5.0 out of 5 stars
“Erce! Erce! Erce!”
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on 17 December 2022
In need of money, Jess is determined to find a better life for herself, away from her abusive former husband, and for her daughter, Izzy, to get her away from bullies at school. As such, Jess accepts a position as a care giver to “a shrunken figure within a wheelchair, Mrs. Florence Gardner.” The frail eighty-nine-year-old invalid suffers from dementia and lives in a huge, rambling manse, Nerthus House, “a dark warren that hasn’t been cleared, let alone tidied. In years.” Flo, in spite of “her rheumy eyes,” can be incredibly fast as Jess learns when she gets too close to the old woman, angering her, and Jess gets slapped and spat upon. Behind Flo’s “emaciated figure,” haggard appearance, and dully staring eyes, however, lies much, much more than appears—something both Jess and Izzy begin to discover much to their dismay.
THE VESSEL (2022; 170 pp.) is Adam L. G. Nevill’s eleventh novel. A work of folk horror, the novel contains all of the usual brilliant, thoughtful, and creative writing one expects from this author. However, it also differs from Nevill’s usual work in a major way. THE VESSEL is much shorter than Nevill’s other novels and the pace is much quicker. The author explains the reason for this in his wonderfully insightful and forthright “Story Notes: About This Horror” at the book’s conclusion.
Readers need not be concerned that the length of the work doesn’t deliver the usual chills and twists of an Adam Nevill novel.
The book opens with an atmospheric uncanniness filled with concise but vivid descriptions of the area surrounding Nerthus House and the house’s shambolic interior. As the story progresses, the seemingly inexplicable, private, and mysterious attraction Izzy appears to hold for Flo is chilling. Nevill quickly builds suspense as more and more revelations are made, many without an immediate explanation, and the ambience of dread thickens. Nevill’s approach to his storytelling will have readers tackling the pages of THE VESSEL at a frenzied pace.
For those who enjoy folk horror, THE VESSEL is a veritable if expeditious feast. Nevill deftly describes the woods, the dark pond near Nerthus House, the sometimes quite unnatural sounds coming from the wild, the behavior of the birds, the eerie, barely recognizable, “unlabelled artefacts” Jess stumbles across in the chaotic clutter of the vicarage, and the silent neighbors who shy away from and will not make eye contact with Jess. All of these elements and much more add to the shadowy supernatural aura that lingers throughout the novel. Additionally, readers will find the complexity of what lingers behind Flo’s usually expressionless appearance imposing even though her thoughts are not articulated.
The final pages of THE VESSEL are a cinematic nightmare on paper, stunningly wrought by the author. Events echo a distorted, tumultuous conclusion of a famous Greek tragedy which will go unnamed. Yet among the horrors in the final portion of THE VESSEL, human as well as inhuman, at the climax of the novel there is an amazing and welcome warmth which makes the culmination (as well as the entirety) of THE VESSEL a remarkable and most satisfying accomplishment by Adam Nevill as well as a most disquieting and extremely pleasurable reading experience.
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