Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Book Review: Apartment 16 by Adam Nevill

Some books you love.  Some books you hate.  And then, there are some books that you struggle with.  For me, Adam Nevill's Apartment 16, a tale of otherworldly suspense, began as a joy, then became a labour to finish.  And here's why:
The story is told from two perspectives; that of Seth, the nightwatchman at Barrington House, and Apryl, the girl just off the plane from America, here in London to claim her late aunt's estate.  The opening is promising, with both narrators providing a compelling account of their experiences in Barrington House - Apryl discovers that her aunt banished all picture frames and mirrors from her walls, while Seth is at first drawn to, and then obsessed by the sounds coming from behind the door of the abandoned Apartment 16.
Then events move from the sinister to the more explicitly unnerving.  Seth is approached by a young boy who nobody else can see, who seems to know a lot about Seth's life and the apartment.  Apryl becomes convinced somebody is watching her while she sleeps, and decides to research the history of the building.
Without giving too much of the plot away, the second half of the novel is almost unbearably tense as the author slowly reveals layer upon layer of detail.  The former occupant of the apartment was a troubled genius, the building may or may not house an ancient consciousness, and both Apryl and Seth are more constantly plagued by horrific, Lovecraftian visions.
Minor Spoilers Ahead!
My main problem with this novel (apart from the occasionally clunky dialogue on Apryl's part) is the denouement.  I had begun the story rooting for all of the characters, only to find that one of them has been transformed into a villain.  Also, following the climactic scenes in Apartment 16, I was left with the feeling that nothing had been resolved.  This could well be Adam Nevill's plan, either setting the scene for a sequel or simply leaving the reader with a bleak sense of terror, as good has not triumphed over evil, but merely retreated.
This is definitely a book for lovers of the horror genre, with several moments of genuine suspense and mostly excellent prose that never descends into hokum or cliche.  Its city setting, and often depressing depictions of central London as an urban hell, ground the story in reality and make it all the more affecting.
I'll give this one 4 out of 5, as I really liked Nevill's writing style, but felt that he made too obvious an effort to get the reader to empathise with Apryl, when Seth was by far the more interesting character.

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