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

It was 2017 when I first read Rawblood by Catriona Ward and had my mind blown. Beautifully Gothic, heartrendingly human, utterly horrific; Ward had won a fan in me. Naturally I was very excited when I saw she was coming into 2021 with another Gothic thriller, one that was getting a whole lotta hype as well. Thanks to Serpent's Tail, Profile Books and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 3/18/2021
Publisher: Serpent's Tail/Profile Books

*** THE MUST-READ GOTHIC THRILLER OF 2021 *** 'The buzz is real.. I haven't read anything this exciting since Gone Girl' - STEPHEN KING 'This spectacular gothic fantasy is one of the most extraordinary thrillers of the year' - DAILY MAIL 'Catriona Ward is the new face of literary dark fiction' - SARAH PINBOROUGH

This is the story of a murderer. A stolen child. Revenge. This is the story of Ted, who lives with his daughter Lauren and his cat Olivia in an ordinary house at the end of an ordinary street. All these things are true. And yet some of them are lies. You think you know what's inside the last house on Needless Street. You think you've read this story before. But you're wrong. In the dark forest at the end of Needless Street, something lies buried. But it's not what you think...

The Last House on Needless Street walks a fine line between telling a story of utter horror and telling a deeply human story. Whether this balance is always perfect I still can't quite say. It's only upon finishing the novel that you realize how it moves between genres, creates expectations and then changes them. As the reader you have to constantly re-assess what you've just read. Is Ted a lonely single dad who can never catch a break or could he be a stone-cold killer only play-acting at humanity? Are humans capable of both good and evil? Can they be irretrievably lost? And how much can a mind take? These are deeply human questions, which just goes to prove that Horror as a genre can address human fears in a way few others can. I think it is so important to have fiction that delves into the very darkest depths of human souls, that sees the horrible and brings it to light. I myself find reading thrillers and horror very cathartic as it lets me consider the worst and helps me step out of it again. Being confronted with your own worst fear can be the end of you but also be what sets you free. In the end, it is our fears that reveal a lot about us and fear runs rampant in The Last House on Needless Street.

Ted, Lauren and Olivia live a complicated life in which many things are odd and some things are good. Ted is a quiet, restrained, deeply sad human being, who is clearly haunted by his own childhood but to disconnected to really know what is wrong. We flash between Ted and Olivia's narration (yes, the cat narrates!), as well as the voice of their new neighbour, Dee, whose young sister went missing one summer day. Dee has never stopped looking and to say she is obsessed with finding her sister would be downplaying it. It is hard to explain the plot of this novel, even at the surface level, since it is rather complex, so I'm going to borrow a simile from the novel itself: it is like a Russian doll. There are stories within stories, moments that have something hidden inside of them, people who aren't who they appear to be. What there is in The Last House on Needless Street is a constant thread of unease, of looking over your shoulder, not recognizing yourself, not knowing how to get out. I found myself majorly drawn in by Ward's three main characters, Ted, Lauren and Olivia. Dee was less fleshed out for me, but as an outsider it made sense that we weren't quite as close to her. This is an incredibly suspenseful read that I couldn't put down and pretty much raced through within a day. In the end, like I said above, this is a much more human story than you might expect and the horrific twists and turns only emphasize the tragedy and beauty that is a human life. 

Catriona Ward is a brilliant writer. She gives each of her characters a distinct voice and she has a knack for ramping up the tension so gently that the pot is boiling before you know it. There are some truly stunning and truly horrifying sequences in The Last House on Needless Street that will stay with me for quite a while. There is so much internal lore, there are themes that keep building on each other, and imagery that echoes throughout the different narratives. The Last House on Needless Street completely sucked me in and I just couldn't put it down. I read this book in a day. I didn't feel quite as strongly about it, however, as I did with Rawblood back in 2017, but then I did utterly adore that book. The praise The Last House on Needless Street has been receiving is utterly deserved though. While trying to avoid spoilers, I do want to mention that the Acknowledgments at the end of the novel are very illuminating in regards to Ward's intentions and inspiration and are definitely worth reading after you've finished the novel. The horror genre has often exploited and sensationalized physical disabilities and mental health issues and Ward does her best to write a Gothic horror that doesn't do so. It is a fine line, but I do believe Ward walks it excellently.

I give this book...
4 Universes!

The Last House on Needless Street is a beautiful book, a book that tells a story of human suffering, loss, and fear but never forgets about hope. 

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