Good morning and welcome to my stop on the House Of Spines Blog Tour! I have a review to share with you all. Thank you to Orenda Books for having me on the tour and make sure to check out all the other brilliant blogs that are taking part in the tour. See poster below for more details.
Sent to me by Orenda Books in exchange for an honest review.
Release Date: 15/09/17
Publisher: Orenda Books
Format: Paperback, 300pp
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Summed up in a word: Atmospheric
Michael J. Malone is a brilliantly distinctive Scottish author. Readers don’t pick up a MJM book for a heart-warming jaunt; his books deal in harsh realities, shock and awe. After A Suitable Lie I was geared up for anything. If you have not read ASL then definitely give it a go. House Of Spines, in my opinion, didn’t take MJM’s work to another level like I hoped, but it did stay true to his style and impact on the reader. HoS is so many things to many different readers (made abundantly clear by the reviews I have read) but for me it was a brilliant clash of two genres, Psychological Thriller and Gothic ghost stories. MJM acknowledges both classic tales and modern stories and his command of them both should be applauded. Pick it up, give it a go and put MJM on your radar as he is worth your time.
Ran McGhie’s world has been turned upside down. A young, lonely and frustrated writer, and suffering from mental-health problems, he discovers that his long-dead mother was related to one of Glasgow’s oldest merchant families. Not only that, but Ran has inherited Newton Hall, a vast mansion that belonged to his great-uncle, who it seems has been watching from afar as his estranged great-nephew has grown up. Entering his new-found home, it seems Great-Uncle Fitzpatrick has turned it into a temple to the written word – the perfect place for poet Ran. But everything is not as it seems. As he explores the Hall’s endless corridors, Ran’s grasp on reality appears to be loosening. And then he comes across an ancient lift; and in that lift a mirror. And in the mirror … the reflection of a woman…
House of Spines is a vivid atmospheric psychological thriller that contains a bewitching Gothic ghost story within. It was great to get back into MJM’s writing as he is a brilliant and distinctive author who creates visceral stories that cut right to the reader’s core. A Suitable Lie showed us the darker side of human nature. House of Spines takes us on a tour of inheritance, good fortune and belonging as well as grief, mental health issues and fractured minds. There is also a surreal, haunting and chilling aspect to the story; a Gothic romance hidden within the plot that keeps the reader guessing all the way through. Reader’s don’t come to MJM for a reassurance or heart-warming stories; MJM challenges the reader, makes them empathise, understand and chills to the bone.
When Ranald McGhie inherits Newton Hall, a monumental house filled to brim with books, he can’t believe his luck. After a life filled with grief, despair and mental health issues (due to Bipolar Disorder), Ranald finds out he has a family that were kept a secret from him. His mother’s family, the Fitzpatricks, were a successful Scottish family that disowned his mother when she chose to marry a commoner. Ranald’s Great Uncle Alexander continued to watch over Ranald as he grew up, especially when he lost his parents, and has entrusted him with Newton Hall in his will. Ran arrives at his new residence and he can’t believe the turn his life has taken.
‘All Ranald could take in were two, no, three rows of large windows; a red sandstone façade topped at one corner by a tower or turret of some sort. And in front of him a giant, dark, wooden door, flanked by two massive carved lions.’
The house contains a family history that Ran never knew; memories that were never his. He is eager to connect with the man who has brought him great fortune but as Ranald explores the house he experiences flash memories, impressions left by the family’s past. When he finds the elevator to the main tower, Ran discovers a presence in the house; a woman in the mirror. And she wants him all to herself.
MJM has written House Of Spines in a way that, though it is jarring, it flows so well. Upon discovering his inheritance, Ranald has decided to stop taking the ‘happy pills’ that keep his disorder in check. His elation at a fantastic new house filled with books helps him decide that a new life deserves a new perspective. Coming off medication cold turkey is a risky business, with hallucinations and behavioural changes being a main side effect, and it sets up Ran’s experience in the house perfectly. Not being able to decide whether the experiences that Ran is having with the walls of Newton Hall are real or just a side-effect of his lack of medication was a smart move.
The atmosphere (and the building itself) change with Ran’s mood and mindset. Ran’s only company are the couple who look after the house/grounds and sporadic visitors from his life before NH; people who worry about him. Ran begins to get lost amongst the books and history of his new found family. Delving into the rich collection of books and journals that occupy the house and library. Finding out about the dark past of his family makes him question his luck. He finds himself eager to find out the truth of what happened all those years ago.
I enjoyed Ran as a main character, he is the star of the show and MJM has formulated him brilliantly. His elation and depressive states completely alter the tone of the novel on the fly; never resting on one key atmosphere. Ran’s past is a hard one, a past we get insights to over the course of the novel, but I appreciated his attitude, determination and most importantly, his love of books. Ran is a compelling main character who is continuously questioning his sanity. I just wanted him to find peace within NH.
I loved Newton Hall as a setting, I am pretty jealous and want a book mansion of my own, even with the darkness within.
“Further down, Mrs Hackett indicated another door. ‘Here is the library.’ She stopped so suddenly that Ranald almost ran into her. ‘But in truth, Mr McGhie, the entire house is a library. The man was book-obsessive.”
I know the feeling! There is a lot to appreciate in this novel. I even enjoyed the Gothic elements to this novel. MJM has taken influences like Daphne du Maurier and meshed them with his own modern take on a Gothic ghost romance of sorts. The story was enticing and challenging enough to keep me reading furiously all the way through. MJM’s writing has an intensity that draws readers in. The addition of the literary style of writing makes this novel appealing to many different calibres of reader.
My only problem with this novel is that it felt that it was maybe a side-step for MJM instead of elevating his work to another level. After the brutal reality check of A Suitable Lie, I suppose I was expecting another nail-biting foray into an unconventional or unexplored story or theme. Let’s just say I am not disappointed but this isn’t what I expected.
MJM has crafted a brilliant and haunting tale that explores themes like mental health disorders, family, grief, success and failure. Malone always amazes me with his command of the human condition. I feel that, though House of Spines wasn’t necessarily the right direction for his writing overall, it does stay true to what (I think) MJM is all about. Malone likes to explore modern misconceptions and misunderstandings in an open, truthful and relatable fashion. In A Suitable Lie it was abuse, in House of Spines it is mental health and the severity of an unchecked condition. I highly recommend House Of Spines; Michael J. Malone is quickly making his way up my list of favourite authors and I can’t wait till his next novel.
About Michael J Malone
Michael Malone is a prize-winning poet and author who was born and brought up in the heart of Burns’ country, just a stone’s throw from the great man’s cottage in Ayr. Well, a stone thrown by a catapult. He has published over 200 poems in literary magazines throughout the UK, including New Writing Scotland, Poetry Scotland and Markings. His career as a poet has also included a (very) brief stint as the Poet-In- Residence for an adult gift shop. Blood Tears, his bestselling debut novel won the Pitlochry Prize (judge: Alex Gray) from the Scottish Association of Writers. Other published work includes: Carnegie’s Call (a non-fiction work about successful modern-day Scots); A Taste for Malice; The Guillotine Choice; Beyond the Rage and The Bad Samaritan. His psychological thriller, A Suitable Lie, was a number one bestseller. Michael is a regular reviewer for the hugely popular crime fiction website http://www.crimesquad.com. A former Regional Sales Manager (Faber & Faber) he has also worked as an IFA and a bookseller.