Title: Girl in the Walls (review copy)
Author: A.J. Gnuse
Genre: Mystery, Drama
Blurb from Goodreads
She doesn’t exist. She can’t exist.
Elise knows every inch of the house. She knows which boards will creak. She knows where the gaps are in the walls. She knows which parts can take her in, hide her away. It’s home, after all. The home her parents made for her. And home is where you stay, no matter what.
Eddie is a teenager now, almost a grown-up. He must no longer believe in the girl he sometimes sees our of the corner of his eye. He needs her to disappear. But when his fierce older brother senses her, too, they are faced with the question of how to get rid of someone they aren’t sure even exists.
And, if they cast her out, what other threats might they invite into their home?
When I saw the book trailer for Girl in the Walls on twitter some months ago I got really excited. It conjured up images of gothic, eerie brilliance. I imagined a very atmospheric novel set in the past when by candlelight an old house would creak and groan with the mysteries of what was inhabiting its walls… I basically envisioned a good old fashioned ghost story.
What the book ended up being was a million miles away from that. From the earliest pages I was disappointed. The setting was too modern; characters eating pop tarts and ghost stories just don’t coexist in my head! It lacked any creepy atmosphere for me.
And the characters… they were too regular.
I just expected more secrecy.
Characters with hidden depths.
A house with an eerie history that is echoed in its current inhabitants’ lives…
Instead the book was about grief, loneliness and finding the place in the world where you belong. Which is a very compelling subject matter when executed well… but it just wasn’t what I was looking for from this novel. I thought I was going to have a novel that wouldn’t be amiss categorised next to some of my gothic favs like Moreno-Garcia’s Mexican Gothic, Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale, or Bailey’s In The Night Wood.
The story follows the tale of Elise, a young girl, who seemingly lives within the walls of the house she once shared with her now deceased parents. She carefully creeps around the house swiping small amounts of food, a book to read etc. and survives on her wits.
Two teenaged children of the house’s current family occupants begin to suspect that the strange noises they hear, the curious missing objects etc mean that someone or something is living in their house with them. And so they search online for information and to find out how to rid their house of their unwelcome guest…
And okay. That’s actually a pretty interesting storyline so even though the beginning of the book was a snoozefest where nothing much happened I persisted with the novel because I was curious to see if the teenagers would ever meet Elise. And there was always the possibility that Elise was an incorporeal character too…
However, between 30 and 40% another child named Brody suddenly shows up and discovers Elise which had me baffled. I didn’t feel it made much sense to the narrative. Yes it was nice to see Elise open up to another person and therefore become somewhat of a tangible character, but there was always something missing in this book for me.
I don’t feel that Elise’s emotions were ever properly explored.
She wasn’t given enough grounding in the storyline because I think the author always wanted to have the book read in such a way that perhaps Elise was never truly alive? But to me this decision just made her feel very detached as a character and therefore the themes of grief and loneliness, and how they impacted this child, were never explored in a satisfactory manner.
It also meant that reasons behind the decisions Elise made as a character were never fully shown to the reader which made the ending feel somewhat hollow I felt. But before that hollow ending there was the climax of the book… it suddenly turned into an almost thriller with a crazed bad guy hunting Elise down and I’m reading it like wtf?? It entirely jarred with me.
Overall this was a book that promised so much but sadly for me didn’t deliver on its potential.
Content warning: Incredibly offensive ableist language used to insult a character
*An e-copy was kindly provided to me by the publisher via NetGalley for honest review*
Publishing 4th March 2021, 4th Estate