Kate Keeling has just moved into a grand, if slightly shabby, new home with her husband Mark and their nine-year-old twins, Sophie and Tom. At first, they’re the picture of modern domesticity: beleaguered parents and bickering children, all of them feeling the strain of moving house, but essentially a solid, happy unit. Yet there are hairline cracks in this perfect picture, and Haverscroft sets about uncovering (and deepening) them with a slow, eerie intensity.
The house, Haverscroft, teems with secrets and mysteries. The previous owner – who boasts the du Maurier-eque moniker of Mrs. Havers – didn’t want to sell, and she writes perplexing letters to the Kellers. There’s a room saturated with a strange smell, a door that opens and closes according to its own whims, and an attic nobody can get into. The more Kate spends time in Haverscroft, the more she comes to believe the place is haunted, but her suspicions are often dismissed by others. Furthermore, we begin to understand what has led the Keller family to move there: a tangled web of incidents and betrayals involving the Kellers’ marriage and Kate’s mental health problems.
Haverscroft is a ghost story made for those who’d usually avoid ghost stories. While it has the requisite locked rooms and things that go bump in the night, at its heart this is a tale of family. It could just as easily slot into the ‘domestic thriller’ genre – as the strange events surrounding Haverscroft escalate, Kate is increasingly forced to question those around her and revisit unpleasant memories. The implication is that whatever is haunting Haverscroft relates directly to Kate, not just to the house and its sinister former occupant. To untangle the mystery and save her family, she will need to take an unflinching look at herself and those she loves.
As a seasoned reader of ghost stories and horror, I expect something a bit more innovative from the genre, and Haverscroft definitely isn’t that sort of book: it delivers familiar beats rather than genuine surprises. What it does do really well is to show how the inexplicable is so often entwined with the domestic. Kate’s role as a wife and mother is key to the events of the novel – one imagines this story could not have been built around a male protagonist. As well as Rebecca, I was put in mind of Kate Murray-Browne’s The Upstairs Room, Brandi Reeds’ Oak Avenue and some of Alison Moore’s short stories.
Blair Rose 3/3
Haverscroft by S.A. Harris
Salt 9781784632007 pbk May 2019