Prelude to the Review
Hello there readers! Let me begin by bombarding you with some song lyrics. And here they are –
“Maybe your mind is playing tricks. You sense and suddenly eyes fix.
On dancing shadows from behind”
“I have a constant fear that something’s always near”
Fear of the Dark, Fear of the Dark!”
Aw heck, I’ll go even further. Here are all the lyrics, appearing ever so nicely in this music-accompanied video –
Thank you Iron Maiden for letting us know what it’s like to fear the dark. Might there be a word out there that defines such a fear?
There are several, according to Wikipedia. There’s “scotophobi”, and “lygophobia” but the most prominent name for this fear is “nyctophobia.”
Also from Wikpedia, nyctophobia …
“…is triggered by the brain’s disfigured perception of what would, or could happen when in a dark environment”
Nyctophobia is also the name of a book written by Christopher Fowler. Does this book describe a character with a brain that produces a “disfigured perception of what would, or could happen when in a dark environment?” It sure does. Read on to learn more!
The Meat and Guts of the Review
I am posting this review on July 13, 2017 so a “Happy Summer!” is on order. There are several horror writers/lovers out there that think very little of summer. They prefer Halloween to the 4th of July and autumn leaves to sandy beaches. I am not one of those authors. Whereas I do love Halloween and autumns, I also love me some good ol’ summertime!
Remember, one does not have to take a vacation from horror in the summer. There are summer horror books for your reading pleasure. Jaws is perhaps the most famous book of summer scares. (selling more than 20 million copies) But are there summer books about haunted houses? Yes there are. A couple of summers ago, I reviewed one such book – The Elementals by Michael McDowell. In the novel, there exists a haunted house off of the Gulf of Mexico on the Alabama panhandle that is surrounded by ocean waves and sandy dunes. Well I found another summer haunted house story for ya! There is not much in the way of oceans in Nyctophobia. Instead it offers us a semi-arid region of mountains and cliffs with lots of sunshine.
The majority of the book’s events play out in the summer months inside a house besides a cliff. The house seems to be a magnet for the light of the passing sun. Its large windows accept the sunshine willingly, which spreads out through the many rooms evenly and with precision. Officially it bares the title “Hyperion House” but it is nicknamed “The House of Light”. It has…
Uninformed Critic: CUT!!!!!!!
Mr. Me – Yeah, what’s up? Why did you interrupt this review?
Uninformed Critic: This is supposed to be a book about the fear of darkness. You even brought in a heavy metal band for illustration. And here you are going on and on about summer, about sunshine, and blah blah blah!
Mr. Me – I’ll get to all the nyctophobia stuff, don’t you worry! I’m not going to leave you in the dark about these topics. (See what I did there? We were chatting about darkness and then I went and….)
Oww! My head. Somebody doesn’t take corny jokes too well! Sigh!
Anyway, in order to appease the fist-happy Uninformed Critic, I guess I should mention that there is this strange secluded section of Hyperion House that receives no light. It replicates the interior layout of the house, although it is much smaller than the main sections of the residence and it is sealed off from them. This section includes several rooms and an upstairs. It is not wired for electrical usage. Locked doors prevent the light of the main house from creeping inside. Closed shutters keep the sunlight from shining in through the windows.
Doesn’t this setup seem quite strange? Callie thinks so. She is the newest occupant of Hyperion House. She is starting a new life; new country, new husband – and the new house comes equipped with servants who are quite familiar with the accommodations. The maid is reluctant to discuss the darkened section of the house. She has the keys to the locked doors but refuses to give them up. Her husband refuses to pay any mind to the situation.
Callie has had a troubled youth. Throughout all her troubles, she suffered from Nyctophobia – a fear of the dark. As an adult, she seems to have conquered the phobia. But she really wants to go inside the dark, secluded section. What’s in there? Will her childhood fears reemerge from the darkest corners of the house?
Such an interesting premise, wouldn’t you say, Uninformed Critic?
Uninformed Critic: yeah, yeah…grumble grumble grumble….
Ah but there are more interesting things afoot! Callie is an architect and she appreciates the genius behind the house’s construction. It is revealed that the original owner was an architect and he strategically designed the house to allow for maximum influx of light. From its cliffside location to its architecture and design, he built the house in such a way as to be in tune with the astral bodies – the sun, the moon, and the stars. He was a worshiper of the ancient gods of the sky. Thus the house is appropriately named “Hyperion House.” Hyperion is a god and according to Wikipedia:
With his sister, the Titaness Theia, Hyperion fathered Helios (Sun), Selene (Moon) and Eos (Dawn).
Hmm…the father of the sun, moon and the morning – could his divine influence have something to do with the strange balance of light and darkness within Hyperion House? Could be! It certainly adds another dimension to the story.
The location of this house is another thing that I find interesting. Through the eyes and minds of authors and filmmakers, I have traveled to haunted houses all over the world. In the States alone, authors have taken me to houses in the canyons near Hollywood, houses on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, and to a variety of haunted domiciles in the New England area. I have traveled overseas and traversed through many of the haunted houses of The United Kingdom. Filmmakers have shown me haunted houses in Sweden, India and Japan. Finally, Fowler has taken me to a place I long to visit in real life – Spain. Location is an important part of this story. Descriptions of the locale are well woven into the fabric of the story. From the locale we get “locals” – these folks dutifully contribute to the overall atmosphere of the story. The sunbaked village lady that loves her cigarillos, the shy librarian of the makeshift library that develops a crush on Calle, these people have the kind of folksy charm that makes me think I’m a tourist rather than a reader.
Nyctophobia is not your average haunted house story. It is not of the gothic type. It is refreshingly unique. If you’re the type of reader that is fond of plot twists, you’ll get them! However, this brings to the one of the two things that weaken the structure of the story. I’m not sure if the final twist adequately addresses all the mysteries that this story conjures. Maybe it does and I just misunderstood. But I can’t help but feel as though something is missing; something that would make the overall story a bit tighter. The second weakness has to do with Calle’s background. Her troubled life that precedes her marriage is revealed in little dribbles here and there throughout the book. Because of such dribbling, I am not left with a solid understanding of her past sufferings. For instance, her trials with nyctophobia are barely dealt with at all! They are mentioned, but without example, story, or experience.
Despite its shortcomings, Nyctophobia is a good read. Read it while enjoying the sunshine of summer and maybe you will relate to the sunlit house of this story. Or read it in a darkened room and connected with the sealed off chambers of Hyperion House. Read about light, darkness and all those mysterious things that pass between them.
Postlude to the Review
I learned of this book from a posting in Goodreads.com. The post is called Best Haunted House Fiction that Isn’t ‘The Shining’. It is a list of 100 + haunted house novels and the order is in constant flux as users continuously vote on the ranking. At the time of press, The Haunting of Hill House (Shirley Jackson) and Hell House (Richard Matheson) are, respectively, in the first and second position. (Have read and reviewed both here at this blog). Nycophobia currently sits at #36. I’d say that’s a fair assessment. I wouldn’t put “Nycophobia” in the top ten, but it does deserve some kind of list recognition. Have a look at the post. Do you agree with the items on the list?