I’ve long been a fan of Adam Nevill, so when Under a Watchful Eye was released my expectations were naturally high. When I started reading, I must admit I wasn’t entirely sold. The book has a slow moving, brooding narrative, and I found myself at one point thinking I’d need to come back to it when I was in more of a leisurely reading mood. But I kept reading, and the experience was better for it. The dread was palpable, and the way Nevill writes is darkly beautiful with a lyricism that you rarely see in horror novels.
Seb Logan is a well-known horror writer, working on his new book from his comfortable seaside home. His idyllic life is crashed into disarray when a friend from his past appears and threatens everything Seb has worked so hard to achieve. What follows is a descent into the darkest recesses of the self, where Seb must confront sinister forces from within and without.
Adam Nevill taps into the everyday fears we all have and writes them in a way that makes them terrifying. We, as readers, see ourselves reflected in his characters and that is what makes his works so frightening. His prose is florid and expressive with an originality that makes him a unique writer in the genre. He is descriptive in a way that builds his world naturally, without forcing too much information on the reader. The fact that we can build our fears into his descriptions is what gives the weight of real horror. With an antagonist like Thin Len (who will no doubt visit me in my dreams for many nights to come) he is so terrifying because he will appear differently to every reader.
The characters in Under a Watchful Eye are not the most deeply developed. Some appear only for a few pages before disappearing into obscurity, and the motivations of some others I found to be a little ambiguous in places. At first, this is what made me enjoy the book a little less, but the more I read, the more I realised that it was essential to making this novel so chilling. Seb is a character who is trapped, and by minimising his interactions with other characters, it only serves to heighten the feeling of isolation that surrounds him at almost every turn and makes us question his sanity, just as the characters around him do. We experience Seb’s subjective reality, one that Nevill manages to make real in all its terrifying and grotesque glory.
Under a Watchful Eye felt a lot more subtle than Nevill’s previous works which initially threw me. But once I was engrossed it proved itself to be a creeping tale of horror that was both visceral and stimulating. It was a story that blurred the line between life and death and fiction and reality with allusions to one of his previous novels, Last Rites, that help tie everything masterfully into his fictional universe.
Adam Nevill is a master of horror and a writer that every reader who considers themselves a fan of the genre should become acquainted. Under a Watchful Eye has proven his versatility and talent as a writer and is a must read.