Title: The Dead House
Author: Dawn Kurtagich
Rating: 4.5/5 stars
In the name of getting into the mood for Halloween, I went on a little horror movie and horror books binge last week. Note to self: you’re too much of a chicken to ever attempt this again. I found The Dead House incredibly riveting and engaging – I also adored the epistolary nature of the novel!
I fancy myself an amateur designer, so I get all excited when I see books that are told through special formatting. At times, this can come across as a little bit gimmicky (*cough Illuminae, I am having some doubts about you*) – I though The Dead House benefited from this form of narration. We got a mixture of diary entries, video logs, interviews, and police files that patched together a story. The missing information and the non-linear style of the writing truly elevated what would have otherwise been a mediocre plotline.
It also helped that the writing was stunning in the way it portrayed Kaitlyn/Carly’s slow descent into madness. The prose was always dark, atmospheric and unpredictable. I didn’t even mind a couple of pages where a single word was just repeated incessantly! In fact, I have a couple of graphics in this post that was inspired by the unique way this story was told.
Kaitlyn & Her Unreliable Narration
“They think I don’t exist . . . they think I’m like a disease. I’m infecting Carly.”
The main character of this book is Carly Johnson, the primary suspect in the burning of Elmbridge high school in what became known as The Johnson Incident. Carly is referred to by all the reports and professional personnels by her legal name – but the star of the show is actually Kaitlyn, her nocturnal alter ego.
Carly/Kaitlyn was diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder, with Carly representing all that is warm and light – while Kaitlyn lives on in the darkness and exhibits deviant characteristics. Despite her instability and depedence on her diurnal alter – I found Kaitlyn a very easy protagonist to root for. I loved that as a reader, we had to constantly second guess all the information she is giving us. There’s never a clear answer on whether the voices that haunts her are supernatural or a product of a decaying mind. I also enjoyed the fact that the authority such as Kaitlyn’s psychiatrist do not have all the answers, and may also be implicated in the bigger mystery.
The author definitely excelled in painting a teenage girl who’s looking for acceptance and yet only finding madness. I was kept guessing throughout the book, which is ironic, as I saw the final plot twist from a mile away.
“But why? What is it?”
“I can hear someone breathing on the line”
Finally, the book is definitely delivers the scares – which is more than I can ask of it. While I am very susceptible for TV/Cinematic horror, I find myself a bit more immune to books (perhaps because I admittedly don’t have an active visual imagination, for shame!) However, I still found myself double checking the mirrors and turning on all the lights while reading this book. More than that, the book also made me ponder about the mental illness that Kaitlyn may suffer from – and whether she was mistreated all along. This particular line of thought is even more chilling than any supernatural happenstance.
Overall, I highly recommend this unique book, especially with the spooky season looming near! If you’ve read it, please share with me your thoughts and let me know whether you were scared?