Book Review

The Dead House

The Dead HouseThe Dead House
Author: Billy O’Callaghan
Publisher: Arcade Publishing
First Published: May 1, 2018
Genres: Gothic, Horror, Paranormal
Pages: 224
Format: ARC, eBook
Source: NetGalley


Maggie is a successful young artist who has had bad luck with men. Her last put her in the hospital and, after she’s healed physically, left her needing to get out of London to heal mentally and find a place of quiet that will restore her creative spirit. On the rugged west coast of Ireland, perched on a wild cliff side, she spies the shell of a cottage that dates back to Great Famine and decides to buy it. When work on the house is done, she invites her dealer to come for the weekend to celebrate along with a couple of women friends, one of whom will become his wife. On the boozy last night, the other friend pulls out an Ouija board. What sinister thing they summon, once invited, will never go.

My Thoughts

The Dead House is a chilling ghost story about a young woman’s descent into madness as she’s swallowed up by the wild Irish countryside. The prose in this novel is absolutely beautiful and paints a stunning picture of a countryside that feels stuck in time, still deeply connected to Celtic tradition. The land is haunted by the tragedy of the Great Famine, where over a million people died of disease and starvation.

When I had read that there was a ouija board in the synopsis I’ll admit that I rolled my eyes. I quickly found that I was mistaken in my pre-judgment of the novel. This book had some genuinely tense moments that made me feel uncomfortable. The writing style is suffocatingly atmospheric, like the land itself is evil, not just the house.

“Something about this landscape, beautiful as it was, inspiring as it must have been with its rare light and aura of ancient magic, troubled me at an almost primal level.”

My only major gripe about the novel was that Mike’s character felt inconsistent. The first half of the book makes such a big deal about how important Maggie is to him and how much he cares. Yet when it’s clear that she’s not well he’d sooner deny and run. Maybe this was intentional, but it just felt like it went against everything his character was built up to be.

Overall though this is a pretty decent read for horror lovers, especially those interested in a little bit of Irish mythology. I picked this book up on a whim and I’m glad that I did, I was enthralled by the story and flew through the pages wanting more.

Warnings: violence

About Billy O’Callaghan

Billy O’Callaghan was born in Cork, Ireland, in 1974. His books include the short story collections: ‘In Exile’ (2008, Mercier Press), ‘In Too Deep’ (2008, Mercier Press), and ‘The Things We Lose, the Things We Leave Behind’ (2013, New Island Books/2017, CITIC Press, China); and a novel: ‘The Dead House’ (2017, O’Brien Press/Arcade, USA).

His work has been recognised with numerous honours, including three Bursary Awards for Literature from the Arts Council of Ireland, a Bord Gais Energy Irish Book Award and a Costa Short Story Award shortlisting, and his short stories have appeared in more than 100 magazines and literary journals around the world, including: Agni, the Bellevue Literary Review, the Chattahoochee Review, the Kenyon Review, the London Magazine, Narrative, Ploughshares, Salamander and the Saturday Evening Post.

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