Sometimes all you want to curl up with is a good old-fashioned haunted house story brimming with creepy imagery, unsettling atmosphere, and a main character who’s not quite all there. Audrey’s Door by Sarah Langan delivers.
Audrey Lucas, an architect with a lot of baggage, is on the hunt for a place to live in New York. Apartment 14B in the historic Breviary building on the Upper West Side is available at an astonishingly low price. Even though she thinks it must be too good to be true, Audrey can’t pass up the opportunity to live for cheap in such a unique building–it’s the last standing example of the Chaotic Naturalism school of architecture. Never mind the fact that just recently a woman murdered all of her children in that same apartment, and then killed herself. And never mind the fact that Audrey immediately begins to have strange, vivid nightmares, and hears a voice telling her to build a door.
Fans of The Shining and The Haunting of Hill House will find a lot to like in Audrey’s Door. In fact, Langan gives those works and a few others their due in a note at the beginning of the book. Gloomy corridors, a protagonist on a downward spiral that’s seemingly impossible to stop, a building with a mind of its own, and when the terrifying insanity ramps up, it ramps up.
Like the Overlook Hotel and Hill House, the Breviary is a character, complete with motivations and personality. It’s such a strong entity that it can’t help but overcome any human beings who come into contact with it. Langan takes the time and care to give the Breviary’s backstory just as much attention as she does Audrey’s, which works to build the connection between the building and its chosen favorite.
That’s what separates the good haunted house stories from the so-so ones–the good ones make sure the house has a personality and a history, a reason for being the way that it is. A haunted house doesn’t just have ghosts or ghoulies in it. A haunted house has an energy, a force, one that turns our cozy idea of hearth and home on its head. That’s why they’re scary, after all. You’re supposed to feel safe in your home. When your home is insane, there’s nowhere to hide.
As much as Langan might owe to haunted house classics, she has a style all her own. She has a great talent for writing compelling protagonists and for truly disturbing and creepy imagery. Her writing is very character-driven, and everyone has a strong voice and personality. Audrey’s descent into madness is a chilling one to witness. Langan is also darkly funny at times, too, which always makes a welcome counterpoint to the scary. There are also some very well-placed New York City references and nods, which add a nice sense of place.
If you’re after a cozy, old-fashioned spook house book for Halloween this year, Audrey’s Door might be a good one to try.