It’s been a long time since I’ve listened to the Welcome to Night Vale podcast, a surreal little trip into a strange desert town with unexplained incidents that the people are just accustomed to and seem to live with like that’s just life. I’m not sure if my previous knowledge and experience with the series made the reading of this novel better or worse: on the one hand, it certainly filled in a couple of spaces at the end that might make those unfamiliar confused, but on the other it took away a lot of the mystery behind the faceless old woman which her character in the series so interesting. Either way, you don’t really need to listen to the podcast or read the other novels (which I haven’t yet) in order to understand the story.
The version of The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives In Your Home that I took in was the audiobook read by Mara Wilson, who has one-sided conversations with the present-day Craig – the man whose home she inhabits—all while also detailing her personal history and how she came to become the Faceless Old Woman in his home in Night Vale. What you may suspect to simply be a creepy horror tale of a spirit left behind after some scary event, the truth is more of a swashbuckling adventure: our faceless old woman lived on the coast of the Mediterranean in the early 19th century, only to suffer a tragedy and be consumed by a quest of revenge. To achieve this goal, she works her way up the ranks in the criminal underworld of smugglers with a loyal troop, finding family and friendship, but ultimately betrayal. And at the end of it all, her spirit somehow, and for some reason clings on to keep her here in the present day. And yes, we find out why, or at least, what she believes her path to be.
While this story is filled with some great action sequences and a fun cast of characters, there is a bit of a somber mood throughout, and Mara Wilson’s performance sells it perfectly. You just know that something strange or serious had to have happened in order to lead our protagonist here to where she is now, living in the homes of Night Vale residents, but paying particular attention to certain ones such as Craig (not sure why she feels the need to both prank and assist people seemingly at random, actually, that’s still a bit of a mystery). Ultimately, it is a story of how the decisions we make shape us, the way of life we choose to pursue and what believe we deserve, and most importantly how hatred and revenge can rot the soul into something we never imagined.
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, with only a couple of slight complains. One is that the connection to the other weirdness in the town of Night Vale seemed a little shoe-horned in there near the end which was maybe not necessary in the grand scheme of things. The second is that ultimate reveal for the ending was a bit over-explained which made it feel like it dragged on a lot longer than we really needed it to as everything has revealed itself in one way or the other along the way. In the end, though, The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives In Your Home knew how to turn a story, and tie a mystery together in a very human way in the end. It was a surprise for me, as this was once again taken out on a whim while I wait for some digital holds from our library, and it was no disappointed in the undertaking!