I like a good ghost story from time to time and nothing is more prone to haunting than an old monastery hidden in the mountains, especially when the snow cuts it off from the rest of the world…
This had all the ingredients to be an excellent ghost story that would keep me up at night first rushing to finish it, then being scared by imaginary sounds I hear in my own home. But unfortunately, it wasn’t so.
There are three ingredients for a good ghost story: 1) the characters, 2) the atmosphere, 3) the actual ghost (or the idea of one). It’s essential that all of them mix together perfectly, because that’s when the building becomes alive in our imagination and we root for the hapless characters and are afraid (or pity) of the apparition.
So let’s talk about the ingredient the author did well – the atmosphere. There are numerous beautifully haunting descriptions of the monastery and the mountains surrounding it. I felt the chilly drafts in the old building and the creaking doors. I could hear the howling of the wind and the answering calls of the wolves. I could see the surreal shapes of the trees peaking out of the dense fog. It was beautiful, it was sad, and it deserved a much better story that was told.
The biggest problem with this book is the characters. You HAVE to like at least some of them to care about what happens to them. Here, the characters are so one-dimensional that I couldn’t even picture them in my head. Yes, Irene is beautiful and self-absorbed. Dan is a yoga instructor… and that’s about all he contributes to the story. Nick is a cliche gamer with possible mental issues? Jules is a hapless blogger that happens to befriend our protagonist… And the protagonist… I think the protagonist is the reason why characters don’t work.
I understand the idea behind having the story told by an unreliable narrator, but Cat is too fixated on herself and her progressing schizophrenia to really care about anyone else. She only “sees” the other characters in this monastery to the extent of their reaction to her (and that reaction is often imagined and wrongly interpreted by her as well).
So how can the reader care about them when Cat doesn’t really care about them? Apart from Jules, but even then it’s a stretch.
And the final ingredient is lacking as well. The whole story behind the haunting is horrible, yes, but also too vague and inconsistent. Who is actually haunting this place? Nobody knows, Cat even less so than the others. And with her illness turning into an obsession, all her findings and suppositions are even more unreliable.
As a result, I felt disconnected from the story almost from the beginning. I read about the events that happened, but it felt like I was just looking in through a dirty window. There was no involvement and no connection whatsoever. So there was no fear or even apprehension. I could care less what happened to the animated characters on the other side of the glass. That, my friends, is a ghost story fail in my books.
PS: I received a free advanced copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.