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Review: ‘Under a Watchful Eye’ by Adam Nevill

Under a Watchful Eye Book CoverI’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.


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Review: ‘Last Days’ by Adam Neville

Last DaysLast Days was my first attempt at reading an Adam Nevill novel, and what an introduction it was! It is clearly well researched in to the psychology of cults and violent fundamentalism, and he truly understands the mentality behind those who join causes that seem completely irrational to outsiders (I should know, I grew up Mormon #notacult – the joy of the sarcastic hashtag).

Nevill pulls you in from the beginning. From a creepy encounter in an empty apartment building in London, Nevill takes the reader on a journey, following the cult of The Temple of the Last Days through the eyes and lens Guerilla film maker Kyle. The journey spans continents and decades, and introduces us to some completely sad and sympathetic former cult members, and the suspense and genuine scaries abound throughout.

Kyle and Dan are likeable characters, and I genuinely cared about their survival. There was not a particular amount of depth to them, but they were relatable in a way that not many victims in horror novels manage to be. Nevill also plays with the idea of evil, as everyone seems to be completely complicit in their own destruction, and while there is an overall antagonist in the form of Sister Katherine, the cult’s leader, no character is without blame or hubris.

It really was a great book, but I found myself left feeling a little ‘meh’ at the end. There was a fantastic crescendo as Kyle goes to see a painting in Antwerp which I felt could have been made more of, and as it’s right near the end the plot sort of dwindles from there. We have another character introduced in the last few pages who seemed rather unnecessary, and I felt that everything toward the end was a little rushed with no clear sense of what was happening, why it was happening or where it was going. The premise of the final showdown seemed a little contrived, rushed and unbelievable, and the ending I felt didn’t live up to the strength of the novel that had gone before. If it hadn’t been for the ending this would have been a five star book. It was such a shame to end a novel of such abject terror on such an anti-climax.

For all fans of the horror genre this novel is a must. It’s got all the chills and scares you could require, and a lot of things to think about as far as the human condition is concerned.

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