out by it – maybe I’m a raging wimp, and maybe for hardened horror or thriller fans this will be a walk in the park – but I’m not at that stage and so I had a serious case of the goosebumps.
I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks. the above is my own opinion.