Written by Paul Tremblay. Published by Titan Books. Paperback, RRP £7.99 318pp.
The urge for a writer to set an entire novel in one single location is a rare one. For television and film, it is sometimes a necessity, often budgetary, resulting in what is often referred to as a bottle episode, one example of this being the episode Fly from Breaking Bad. However, for a novel where the blank page holds no such constraints it may seem an unnecessary choice, where the only constraint would seem to be the writer’s imagination. For his third novel Paul Tremblay has taken this route but thankfully not due to a severe case of writer’s block. The Cabin at the End of the World shows a writer unafraid to flex his muscles in regards to character and tension building with a novel that never flags in pace and keeps the pages turning and the reader guessing to the very end.
The set-up here is that of a family on vacation being terrorised by external forces. Tremblay however brings a fresh spin to an otherwise familiar procedure for the family unit, a gay couple, Eric and Andrew, and their adopted Chinese daughter Wen. Eric and Andrew are not gay for plot purposes or to make any political point. This is otherwise just your typical loving family unit who find themselves in a horrific situation. That situation also goes through a fresh spin at the authors hands; whilst Wen is out chasing grasshoppers a tall stranger dressed in bright white shirt and dark trousers named Leonard appears. Leonard is friendly enough but when three similarly dressed strangers suddenly appear carrying strange looking weapons Leonard then offers an ominous warning/apology: "None of what’s going to happen is your fault… Your dads won't want to let us in, Wen. But they have to. We need your help to save the world.”
It is an enticing set-up that pays off in a number of satisfying ways. Tremblay writes his characters expertly and has them often behaving in an unexpected fashion that never feels like cheating or lazy writing and plotting. As a result of this the violence that springs forth from this small cast is often shocking, sometimes coming out of nowhere or arriving after a doom laden, ritualistic set-up that pays off in a number of disturbing ways calling into question issues such as the nature of blind faith, in ways I will leave the reader to discover for themselves.
This is a book that demands to be read in as few sittings as possible. Its three hundred plus pages fly by quickly keeping the readers attention throughout. As much a character study as a locked room or survival horror it has subtle hints of cosmic horror sprinkled throughout it as well. Never predictable it gets more and more nightmarish as it approaches a tense and touching ending after a number of impossible decisions have been met and Tremblay plays tricks with shifting prose from character to character that add more mystery to what is actually going on. That the author manages to keep the reader guessing until the closing lines of the book is no small feat as is the maybe more impressive feat that he manages to keep them wondering long after the book has ended too.
A gruelling, emotional and rewarding read this continues Tremblay’s impressive run of horror novels that have already marked him out as one of the most interesting writers working in the genre today.
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