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The Whispering House

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Member Reviews

This novel was a "did not finish" for me. I stuck it through to the halfway point, but the slow pacing and the lack of really engaging characters were frustrating.
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The Whispering House is a creepy character driven novel which reveals its secrets ever so slowly, so slowly in fact that there are times when nothing much seems to happen. 
I wouldn't necessarily call this a thriller. 
But the story was good! The characters were ok. 
Overall not bad for quick read.
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I received an advance copy of, The Whispering House, by Elizabeth Brooks. I did not like this book or the characters at all, especially Cory and Freya.
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4.5 Stars

Tin House has put out some amazing titles this year, and next year is looking just as good. As soon as I read the blurb for The Whispering House, I knew I had to request it. I was thrilled to be approved and quickly dove in. 

Five years after the death of her older sister, Freya returns to Byrne Hall as a wedding guest. Unnerved by the proximity to where her sister was found, she sneaks inside the sprawling house for some privacy and believes she finds a picture of Stella. Back home and restless, she decides to return to Byrne to question the residents, for closure or answers, she's not sure, but she knows she has to do it. The trip, however, becomes much more than a weekend away, and soon Freya finds herself enamored with Cory Byrne. What follows is a journey through love, obsession, and the toxicity of control.

I really enjoyed this book. 

To me, this was gothic psychological suspense at its finest. First, we get a family clinging to the vestiges of generational wealth, having sold their belongings but hiding their disparity behind the façade of a large and eerie manor by the sea. We also get Freya, who embodies a gothic heroine in all her glory: she's the object of Cory's affection, his muse, put on a pedestal and lauded for her beauty. She's also searching, becoming increasingly suspicious of Cory and his past, determined to unearth his secrets--balancing her desire to learn with the growing fear that she's trapped in Byrne Hall. 

What I liked best about Freya, however, was the expert weaving of tone and atmosphere Brooks accomplished through her character. At times, Freya truly feels like a damsel in distress. She could've stepped right out of the 19th century in a lavish gown and delicate sensibilities. She's cut off from the rest of the world. She spends her days walking the grounds looking for artistic inspiration. Languishing over pen-and-paper letters. Her diction is ethereal and elevated to match Cory's own embodiment of a tortured, but rich, artist. When she begins to question the trajectory of their speedy courtship, however, she becomes more of a modern woman. She thinks for herself. She chooses her own clothes. She uses technology and changes her speech patterns. Brooks did a wonderful job emphasizing the duality of Freya's position, and the depth in which she realizes she's become trapped by Cory. 

There is also the underlying mystery of what happened to Stella, and while that drives Freya, it doesn't feel like the sole focus here. Instead, I would say The Whispering House is a story about love and obsession of all kinds, and the consequences of indulging in our deepest desires for too long. I did find the plot to be somewhat predictable, although well-paced and engrossing. I finished this in a single read, and I think many readers will do the same. Brooks' writing is crisp, layered, and insightful. 

Overall, The Whispering House is one you won't want to miss. A slow-burn gothic suspense out in March, add this to your TBR now. 

Big thanks to Tin House and NetGalley for providing an eARC in exchange for honest review consideration.
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Some dwellings talk to you, call your name (or possibly call you names), some places whisper. The latter usually makes you think of gothic fiction and I suppose this is a sort of modern take on it, a neogothic tale of a young woman who comes to stay in a place she doesn’t belong and gets trapped there. 
But wait, let’s rewind and start at the beginning…at the beginning there were too sisters, an impulsive impetuous mercurial Stella and a diligent pragmatic slightly younger Freya. And then Stella disappeared, one of her many disappearances, but this one actually ended with her tragic death, a body discovered by the sea, apparent suicide. Freya and her dad go on with their muddling sheltered existence until one day they attend a wedding at a posh but dilapidated estate of Byrne family, which is right near where Stella’s body was found. What’s more, once there, Freya stumbles upon a portrait that looks suspiciously like her sister. 
Aha, interesting you say, while steepling your fingers, interesting. But soon again, all suspicions are cast aside, once Freya encounters the dreamy Cory, Cory Byrne to be precise, the inheritor of the estate (such as it is, with most possessions sold and now getting buy mainly on weddings and events income), who lives there with his overprotective and now dying mother. Cory is an artist who becomes obsessed with Freya, she is his perfect muse, and so after a whirlwind romance, she stays there with him, leaving her job and her life behind, and now their days are dedicated to her trying to write and him trying to draw her, over and over again. 
It sounds impossibly romantic and soon enough becomes impossible to endure, Cory’s claustrophobic affections and Byrne family secrets get to be too much and here is where the story diverges from a proper gothic to the extent that the female protagonist actually asserts her own agency, refusing to be a mere victim of her circumstances. Yey, go modern times, very progressive and all that. So it becomes a battle of wills, in a way, finally getting dramatic and thrilling after a long while of…well, dreamy stupidity attributable to a typical 23 year old, or at least it’s a convenient excuse for some of Freya’s behavior. 
The love story is kind of tedious, it seems mainly driven by Cory’s artistic ambitions, which are kind of just sad, but then again frustrated artists can be dangerous. Remember this one guy named Adolf who got rejected from a Vienna art academy? Well, this isn’t nearly as dramatic or world changing, but it’s never a good thing when one’s ambitious outpace their talent.
So there you have it, a neogothic romance that twists in the end with some mystery elements. To be fair, the latter are very easy to figure out, the list of suspects is at any time just two and it’s made reasonably obvious which one of the two it might be. So you’re not in for huge surprises and you only really get to (somewhat) whiteknuckle it at the end, but nevertheless it was a pretty entertaining ride. The writing was very engaging and did a good job of drawing you in when the characters didn’t and sure they might not have been the most engaging of likeable of characters, but they don’t have to be with this sort of a story, they just have to be very mysterious and British (withholding, proper, reserved, etc.) and somewhat sinister with potential for some evil doing. 
The book reads quickly and entertains plenty. Pretty good for a debut, really. Not a typical suspense thriller with a female protagonist that’s so popular these days, more along the lines of a drama with a crime or few thrown in. Fans of dark psychological fiction might enjoy this one. Thanks Netgalley.
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While many others may enjoy this book, I did not. I would not be able to recommend it to all of my patrons. ARC provided by NetGalley in exchange for a fair review.
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