The Birthing House

Friday, February 27, 2009 18:45 | Filed in Books, Reviews

I don’t know what specifically attracted me to The Birthing House, as I don’t tend to read much horror as a genre anymore — I will generally read whatever Dean Koontz and Stephen King produce but not much more.

It might have even been my experience with the last ‘new author’ horror book that I’d picked up — Joe Hill’s excellent ‘Heart Shaped Box’ — that made me try this one.

The Birthing House (Amazon)

And Christopher Ransom has done a great job of building the characters here. The outline can be sketched quite simply: the main protagonist (Conrad) buys a new house, which used to be an old ‘birthing house’ for him and his wife. But, as Brian Lumley once remarked in one of his introductions, there is a dischord; something not quite right that is unsettling. Something other.

And obviously that otherness then unfolds.

But it is how that otherness unfolds which is well done. It isn’t a case of man buys house, ghost in rattling chains starts walking through the walls. It’s much more subtle. An old photograph album; what the neighbours don’t say about the previous occupants; the previous occupants themselves.

As the story progresses, the presence within the house becomes louder and more obvious — and yet while there is certainly something, the message from the previous tenant that it’s not so much the house as the people in it becomes more and more relevant as Conrad’s backstory unfolds.

I felt that the ending was left deliberately ambiguous: you don’t quite know whether it was a horror story about a ghostly haunting, or whether it is a story of a man haunted by his past descending into a sort of madness from stress and isolation and simply imagining the more ‘ghostly’ phenomenon.

Initially, I was dissatisfied with this: I had wanted a clean ending; one where I knew objectively whether there was a ghost or not, instead of simply knowing that as far as Conrad was concerned, he had certainly the subjectively experienced the haunting.

But it’s grown on me. I like the fact that to me at least, the story works well either way, and indeed now I think it is a positive aspect.

The one criticism I did have was that the climax of the book felt a little rushed: not in terms of the writing being less polished, but simply that there was such a significant shift in tempo from creepy creepy eerie eerie what’s going on to suddenly wham bam thank you ma’am. That is an over-simplification however: the tempo had built up somewhat, but the sudden acceleration in pace towards the end jarred slightly.

Not really a massive criticism, is it, and it does not detract from the enjoyable way in which dread and suspense are built up through the book. If you like a ghost story and/or psychological horror — as I say, I think it works either way — then it’s probably worth a look.

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6 Comments to The Birthing House

  1. Kieren Jennings says:

    March 26th, 2009 at 7:16 pm

    Hi there, I agree witht he subtle nature and I think it works well. My only criticism of your review is that in the fifth paragraph down you said “more much” rather than “much more”. Haha

  2. JackP says:

    March 26th, 2009 at 11:34 pm

    Hunh? But it says “much more”. [whistles, attempts to look innocent and convince everyone he hasn't just corrected that two minutes ago]

  3. vicky says:

    June 26th, 2011 at 5:03 pm

    fantastic book. read it 3 times over the past couple of years. would be happy to read more of Mr. Ransom’s work!

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