BOOK REVIEW: NYCTOPHOBIA / AUTHOR: CHRISTOPHER FOWLER / PUBLISHER: SOLARIS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
As the nights draw closer and everything gets colder, sometimes the thing you really need is a nicely-paced ghost story to help you go and make friends with the winter months. Nyctophobia is Christopher Fowler’s latest horror novel and it’s just the thing for dark nights.
Nyctophobia is defined in the dictionary as a fear of the dark, and that is sort of the set up for the novel. The plot focuses around a British architect called Callie, who falls in love with an older man called Mateo, who happens to be from Spain. Not only does this set-up a rather splendid pun, it also gives the narrative the right sort of mix between the ordinary and the exotic. Callie is swept off her feet by her charming lover and soon finds herself married and looking after Mateo’s daughter. Callie also ends up living in an architectural oddity somewhere out in Cadiz. This strange structure, called Hyperion House, is designed to take full advantage of the Spanish sunlight. Callie quickly discovers that some of the rooms are permanently locked and begins to suspect that there is something terribly wrong with the building’s shadows.
This is a slow moving horror story, with an incredibly unreliable narrator as the central character. Fowler skilfully adds mystery after mystery, keeping the reader guessing until the very end. The pacing might not suit everyone and it’s steady and gentle throughout; even when things get awfully frightening, the narrative remains steady. In many ways it’s like a country drive in South West Spain; mostly calming with the occasionally terrifying change of scenery.
One of the books key issues is that it sometimes difficult to empathise with the main character; as we get to know Callie better we realise that they are mysteries, and at this point the protagonist serves as a bit of a barrier to the plot. The fact that we become so engaged with Callie as the book progresses is a credit to Fowler’s storytelling, though it is also quite frustrating at key points.
Nyctophobia is a classic British horror story, of the sort that will appeal to fans of James Herbert and Sarah Pinborough. The characters are so middle class you can easily imagine them shopping at Waitrose for some red wine, but this isn’t a bad thing; it brings a powerful sense of reality to the tale and makes the journey all the more enjoyable.