The Atrocities – Jeremy Shipp

How can a novella with such a brilliant concept and deliciously creepy execution wind up with such a blah ending?! I feel like I was taken on a trek up a treacherous mountain with the promise of an incredible view at the summit only to find out that someone built a wall blocking the view.

I was hooked from the first two sentences:

Turn left at the screaming woman with a collapsing face. Turn right at the kneeling man with bleeding sore the size of teacups.

What a wonderful hedge maze! What an amazing house, with its artwork of silent screams, wings of human fingers, headless figures on stained-glass windows, faces distorted and malformed.

What an intriguing story! A governess who is hired to teach a young girl who “isn’t coping well with this new phase of her existence.” A governess who comes with her own baggage.

I came to this house to escape empty rooms.

A generous employer who ensures their employees’ comfort with luxuries including eighty-four-inch high definition televisions in their rooms. Parents who catered to their daughter’s every whim.

There was such a foreboding atmosphere permeating this novella. There’s something not quite right with the characters and with the information the governess is given. There’s a sort of queasy uncertainty throughout the story, where the line between what’s real and what isn’t blurs for the governess and the reader alike, exacerbated by the unsettling dream sequences.

I was captivated by this story until the very end when I realised that not one of my bazillion outstanding questions were going to be answered for me. I know there are authors that don’t like to spoon feed their readers, preferring them to actually use their brain and imagination to reach their own conclusions, and I’m okay with that up to a point. This didn’t feel like that sort of ending. This felt like there was a strict deadline and about ten minutes before the deadline, realising that there was no way all of the questions could possibly be answered satisfactorily, the author just said, “Yeah, that’ll do.”

I wanted to learn more of the backstories for each character. I wanted more emotion when outrageously weird things happened rather than a ho-hum response. I wanted to know minor, possibly insignificant things like why Mr and Mrs Evers shouldn’t be phoned after 7pm. I wanted to know the details of the ‘accident’. I wanted to know what it was that Mrs Evers was really experiencing throughout the story. I wanted to know the significance of some of the details of the dreams. I want to know which characters are currently alive. I wanted to know what happened after the final sentence! And so much more.

I can’t remember the last book that had me so psyched and then stole the hope of a satisfying resolution from me. Based on the ending alone I’d be giving this novella 2 stars because I was so disappointed. Based on everything that lead up to it I’d be inclined to give it 5 stars but that was when I thought the questions I had would wind up with weird and wonderful answers. So I’m splitting the difference and rounding up to 4 stars with the hope that at some point the author will do a Q&A session to fill in some blanks. I came really close to giving it 3 stars but I loved too much of the story to able to go through with it.

I also have to say that the creepy hedge maze and that amazing house were so extraordinary that I need to move in immediately (after evicting the current tenants, of course). I would also buy and read an extended version of this story if it ever became available and I am keen to read about more of the weird and wonderful things living in this author’s imagination.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

When Isabella died, her parents were determined to ensure her education wouldn’t suffer.

But Isabella’s parents had not informed her new governess of Isabella’s … condition, and when Ms Valdez arrives at the estate, having forced herself through a surreal nightmare maze of twisted human-like statues, she discovers that there is no girl to tutor.

Or is there … ?

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