It’s Adrienne’s lucky day when she discovers that a long lost relative has left her a property. Just in time to save Addy’s poverty-stricken new adulthood, and provide shelter for Addy and her cat Wolfgang to retreat to. With only twenty dollars left after the long trip to Ashburn House, Addy is nervous to find the property a spooky and imposing place. With cryptic messages scratched into the walls and tables, and her great-aunt Edith’s clothes still visible in the wardrobe, Adrienne finds herself sheltering in a lounge room with her cat and unraveling the mysteries of Ashburn and Edith’s life through the tales that others from town tell her. That is until a part of Ashburn’s history comes back to life to demonstrate for Addy just what happened there in the tragic events of Edith’s childhood…
What is The Haunting of Ashburn House about?
This book is, like many of Coates’ novels, a horror novel and a ghost story wound together. In this case, Adrienne and Edith also have a bit of a family reunion story–though sadly it follows Edith’s death. There’s elements of the paranormal as well as a somewhat odd coming of age for Adrienne, whose life has been put on hold time and time again by illness and poverty. As an adult she finds her footing in Ashburn house, where the weird starts to get really weird.
Genre: Haunted House Horror
This seems to be a particular kind of genre that Coates writes prolifically, and follows a lot of the cinematic themes we see from horror movies that take place within the singular location of a house. Coates hits all the beats: well intentioned move in, naivety when encountering the creepy stuff, townsfolk are scared of the place, creepy stuff ramps up but the inhabitant just shrugs it off, and then when it’s too late: bam! haunting.
Tropes: Cats See Everything
Man, thank god for Wolfgang! Addy’s trusty cat is easily the best character in the story because where Addy ignores everything Wolfgang at least as the good sense to run and hide (until he’s saving Addy’s life). I also adore that we get a backstory for the cat! And don’ worry: Wolfgang survives the story.
Plot: I don’t even know how to explain this one
Yeah the plot here ends up a bit crazier than your average haunted house scenario. There was a “twist” involved with little to no build up, so you can’t really blame yourself or the main character for not realizing what was happening.
The atmosphere of this book is absolutely creepy! Coates does a really great job of bringing the dangerous antagonist alive and creating the terrifying atmosphere of a haunted Ashburn House. The slow way in which Adrienne becomes isolated is also well done, because at first it seems as though she’ll be fine so long as she has access to people. But one by one her ways to communicate are stripped from her. It was very boil the frog.
A lot of things that happen in this book are absolutely….convenient. Adrienne is twenty-four, barely earning enough to live off, and gifted a house. She doesn’t even consider all the things that go into moving into a house but discovers when she arrives that the utilities are all still in order. While I can see why someone with enough sympathy might make sure the house was usable when she moved in, I would imagine they would contact her earlier than they did about setting those utilities up. Also, while the house is probably owned outright, they never discuss the simple paperwork it would take to get that sorted out in Addy’s name. This is just one example of a series of conveniences that allow Adrienne to exist despite repeated reminders that she has no money and no job and no idea what she’s doing. I was very wish fulfillment, but that felt out of place in a horror story.
Adrienne is a frustrating main character. Many of the Goodreads reviews concern being frustrated with her inability to do anything well or right. She moves into this house and then does next to nothing to make it inhabitable, being too spooked during exploration to move away from a little lounge room on the first floor. She is admittedly not equipped with the knowledge Edith left for her about Ashburn’s history, but she also seems to go out of her way to be wrong about everything, as well as ignoring any potential solution to her problems. If I moved into a creepy house full of cryptic warnings and then a monstrous zombie started attacking me, I’d probably start following the directions left in all those cryptic warnings just in case they helped!
I enjoyed this book for the most part. Adrienne’s perspective wasn’t the easiest to read from, and I do wish we’d had a bit more of a canny POV character. But in the end, things worked out and the villain was terrifying enough to make up for it. I do think Coates nailed the creepy atmosphere of the house and the building dread that something bad happened, even if it was so difficult to find out what it was. I liked how Edith’s character was fleshed out a bit more by the end, but I also wish there’d been more build up to Edith’s story and explanations. There was essentially little to no background story until the last quarter of the book, which left things feeling rushed and frazzled. If you enjoy atmospheric horror and a little bit of genuine terror, and can get past some of Adrienne’s less intelligent moments, please do give this a shot!
Oh and the cat lives. Don’t worry.