There are a few books that I can think of that filled me with a genuine sense of dread, whose prose created a world and atmosphere, whether it be for a brief moment or over a prolonged period, that made me feel quite uncomfortable.
I don’t just mean exquisitely written torture-porn style musings either, but well written copy that’s aptly psychologically taxing on a reader’s mind. Hell House by Richard Matheson was one such book, where I recall feeling ill at ease several times whilst reading, the author’s apt delivery and storytelling skills merging perfectly to deliver a nice few punches to the reader’s comfort zone.
Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go also had its own moments of stomach lurching twists as the real nature of the protagonists’ existence becomes apparent to the reader.
Having finished Adam Nevill’s Apartment 16 I must say that this writer’s ability to craft an uncomfortable feeling comes as close to perfect as I can think of, whether it be through character’s actions, reactions and emotions, or the buildings and streets of London ascribed temperament as powerful as aforesaid personality traits.
The novel’s focus is upon two primary characters who are kept for the most part separate, but whose worlds intervene through common interest in the high class private tenement building of Barrington House. Seth is a night watchman at the building, and following a few experiences with things that go bump in the night near the apartment number 16 of the title, a flat that has been empty for the best part of fifty years, finds himself undergoing mental and physical change as his perceptions of reality begin to flounder.
As he undertakes a dark and often surreal journey whose course seems set from the start, the other main character, Apryl, begins an undertaking of her own whose consequences and discoveries intertwine with those of Seth’s. Apryl’s great aunt has left her and her mother a flat in Barrington House, but soon the shine of the potential windfall of such a luxurious property begins to wane, as investigations into the tragic decline of her recently passed relative begin to place her in a position of vulnerability to forces that seem set on shaking her own grasp on normalcy. The journey both take is one that has you turning the pages eagerly, to chart their progress (or regress) in this muddied and sour world.
Decay and deterioration, blurring reality and sanity are themes throughout Apartment 16 and are so well implemented through Nevill’s poetic ability whether writing of London, society, a carpet, a thought thread, sanity, that one is really treated to class writing on top of a decent plot inspired and evolved from many of the genre’s best.
There are tints of several different authors here, inspired moments of M R James, a dash or two of Lovecraft, possibly Clive Barker too, the weft of Ramsey Campbell is present (along with a dedication to the British horror meister), and in Nevill’s descriptions of London I was at times reminded of Campbell’s Liverpool in that author’s debut The Doll Who Ate His Mother.
But don’t mistake this presence of threads familiar to other writers as an override on originality, or skill. Nevill’s ability lies in his mastery of language, and as mentioned, his ability to tell a cracking story using this. Some of the scenes of London, given through the eyes of his characters, were both amazing and terrifying. A supermarket scene in particular stands out as particularly able to induce discomfort and the feeling of eroding sanity for the character involved. These link key ideas into a greater whole successfully, and in doing so create one of the better horror novels that I’ve had the pleasure of reading. Apartment 16 is a genuinely creepy novel that successfully plants seeds of discomfort ready for dreadful harvest as the book reaches conclusion.