*I received a free ARC of this book, with thanks to the author, NetGalley and Titan Books. The decision to review and my opinions are my own.*
Blurb: Noah Turner’s family are haunted by monsters that are all too real, strange creatures that visit them all: His bookish mother Margaret; Lovecraft-obsessed father Harry; eldest sister Sydney, born for the spotlight; the brilliant but awkward Eunice, a gifted writer and storyteller – the Turners each face their demons alone.
When his terminally-ill father becomes obsessed with the construction of an elaborate haunted house – the Wandering Dark – the family grant his last wish, creating themselves a legacy, and a new family business in their grief. But families don’t talk about the important things, and they try to shield baby Noah from horrors, both staged and real.
As the family falls apart, fighting demons of poverty, loss and sickness, the real monsters grow ever closer. Unbeknownst to them, Noah is being visited by a wolfish beast with glowing orange eyes. Noah is not the first of the Turners to meet the monster, but he is the first to let it into his room…
In A Cosmology of Monsters Hamill has created a creepy blend of horror mashup and family drama, leaving the reader to ultimately decide whether the story is one of paranormal horror, or the everyday, real horror that is often more chilling.
The Turner family have some serious problems from the outset. Noah takes us all the way through his parent’s first meeting and subsequent relationship, then the history of his dad’s obsession with building the ultimate haunted house experience and his slow descent into madness that follows. We find out about Noah’s sister’s troubles – suicide notes, a disappearance – as well as the family’s struggles with long-term illness, bereavement and poverty. Through it all, Noah is our narrator as he lurks on the outskirts at school, at home and in the family haunted house. Until he meets a fellow outsider and makes a FRIEND.
This is one of the areas of the book that I found a little problematic. There is more than one exploitative, or downright abusive, relationship in this story and the way they are portrayed made me feel pretty uncomfortable. I find it hard to believe in ‘love’ or ‘soul mates’ when a relationship is based on a dramatic imbalance of power. Still, I’m not sure that feeling uncomfortable isn’t exactly what the author was aiming for throughout as there are many, many other dark, triggery subjects explored and/or skimmed over, including but not limited to: suicide, rape, child abuse, death, bigotry, violence and murder. The book title refers to a universe of monsters, and that is definitely no exaggeration – whether it refers to the monsters out there, in here, under our beds, or inside our heads.
For, of course, there is also the issue of the reliability of the narrator. Noah has been subjected to incredible stresses, almost since birth, and it is clear that mental health issues run in his family, so there is the possibility that the ‘monsters’ he describes are actually symbolic of the madness inherent in dark human emotions (lust, jealousy, anger, depression, loneliness) or products of his own tortured mind: nightmares and hallucinations, inhabiting the gaps between perception, reality and imagination.
The horror elements are a love song to many, many horror-classics: Ira Levin; Dracula; Frankenstein; haunted houses; the Addams Family; bodysnatchers; Lovecraft; the Matrix; Monsters Inc; B movies… there’s a bit of something for most tastes, all lovingly represented in a fresh and interesting story about the symbiotic relationship between humanity and our darknesses.
And, like I said, the reader can decide whether the City and the events there are real, or whether this is really a story of mental illness colliding with very human vice. Like many people, I prefer to place the blame on the monsters. It’s working out who the monsters are that’s the tricky part!
I started collecting my older sister Eunice’s suicide notes when I was seven years old. I still keep them all in my bottom desk drawer, held together with a black binder clip. They were among the only things I was allowed to bring with me, and I’ve read through them often the last few months, searching for comfort, wisdom, or even just a hint that I’ve made the right choices for all of us.– Shaun Hamill, A Cosmology of Monsters
Eunice eventually discovered that I was saving her missives and began addressing them to me. In one of my favourites, she writes, “Noah, there is no such thing as a happy ending. There are only good stopping places.”