"When We Entered That House" by Claire L. Smith - Gothic Horror Novella Review

in #bookreviewlast month (edited)

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When We Entered That House, which debuted October 15th from Off Limits Press, is Claire L. Smith's riveting take on a gothic haunted house tale that is best absorbed by the light of an October bonfire. In this haunted house, you never truly go home.

"The forest had a strange relationship with time, the tall trees shielded us from any perception of it."

Best friends Zoe and Elle escape the chaos of their home lives by exploring the woods that surround their small town every day after school. What they discover there watches them, lures them in, and eventually, entwines them in the secrets of the remote and rotting Victorian mansion and all that hides in its decaying skeleton — a bloodline tainted with madness.

The house and its haunted occupants both are skillfully reminiscent of Shirley Jackson's Haunting of Hill House, as a tale that explores the limits of the human psyche and that personified impact of our surroundings both. When We Entered That House subverts stereotypical femininity in horror literature and frames the narrative in a way that gives the speculative fiction and horror genres classic homage and new life.

From the beginning, Smith introduces both the forest and the house as main characters, poignantly conveying a nuanced commentary about the different atmospheres in all houses, from Zoe and Elle's torrid home lives to the corrupt past of the haunted Victorian in the woods. There are many stories of haunted houses, but the sincerity of the characters and the mutability of the narrative, myth and murder coupled with the girls' often upsetting reality, set this immersive tale far apart.

There is also the great sense of loss that so aptly stalks these pages, which gives it a dimensionality that lends to its overall greatness. The parallels drawn between the true reality, the lives of Zoe, Elle, and a cast of supporting characters, and the figures that exist within the confines of the house, serve both to wonderfully muddle the lines between the now-and-then and to connect across centuries a profound sense of grief and guilt, as the one that often connects humanity in itself.

Smith is a fixture in the modern gothic genre, and this second title in her prestigious catalog pays homage to a classic narrative style in a new and intriguing way, weaving secrets in a haze of eerie, dream-world exploration that spins a beautiful, if not extremely haunting tale.

"I just wanted to reach that house before I ran out of the insanity fuelling me."

You can purchase When We Entered That House directly from Off Limits Press or on Amazon. Author Claire L. Smith can be found on her website or on Instagram.


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