No One Gets Out Alive by Adam Nevill
Darkness lives within . . .
Cash-strapped, working for agencies and living in shared accommodation, Stephanie Booth feels she can fall no further. So when she takes a new room at the right price, she believes her luck has finally turned. But 82 Edgware Road is not what it appears to be.
It’s not only the eerie atmosphere of the vast, neglected house, or the disturbing attitude of her new landlord, Knacker McGuire, that makes her uneasy – it’s the whispers behind the fireplace, the scratching beneath floors, the footsteps in the dark, and the young women weeping in neighbouring rooms. And when Knacker’s cousin Fergal arrives, the danger goes vertical.
But this is merely a beginning, a gateway to horrors beyond Stephanie’s worst nightmares. And in a house where no one listens to the screams, will she ever get out alive?
I’ll begin with an admission; this is the first book by Adam Nevill that I’ve read. I’ve been aware of his work for a while, but for reasons I don’t think I can really quantify, I’ve never picked up any of his books. When the opportunity came along to review his latest release I knew that now was finally the time for me to remedy this gross oversight.
Stephanie Booth has reached as close to rock bottom as you can get. Her career is going nowhere; she can hardly afford to pay her bills and has been reduced to renting a room in a seedy, tumbledown property that has seen better days. Ever prepared to focus on the bright side of things, she wants to make a new start, but sadly her new landlord has other ideas.
There is an inner strength to Steph’s character that I latched onto straightway. Initially this could just be viewed as her optimistic outlook in life, but as she is dragged kicking and screaming through the emotional ringer, this morphs into a much more steely resolve. Somehow Steph manages to dig deep and find the will to keep going. Her evolution from innocent to victim, to something else entirely is remarkable. The best part is that Nevill doesn’t take anything for granted during this transformation. There are moments when Stephanie is ready to give in, to just roll over and admit defeat. The writing deftly exposes all these flaws and failings like a raw nerve, never shying away from the possibility that Steph may just accept her fate. There are a number of moments when things get particularly dark and she considers some exceptionally bleak options.
Of the other characters, Knacker McGuire and his cousin Fergal are standouts. Obnoxious, evil, almost caricatures of the worst humanity has to offer, they are loathsome in every respect. It is interesting to observe the dynamic that exists between the two. Their relationship seems initially to be very straightforward but with each passing chapter more and more subtle complexities are exposed. It’s an impressive skill that Nevill manages to find moments in the narrative that make you nearly feel sorry for them both.
The locations described in the novel are also a key component of the plot. Almost the entire story unfolds in only a couple of places. 82 Edgware Road in particular is almost a character in it’s own right. When it comes to genuinely creepy fiction, for me it’s always about the little details. Nevill does a first rate job of slowly establishing a sense of growing malevolence around the property Steph finds herself stuck in.
The thing I really enjoyed was the ambiguity that surrounds the situation Stephanie finds herself in. Nevill plays with the reader’s expectations. Is she genuinely experiencing something otherworldly and supernatural, or is everything driven by the deterioration of her mental state?
There is a wonderful, unexpected moment about two thirds of the way in where the plot veers off on a tangent that I genuinely wasn’t expecting. I love it when an author throws me a literary curve ball like this and demands I take notice of their work.
One word of caution the plot of this novel pulls no punches. There are some exceptionally brutal moments. People are beaten, tortured and there are multiple violent, graphically depicted deaths. If you are in any way squeamish you’ll probably want to give this a miss. Not me though, I couldn’t look away, I had to keep reading. This is uncompromising, savage and utterly enthralling stuff. When an author can make you audibly wince but you still can’t stop reading you know you’re on to a winner.
This is like a traditional ghost story on crack that’s been amped up to the nth degree. I finally get what all the fuss is about. Adam Nevill knows what it takes to shock and, based on the evidence of No One Gets Out Alive, he is more than happy to deliver. This is a cracking read that makes me more than a little glad that I don’t live in rented accommodation.
This most definitely won’t be the last book of Adam Nevill’s I’ll be reading, consider me a fully-fledged convert. If No One Gets Out Alive is a good example of his work, wild horses won’t stop me from reading more. The only question I have is what book from this author’s back catalogue should I read next?
No One Gets Out Alive is published by Pan Macmillan and is available now.