THE DEATH HOUSE

PrintE-mail Written by Rod McCance

BOOK REVIEW: THE DEATH HOUSE / AUTHOR: SARAH PINBOROUGH / PUBLISHER: GOLLANCZ / RELEASE DATE: FEBRUARY 26TH

An isolated boarding school houses a small group of children and on the surface it seems like any other boarding school, but upstairs there is a dark and ominous fate awaiting each of them. In an alternative England there are people with normal genes and those who are 'defectives'; children who are deemed to have a defective gene viewed as inferior and inhuman, and when the gene is discovered they are sent to the Death House where they are to live out the rest of their short lives.

The novel starts with the foreboding words, "They say it makes your eyes bleed" about what happens when the time comes for a declining child to be taken to the Sanatorium in the Death House. The presence of the Sanatorium and what lies within haunt every page of the novel and every character within.

Sarah Pinborough has many credits to her writing career, including writing Torchwood novels and a horror series called The Dog Faced Gods, but The Death House will be the novel that makes her one of the most important science fiction and horror writers in the United Kingdom in the next few years.

In Toby, Pinborough creates a typical adolescent boy taken away from home and builds fear around him. The Death House creates a stunning atmosphere and rarely is anything discovered. Some may find the lack of exposition about the history of the world, the house, and some characters such as Matron excruciatingly vague; but these are things Toby doesn't know, and we as readers share his curiosity and discover himself, love and his fate. We can only guess at the history of the defective genes and how the Matron can treat the children like stock in a shop as Toby puts it.

The children's consciousness is taken away from them through mundaneness, monotony, endless blood tests and pills. Toby's journey is an attempt to reclaim that consciousness. To wake up and discover that no matter how bleak things can be, we are left with love and the thing that makes us feel alive is hope in the darkest of times. The haunting alternative vision is reminiscent of Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, both deal with troubling themes and make us ask moral questions of ourselves and both make us feel what it is to human and alive on this earth.

The Death House is a stunning novel, and a harsh reminder that our lives are simply fragile, fleeting, heartbreaking and most likely destined to end long before we want.
 

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