Book Review: The Dead House (Dawn Kurtagich)
Publisher: Orion Children’s Books
Release Date: August 6th 2015
Summary (from Goodreads):
Part-psychological thriller, part-urban legend, this is an unsettling narrative made up of diary entries, interview transcripts, film footage transcripts and medical notes. Twenty-five years ago, Elmbridge High burned down. Three people were killed and one pupil, Carly Johnson, disappeared. Now a diary has been found in the ruins of the school. The diary belongs to Kaitlyn Johnson, Carly’s identical twin sister. But Carly didn’t have a twin . . .
Re-opened police records, psychiatric reports, transcripts of video footage and fragments of diary reveal a web of deceit and intrigue, violence and murder, raising a whole lot more questions than it answers.
Who was Kaitlyn and why did she only appear at night? Did she really exist or was she a figment of a disturbed mind? What were the illicit rituals taking place at the school? And just what did happen at Elmbridge in the events leading up to ‘the Johnson Incident’?
Chilling, creepy and utterly compelling, THE DEAD HOUSE is one of those very special books that finds all the dark places in your imagination, and haunts you long after you’ve finished reading.
I won this book in a competition over at Luna’s Little Library, so massive thanks to her for the copy!
On reading the first few pages of The Dead House, there’s a real sense of promise and intrigue: it just felt like the beginning of something and I was genuinely excited to get stuck into it.
Carly and Kaitlyn are like sisters, aside from the fact that they share the same body: Carly is there in the day, and Kaitlyn gets the night. They have spent some time in a mental health unit, where their doctor tries to convince them they have Dissociative Identity Disorder and that Kaitlyn is just a symptom of this.
The story is pieced together rather than being told through straight narrative: we learn of the events leading up to the ‘Johnson incident’ through Kaitlyn’s diary extracts, post-it notes between her and Carly, transcripts of footage filmed by their friend Naida, and police interviews with other school children and their doctor. All of this makes the story seem bigger than itself: you’re not just reading a story about a particular event, but hearing about it from all different sides, through ‘non-fictional’ methods (yes, I know these are fictional reports etc but it feels real!) just makes it all seem so real.
The book has a real sense of foreboding that make sit the perfect read in the run up to Halloween. The chapters include a kind of count down – “134 days until the incident” – which makes you want to speed through and find out what everything is leading up to.
One of my favourite things about this book was the unreliability of the narration. While some bits may be more concrete than others – the police reports and interviews for example – the majority of the story is told through Kaitlyn’s eyes. We know she has been diagnosed with a mental health issue: even if she doesn’t believe that’s true, it plants the seed of the doubt in your mind. The impossibility of their situation is another one that makes you pause and think: are they really two souls trapped in one body, or is it all part of the disease? Kaitlyn’s narration can often become erratic or abstract, giving you even further reason to doubt her state of mind.
I love that no concrete answer is given to everything. This might not be to everyone’s taste but I liked being able to make up my own mind (or not, which is more the case at the moment). If I’d been told in plain print that it was all down to mental illness, or possession, or just one of those freaky things that inexplicably happens, I think I would have enjoyed it less.
I adored this book all the way through. It was creepy, intriguing and full of twists that I didn’t see coming. I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough, and it sat with me for days after, niggling at the back of my mind and demanding to be thought about some more. It’s hard to believe that this is a debut novel, and I look forward to reading more from Dawn Kurtagich in the future.
If you enjoyed this, you might like The Wonderful World of Dissocia by Anthony Neilson