The Death House by Sarah Pinborough

death house

Toby’s life was perfectly normal… until it was unravelled by something as simple as a blood test.

Taken from his family, Toby now lives in the Death House: an out-of-time existence far from the modern world, where he, and the others who live there, are studied by Matron and her team of nurses. They’re looking for any sign of sickness. Any sign of their wards changing. Any sign that it’s time to take them to the sanatorium.

No one returns from the sanatorium.

Withdrawn from his house-mates and living in his memories of the past, Toby spends his days fighting his fear. But then a new arrival in the house shatters the fragile peace, and everything changes. Because everybody dies. It’s how you choose to live that counts.

This novel by Sarah Pinborough had been sitting on my shelf for a while but, wanting a spooky Halloween read, I decided to give it a go. I wish someone had told me that ‘The Death House’ is in fact a work of romantic fiction, not that far removed from the likes of ‘Romeo and Juliet’. I feel robbed of my right to read bone-chilling horror in the month of October. *Sigh*  With it’s completely misleading cover art and blurb (“No one returns from the sanatorium”), I am left feeling confused and a bit deflated.

Although this book was far from what I expected, I can’t deny that it was extremely well written, and if I had gone into it knowing the genre, I am sure I would have enjoyed it. ‘The Death House’ focuses on the story of Toby and Clara, two ‘defective’ children who have been sent to the house to die.

Sarah Pinborough has managed to create an element of menace in her initial descriptions of the death house and the staff who run it.

“The tittering died as a surreal reality began to creep into the gaps around them. It wasn’t panic – and that was the first time Toby wondered if maybe there had been something in the orange juice to keep them calm – just a touch of surf washing in from the ocean of dread that suddenly lay before them.”

However, the story soon moves into a tale of romance between the two children and, in doing so, left many of the ‘horror aspects’ unanswered. For example, why are the children kept at the death house if they eventually turn sick and die? Why are the children not taken to the sanitorium upon arrival? What happens if they are left to turn ‘defective’? How does the sanitorium work? What gruesome events unfold there? Who is the Matron working for?

Unfortunately, all of these questions were left unanswered and, in doing so,  I feel that Sarah Pinborough really missed a trick. This could have been an amazing horror story but sadly it wasn’t.

As the protagonist Toby explains,

My mind can’t help but imagine  the top floor. The one where the lift goes. Where the kids who get sick disappear to in the night, efficiently removed while the house sleeps. Swallowed by the lift and taken to the sanatorium. We don’t talk about the sanatorium. Not anymore.”

Ironically, this quote sums up my feelings towards the book entirely. No one talks about the sanatorium (least of all the author) but my mind can’t help but imagine it. Ah well, maybe I will get lucky and Sarah Pinborough will write a ‘horror-themed’ sequel.

Rating: 2/5

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