Kara is reeling from an out-of-the-blue divorce from her husband when her Uncle Earl calls to offer her his spare room. Sure, the room is back in her home state of North Carolina. And sure, the room is in the back of Uncle Earl’s “curio museum,” featuring such exhibits as a “genuine” Fiji Mermaid and an uncomfortable number of taxidermied animals. But when you’re a freelance graphic designer with a small client base, sometimes you have to make do.
So Kara moves to the Wonder Museum, working there in the mornings ringing up customers and cataloguing curiosities, and mooching off the wifi in the coffeeshop next door to complete some freelance work and only stalk her ex-husband’s socials a little. When Uncle Earl has to get knee surgery and recover for weeks, Kara takes over running the Museum until he’s healed.
And then a tourist knocks a hole in the wall (so rude, they didn’t even tell her, let alone apologize) and when she gets the barista from next door, Simon, to take a look at it, it’s not what they expect. There is a hallway. At one end of the hallway is a massive room, far too big to make any physical sense in the building, and a door with one, two, three deadbolts rusted shut. So, of course, they open it anyway. And then promptly regret it.
Like a lot of horror/fantasy/speculative books I read, I heard about The Hollow Places from a BookTube channel, Kayla of booksandlala. She said she found it fun and a little spooky, but not as scary as she was expecting from a GoodReads Horror Book of the Year nominee. Clearly we have different definitions of “scary,” because of the ~10 hour audiobook (which will also explain if there are any misspellings in this review) I had honest-to-god vertigo for about 8 hours of it, I was so freaked out.
I think Kingfisher (the penname of Ursula Vernon) has hit on exactly the things that terrify me about portal fantasies and expedition-style horror, so maybe I was uniquely scared. But oh my god, do “these dimensions don’t match” (see House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski) and “what if we’re stuck here forever?” scare the hell out of me. So of course I loved the majority of this. I liked the slightly more light-hearted, almost hysterical tone, especially since it’s in first-person. I liked the characters, I liked what we got to see of the world.
I did feel a little let down by the ending, but maybe that’s also a personal issue. I felt like it explained a little too much, and I wanted to be left wondering and slightly terrified of holes in the wall. If you feel similarly, you might like Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer (I have not and refuse to read the sequels out of fear he’ll fall into this trap). If you completely disagree, maybe try Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix, which I thought let me down in a similar fashion.
I would still absolutely recommend this book though, for the sheer fact that I was so scared that I stayed up until 3 AM so I could finish it and have at least a little closure.