Monday, 12 January 2009

‘The Birthing House’ – Christopher Ransom (Sphere)


‘The Birthing House’ came through the door just after Christmas and the blurb on the back piqued my interest right away. A ‘ghostly haunted house tale’ seemed like just the way to spend a cold, dark winter’s night but then the house underwent a dose of early Spring cleaning (very early!) and the reading pile ended up in several different rooms of the house... It wasn’t until I read a glowing review of ‘The Birthing House’, over at My Favourite Books, that I remembered I had a copy myself...
As soon as I remembered this I found my copy and got to reading straight away. I have to say that I’m glad I did as ‘The Birthing House’ is a seriously unsettling read...

I’m by no means the best husband in the world but even I know better than to just go out and buy a house without Sue being there to have her say. If I did then it would be fair to say that my life wouldn’t be worth living for the next few months/years...
Conrad is made of sterner stuff than that though and buys an old Wisconsin Birthing House, things aren’t working out in L.A and it’s time for a fresh start. For a short while everything is perfect but then things start to change. An old photo album turns up with an old photo of someone who looks very much like Conrad’s wife... then he starts seeing this strange woman around the house. Why does Conrad keep hearing a baby crying when there is no-one else there? Who left the strange doll in the bedroom and what made it chase Conrad down the stairs? Did Conrad’s wife have an affair, back in L.A, or is there something more sinister about her sudden pregnancy? After all, Conrad’s prized snake has laid a clutch of eggs without any males having been in the cage...
By the end of the book Conrad will find out the truth behind the Birthing House but it may already be too late.

‘The Birthing House’ was one of those creepy reads where I found my eyes glued to the page, knowing that the payoff to a chapter was going to make me jump out of my skin but still unable to stop reading. Ransom employs all the tricks in a horror writer’s repertoire to scare his readers and perhaps this works against him in that certain climatic moments are highlighted far in advance, robbing the reader of their impact at the crucial moment. If you’ve seen a film (or read a book) that is also set in a haunted house then you will know what is coming but Ransom’s writing is such that it is a treat to read anyway... (and certain climatic scenes are still very powerful and disturbing, especially right at the end)

What really made ‘The Birthing House’ stand out for me was Ransom’s approach to what leads to a haunting in an otherwise normal looking house. While there were traumatic events (long ago) which ultimately lead to a ghost taking up residence, it’s the experiences that Conrad brings to the house which unlock what’s inside. It turns out that events in Conrad’s past make him incredibly receptive to what has been lurking inside the house... This approach gives the reader a chance to get inside Conrad’s head and the glimpses we get (over the course of the book) reveal him as a character who’s probably in real need of therapy as events in his past influence the way he behaves towards his wife and the strange relationship that he embarks upon with the daughter of his neighbours. However, it’s hard not to feel a little sympathy for Conrad once you finally realise the root cause of his problem and that blind fate lead him to a house that wants the same thing... This makes the ending all the more poignant which, in turn, made reading it all the more unsettling as far as I was concerned.

You may think you’ve read ‘The Birthing House’ before and you would be half right, its tale of a haunted house and one man’s descent into madness did have me thinking ‘The Shining’... Once you get into it though, it’s clear that Ransom has taken the concept to a place where he has made it all his own. Very much recommended for fans of haunted house tales...

Eight and a Half out of Ten

9 comments:

ediFanoB said...

I think this will be a book for Mihai. He likes horror more than I do.

Anyway From my point of view you wrote a good review like LIZ. But to be honest I don't like this kind of story. So I don't read it.

JohnYale said...

Bought this 3 - 4 weeks ago. It is a predictable farce, relying on a smattering of gore and cheap sexual references to keep a reader hanging on. I admire anybody who has the patience and tenacity to write a novel, however books that shine generally fall into one of two categories. The first are those that take time to develop the personality of characters, diving in and out of their thoughts and feelings. The second are those books where the author has clearly taken the time to research and develop a subject to give it a depth of credibility. The birthing house does not fall into either of these categories.

To compare this novel to anything written by King is a gross misrepresentation. I would compare it at best to a poor James Herbert.

Anonymous said...

This book was pretty good for about the first 2 thirds. After that it was a real chore to get through it. the plot was good, but it was just told very poorly.

Anonymous said...

English is not my native language so sorry for mistakes, i hope I'll manage to tell you what i mean. I've just finished reading the book and i quite liked it. But sometimes it got on my nerves

1. Conrad's action somestimes was just illogical (once in love with the neighbour girl, then with his wife, couldn't make up his mind. The way it was written was for me absolutely fake); so precious eggs left completelely forgotten (before the mess with Nadia started). And why did he burn the album? didn't make sense for me at all.

2. Iced tea - after half of the book i was fed up with him drinking it all the time

3. I was waiting through the whole book for some plots or characters be explained (e.g. the Laskis' kids) and nothing.

All in all - gripping, scary, sometimes illogical, didn't like the main character at all, don't think i will ever read it again.

Anonymous said...

I only finished reading this book yesterday, and if I'm honest I was slightly disapointed with the ending.
The rest of the book was quite good.
I just wish somethings where explained a little more.

But it certainly didn't send a shiver up my spine like the Steven King book that was referenced on the back cover. It's a good book but it shouldn't be compared to a classic.

Bobkin said...

It could of been a really great story. Then ending was a total let down. It was like watching a movie and not being able to watch the last fifteen minutes.

Anonymous said...

Very enlightening and beneficial to someone whose been out of the circuit for a long time.

- Kris

India said...

Okay, so I'm 15 and read things advanced for my age. I found The Birthing House on the bookshelf and decided I'd try it, the second and third quarter were amazing but the ending was pretty damn poor. It's all so confusing and told extremely poorly. To be quite honest, I've already had a few attempts at writing and am convinced I could do better than this book. You'll probably say I won't understand it because I'm only "young" but I did not enjoy this book, nor do I recommend it to anyone. 3-4 out of 10. Utter rubbish.

shireen said...

I think we should give Mr Ransom some credit here...Yes perhaps there wasnt much research put into it in terms of Geography, history etc. However im sure he tried to depict the mystery of women nad childbirth... its a mixture of carnality and something ethereal...a great alternate ending (and i almost thought it was going to happen)would have been of him waking, but not waking to himself but reliving in the form of a baby, Nadia's baby....