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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Night House

Jo Nesbø

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To purchase The Night House

Title: The Night House
Author: Jo Nesbø
Genre: Novel
Written: 2023 (Eng. 2023)
Length: 245 pages
Original in: Norwegian
Availability: The Night House - US
The Night House - UK
The Night House - Canada
Das Nachthaus - Deutschland
from: Bookshop.org (US)
  • Norwegian title: Natthuset
  • Translated by Neil Smith

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Our Assessment:

B : cleverly conceived and constructed, but can't quite get beyond its YA-fiction foundations

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
VG . 30/5/2023 Sindre Hovdenakk

  From the Reviews:
  • "Natthuset er nok mest av alt en sjangerlek som ikke skal tas altfor høytidelig. (...) Lest som en fingerøvelse fra vår desidert mest suksessrike krimforfatter viser denne boken at Jo Nesbø har full kontroll over alle tangenter på sitt litterære keyboard." - Sindre Hovdenakk, VG

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Night House is narrated by Richard. His parents died in a fire when he was thirteen, the year before his account begins, and since then he has lived with his uncle and aunt, Frank and Jenny, in small-town Ballantyne. Richard is a troubled teen -- among the first things he did when he arrived was set a fire ... -- and quickly finds his place as an outcast at school, too, his surly attitude and behavior not winning him many friends.
       Richard opens his story with him exploring around a nearby river with another friendless boy from school, stuttering Tom. They come to the local telephone booth at the edge of the forest -- yes: "It was a strange place to put a phone booth in somewhere as small as Ballantyne, and I had never seen anyone use it" -- and, picking a name -- Imu Jonasson -- and number at random from the phone book, he forces Tom to make a prank call. It does not go well: Tom starts getting physically sucked into the telephone receiver, and despite Richard's best efforts, is eventually entirely drawn into it. It is, of course, an absurd scenario, and when Richard gets home and tells his ridiculous story to his aunt and uncle and then to the local sheriff they understandably have difficulty believing him.
       Incontrovertible, however, is the fact that Tom is missing, and that Richard was the last person seen with him. And when the sheriff asked whether he and Tom had been down by the river he lied and said they hadn't .....
       A while later, Richard invites another of the outcasts, nicknamed Fatso, home, and after dinner they go up to his room, and ... well, when he explains what then happened, leading to Fatso's disappearance, to Karen -- "the crazy girl in class. And the smartest", who shows some interest in him and who he can't help but have a crush on -- she can only sum up: "That's even worse than the story about the phone, you know that right ?"
       The local police -- and then the federal police, in the form of one Agent Dale -- are certainly convinced that Richard must have had something to do with the fates of these two boys. After all, he was the last one to see them -- as he admits -- and his explanations of what happened to them are so ridiculous that he must have done something ..... Still, when Agent Dale has him undergo a polygraph it registers that he's telling the truth when asked about his version of events.
       They settle on sending Richard to the Rorrim Correctional Facility for Young People. Where, as it happens, one Imu Jonasson also spent some time .....
       When Richard learns that Karen is in danger, he has to take action -- and it's back to Ballantyne, the local library, and the so-called 'Night House', in a wild chase against time and some very dark forces, with even Agent Dale on board this time (though he then notes: "My problem now is that no one at headquarters is going to believe me").
       All's well that ends apparently at least semi-well, and that's where the three-part novel jumps ahead fifteen years, the second part beginning with Richard on his way to a class reunion back in Ballantyne. Richard has become a "children's author", and he's curious about venturing back here, to see:

all the places that had inspired me to write the teenage horror novel that had changed my life, and that had recently been optioned as a movie: The Night House.
       He also wants to apologize to his classmates, about the way he treated some of them back then:
Because I wasn't a very nice boy. Let's say in my defense that I had been through some rough experiences that contributed to that, but all the same. I was a bully.
       But as he had already admitted in his teens: "I have a really bad memory", and as one classmate tells him now:
You should never trust your memory. It only ever gives you what it thinks you need.
       Another suggests: "that's probably just how a writer's memory works".
       So, are Richard's memories not quite accurate ? Is his account in the first part of this novel fact, based on fact, or pure fiction ?
       But as the reunion continues, moving to the Night House, which one of Richard's former classmates has fixed up and now lives in, things take a dark and surreal turn again, and Richard again faces some formidable forces .....
       The final part of the novel marks another shift, though not in time. Here, the pieces fall in place -- there is an explanation for everything.
       Unsurprisingly, the childhood trauma of Richard's parents' deaths is the key. Karen asked him about it, both when they were kids -- when he claims not to remember anything about them -- and then at the reunion, when she can draw more out of him. And the revelations of the final section of the novel put the final pieces in place.
       There is a reasonable, straightforward explanation for all that Richard has experienced and related; unfortunately, it's a rather boring one. The novel proves to be quite cleverly constructed -- the character of Karen, in particular -- but in its all-too-neat resolution it's also rather anticlimactic.
       The main problem with the novel is the nature of the horrors of the first part -- a stretch too far that then only allow for the explanation Nesbø presents. The story likely would have been more powerful if some of the events of the first section had been more plausible, making for more ambiguity and the potential for other explanations.
       The other, related problem with the book is that the first part -- what we can take as Richard's successful novel, The Night House -- does read too much and too convincingly like a young-adult novel, which adult readers might well find a bit trying.
       Nesbø's novel is cleverly conceived. It is a good idea, and quite a bit of it is well carried out, but it doesn't entirely come off, the ultimate reveal too straightforward and too easy.
       It's a decent read, but ultimately remains more YA-thriller than adult work.

- M.A.Orthofer, 21 September 2023

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The Night House: Reviews: Jo Nesbø: Other books by Jo Nesbø under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Norwegian author Jo Nesbø was born in 1960.

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© 2023 the complete review

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