Book Review: The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward

I’ll never say that someone else’s opinion is “incorrect,” but I am finding myself at a total loss at the hype surrounding this new release. I did want to like it, but almost from the jump I found it on all counts abrasive. That’s the word that came to mind most often while reading: abrasive.


While I never enjoy reading the ever tired first-person, present-tense combo, I suppose I can at least understand why the author wanted to use change in tense and perspective in a story that frequently head-hops among characters and occasionally goes back in time. Overall it’s a well-written book and some lines leapt out and stuck in my brain: “The bed is unmade, blankets still holding the moment when they were kicked away. …” Yet as usual, the use of present-tense and combining it with first-person dragged it down when it could’ve been elevated. 


But it’s not news that I tend to hone in on writing styles – that’s not even what bothered me most. My biggest issue with this book is that I felt like it was trying to keep me at arm’s length the entire time. The narrative is drenched in deliberate confusion, trying hard to tiptoe around itself so as not to reveal too much, and more often than not tripping over its own feet in the process. 


That’s not to say that you never figure out what’s going on; after a while (though admittedly much longer than it would take in any other book), I got a hold on the thread and was following. However, that doesn’t make it any less convoluted and obtuse. 


I won’t say any spoilers, but I found the ending extremely predictable. I was expecting a shocking, dramatic twist, but instead most things that I suspected was going to happen ended up playing out. No, I didn’t predict everything that would be revealed, but an uncomfortable amount of it. Normally, that’s no big deal. The quality of a story does not necessarily hinge on surprise, although surprises are always exciting in a narrative. However, I felt throughout the entire novel that that’s what we were being set up for. See previous notes about the consistent tip-toeing around careful phrasing throughout the duration of the book. 


The result: all the alienation, abrasiveness, and off-putting elements were all made even more so by not paying off in the end. Personally, I enjoy getting lost when I read books. I live for those moments when I forget I am reading and am transported to a world with characters that feel real and fleshed out. But here I found a deliberate attempt to keep the reader at a distance, and several times over the course of the novel I found myself wishing I had. My final impression is that maybe I just didn’t get this one, and those who are singing its praises did. I can live with that. 3.8/10.

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