Book Review: Nyctophobia by Christopher Fowler

It’s a strange thing, nyctophobia. You’re not born with it. It can start at any time. It comes and goes, and it’s one of those phobias you can transmit to other people.”

Lately, I’ve found myself reading a lot of overly descriptive horror novels, mainly from Stephen King’s collection. Now bear in mind I don’t hold anything against a writer who feels they want to be as descriptive as possible, but sometimes I feel there is a time and a place to be descriptive. For Stephen King, it’s his niche, he can get away with it because he’s Stephen King. No body is going to tell him he can’t because he’s Stephen King, and Stephen King does what Stephen King wants.

Now you see, I’m not reviewing a Stephen King book, I merely threw you all for a loop. No, the book I’m reviewing in question is a little book from 2014 called Nyctophobia, by author Christopher Fowler.

This book follows the story of Calico ‘Callie’ Torres’ (insert Grey’s Anatomy reference here), a 26-year old architect who has just moved out to Spain into the Hyperion House with her husband Mateo, a 44-year old businessman with nine-year old daughter Bobbie from a previous marriage.

Mateo is away on business a lot, which leaves Callie to tend to the house and take care of Bobbie while he’s away. Callie learns that the house has a very deep history that’s rooted within the Spanish Civil War, owned by a reclusive family known as the Condemaines.

The house was also built in front of a cliff and is forever flooded with the bright light of the sun, which casts its rays on every room in the eerily symmetrical house, except for the servants’ quarters in the back, which are locked away and boarded up.

Callie is determined to research the history of the house, and goes to great lengths to find out why the back third of the house is shrouded in complete darkness, but some doors are not meant to be opened. Hyperion House holds a very dark secret, and prove to bring out not only the darkness which Callie fears due to her adolescent Nyctophobia condition, but also dark, repressed memories from her childhood that she has kept in the dark from her own husband for many years.

Now to talk about the story itself, I was intrigued by the concept of Nyctophobia, which is ‘fear of the dark’. It seems like it would be a common phobia, however there’s a difference between simply being afraid of the dark, and actually having a full-blown phobia of the dark. In this story, we get to see from Callie’s perspective what happens when Nyctophobia takes on a mind of its own, completely disconnecting Callie from reality and tearing the very fabric of her sanity apart. We see a slow, gradual slip into the unknown, as we are left questioning at every turn, what’s real and what’s not.

The amount of twists and turns this story takes can be quite jarring, but that’s exactly how the book is written. Unlike Stephen King, who will hold on a specific moment in time for pages and pages to and describes every detail right down to the single thread, Fowler takes the story on a jog from one scene to the next, much like a cinematic experience. We still get to see how Callie feels and what she is thinking, but we don’t hang on the moment any longer than we need to.

The secondary characters in this story all proved quite useful to the overall narrative, and all contributed a fair amount to the advancement of the plot, whether it be in proving concrete exposition that helped us understand this rich and unique narrative, or by simply being interestingly enough characters that did not need a lot of description to really paint a picture as to who they were as people. Best examples of secondary characters included Celestia, Callie’s friend in Spain, as well as Callie’s mother Anne.

I felt that the core relationship of Callie and her husband Mateo was both warm and inviting, but also mysteriously barren at the same time. We are given a backstory in about two or three chapters as to how these characters met and ultimately married, but in how that translates to where they stand today, Mateo is just something of a stock too-good-to-be-true husband, who just so happens to never be around, which adds to the mystery of his character. I also felt that Bobbie was a particularly bland character.

The real story is about Callie’s own journey of self-acceptance, and her constant struggle with her nyctophobia as she tries to find out what really happened at Hyperion House.

RATING: 3 out of 5

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