Look, this isn’t a masterpiece. I don’t think Coates meant it to be that either. But it was fun and sometimes that’s all you need.
The Haunting of Ashburn House is the pretty scary story of Adrienne, a 20-something woman who inherits an old house from her great aunt, Edith. Broke, without any living relatives and as good as homeless, Adrienne chooses to move into this house with her cat Wolfgang because then at least she’ll have a roof over her head. The house is outside the little town of Ipson, separated from it by a forest. So it’s a perfect, secluded setting for what’s about to go down. And things start going down – at sundown (sorry).
As with many horror stories, you need to have a healthy dose of suspension of disbelief and a high tolerance for clichés in order to enjoy this book. Adrienne is very young but she’s already a ghost writer. She moves from the comforts of a modern home to an ancient one and she somehow already knows how to light fires and generally take care of herself (I’m sure there are a lot of 20-somethings that know those things, but we are given so little information about who Adrienne is as a person that there’s nothing to support this image of her as a street-wise, capable young adult). She’s desperate to make friends and thinks of her new acquaintances as friends after having met them exactly once, which strikes me as something a very young person would do. So she’s both young and naive (she constantly laughs or chuckles or sniggers – that was a little annoying to read), and mature enough to take care of herself living alone in a creepy house. A little contradictory but fine. People are complex, whatever.
Despite people’s supposed complexity, all characters in this story were underdeveloped and some of the secondary ones were nothing more than props, used once or twice to move the story forward and then promptly forgotten. That’s no way to treat your characters!
Yet once you’ve overlooked those flaws in the story, it’s very entertaining, even if it’s ultimately nothing new and will probably already be forgotten in a year or two.
The strength of The Haunting of Ashburn House is in the great balance it strikes between the house’s proximity to Ipson and the claustrophobia and isolation caused by it being surrounded by trees. As much as the book is riddled with horror clichés, I still have to hand it to Coates: she manages to turn the concept of a haunted house on its head, in that…
…it’s not the house that’s haunted. The house is sanctuary.
*END OF SPOILERS*
Despite the book’s flaws, I found it hard to put down and I read late into the night (which I do not recommend as it IS scary).