This book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
03.09.19 / Literary Horror / Titan Books / Paperback / 288pp / 978-81789091977
Target Audience: Readers who are looking for a chilling alternative take on a haunted house novel. A story that explores psychological effects of living in a house that contains such disturbing presences. For those looking for an eerie experience filled with fantastic imagery.
About The Grip Of It
A chilling literary horror novel, Jac Jemc’s THE GRIP OF IT tells the story Julie and James, a young couple haunted by their new home. The move―prompted by James’s penchant for gambling, his inability to keep his impulses in check―is quick and seamless; both Julie and James are happy to leave behind their usual haunts and start afresh. But the house, which sits between lake and forest, has plans for the unsuspecting couple…
The architecture becomes unrecognisable, decaying before their eyes. Stains contract and expand, mapping themselves onto Julie’s body in the form of bruises; mould taints the water that James pours from the sink. As the couple search for the source of their mutual torment, they become mired in the history of their peculiar neighbours and the mysterious previous residents of the house.
Written in eerie, powerful prose, THE GRIP OF IT is an enthralling and psychologically intense novel that deals in questions of home: how we make it and how it in turn makes us, inhabiting the bodies and the relationships we cherish.
The Grip Of It Review
‘I am feeling unusual, not in a way that I can explain, but preoccupied with the sounds the house is making and unnerved by the space that fills each room and surprised by how quickly I’ve become accustomed to the wilderness surrounding us, but more than the combination of all of this: I feel like I’ve turned full circle inside myself, like I am due to unwind, like I am a spring coiled tight, waiting. I wonder if moving here was a mistake, but I nudge that idea away and replace it with thoughts of the stress of uprooting our lives, of starting new jobs.’
The Grip Of It by Jac Jemc
Jac Jemc’s The Grip Of It delivers a creepy, mysterious and atmospheric literary horror that subtly ramps up the tension and trepidation until I found myself just as tormented as Julia and James. It isn’t your everyday haunted house novel though and settles more into the psychological horror category. Blurring the lines so well it is near impossible to tell where the phantasms begin and rational thought ends. Giving the reader some potent insights into the psychological effects of living in a house possessed with sinister intentions.
Jac Jemc’s prose fluidly alternates amongst poetic, dramatic, horrific, dreamy and rational tones. Most of the time she will combine all of these elements together creating scenes that embed themselves in my mind. The perspectives jumping between James and Julia, showing their individual experiences and also documenting each others despair at what this house has turned them into. They are both a comfort to one another and a reminder of their fear, confusion or insanity. Suspicion and safety going hand in hand.
As the narrative evolves they are forced to consider if it not the house that’s haunted then it must be them. If not, then is anything they are going through real or a manifestation of anger, stress, illness or fear? As I said before, Jax Jemc has opted out of telling a conventional ghostly tale, mostly skipping the potential for cliche thankfully, and has offered us a chilling alternative style of horror story-telling which I gladly finished in one sitting.
James and Julia have moved out of the city to escape destructive urges and the contempt that accompanies such actions. They manage to scoop up a house at a steal in a small town and set out to begin their commitment to a new life and to each other. Though they realise from the second they arrive that the house somehow feels wrong. Noises drone from nowhere, shadows flitter from room to room, the forest behind the house seems to expand and contract, bruises breakout all over Julia’s body and she becomes ill, presences keep them from sleep and the neighbour peers at them through the windows day and night. The couple begin to lose time. The house slowly sapping their ability to focus, to hold themselves and each other together.
The couple start looking to the house for clues with its many secrets, signs and hidden passage ways but only the town’s various spooky histories seem to be found within. James and Julia begin to look inward. It is them who is haunted? Or are their minds tormenting them? Are they to blame themselves or each other? Can they remain in this home they have made for themselves? Can they escape it?
Now you must be thinking ‘didn’t the review say no cliches’. The story outline does include some classic spooky tropes. All kinds of horror/haunting/ghost stories do. I was referring to JJ’s delivery which, in my opinion, made this novel really worth reading. It was such a dreamy, eerie and unsettling writing style but not outright scary. It just seeped into my mind as I read along. It was fascinating to walk through this house with both Julia and James as it takes a hold of them. Their reactions to its influence changing over time as it effects become more sinister and threatening. Leaving the reader rushing to find rational conclusions where there seemingly aren’t any. All tied together with Jac Jemc’s expressive and disquieting use of words that make this an experience instead of a chilling sequence of events.
I appreciated JJ choice of chapter length. Hitting the mark with short and effective chapters that jump between Julie and James and give both sides of a really twisted story. Showing a couple facing many trials and struggling to stay connected to their minds and attached to each other and the idea of home. Dealing with the history of the house. The neighbour’s presence. The hidden rooms. The growling and moaning. The woods. The beach. The cave. Is it real or imaginary? An excuse to blame for their decision to move and escape their vices? A stress induced event? It’s all up for grabs and Jac Jemc really leaves it all on the page.
I did have a few issues with The Grip Of It. I feel there needs to be a bit more give when it comes to stories like this in terms of letting the reader in on the truth. I felt slightly more at arms length than I wanted but that is a personal opinion. I also felt like ending was a bit rushed. I could have done with a few more chapters to elaborate on the events of the book. I did enjoy the fact that JJ offered a range of conclusions but there were a few questions I don’t have answers for and I am slightly frustrated by this. These complaints are more to do with me than the novel though so they’re trivial really. There is a lot more to be celebrated here than to be scrutinised.
Jac Jemc has done a seriously impressive job with The Grip Of It. Jemc has such a natural way with words, turning each page into its own unique point in the story. Full of curiosity, suffering or frustration. Conjuring some amazing imagery in my head as she delivers clever details and vivid depictions. A talent that will lend itself to continuing her promising career as a writer that I cannot wait to see more of. The Grip Of It has certainly left me with lasting impressions and a clear urge to read more of Jac Jemc’s work in the future. I wonder where she will take us next?
About Jac Jemc
Jac Jemc lives in Chicago. The Grip of It was released from FSG Originals (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) in August 2017, receiving starred reviews in Publishers Weekly, Kirkus and Library Journal, and recommended in Entertainment Weekly, O: The Oprah Magazine, Marie Claire, Esquire, W, and Nylon. Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming from Guernica, LA Review of Books, Crazyhorse, The Southwest Review, Paper Darts, Puerto Del Sol, and Storyquarterly, among others. Jemc is also the author of My Only Wife (Dzanc Books), named a finalist for the 2013 PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction and winner of the Paula Anderson Book Award; A Different Bed Every Time (Dzanc Books), named one of Amazon’s Best Story Collections of 2014; and a chapbook of stories, These Strangers She’d Invited In (Greying Ghost Press).