Creepy and entertaining (4 stars)
Source- personal copy
Published in 2012 by Simon and Schuster UK
I read the paperback edition which is 375 pages.
I totally didn’t expect to be as spooked out by this book as I was, especially given that it is one aimed at young adults. After finishing The Haunting of Hill House prior to this (not remotely scary and a novel that left me feeling a bit flat to be honest), I was actually in two minds about whether or not to even pick this up.
Even though I’m a pathetic wimp when it comes to horror and/or ghost stories, the sad fact of the matter is: sometimes I like being scared. The summary for this book sounded like it might do the job, and really there’s only so many times I can turn to Stephen King for the spook factor without him completely dominating my reading lists.
Indeed, from its decidedly Stephen King-esque opening chapter (there’s a little nod to The Shining in there), this book certainly builds momentum with chills, some twists and turns and a great deal of foreboding atmosphere throughout. For me, this was a tense, pacey read and one that I appreciated very much. Though not out and out terrifying, there was just enough about it to ensure that it left me feeling perturbed and yes, I did want to go to sleep with the lights on…
…True story: whilst I was reading this my makeup bag which was sat innocently on my bedside table tipped itself over onto the floor, frightening the life out of me.*
Since the accident that nearly killed him six months ago, seventeen-year-old Elliott hasn’t slept very much. Understandably so, for sometimes he wakes to find shadowy figures creeping around his bed and at other times he is able to move around whilst witnessing his own body lying there fast asleep. His doctor tells him that these bouts of sleep paralysis and out of body experiences are harmless, but Elliott isn’t convinced. Why would he be, when he is convinced he can see the ghost of the former tenant haunting their flat and she terrorises him at night? Wanting to know the truth about his newfound abilities or determine if he is merely going crazy, Elliott takes a job at one of England’s most haunted museums, but what he finds there may awaken some spirits forever…
Unrest is a terrific mystery wrapped up in a ghost story, laced with the perfect amount of suspense. I enjoyed its contemporary UK setting and getting to know Elliott as a narrator. On the surface of it he seems like your typical teenaged boy; though decidedly affected by what is happening to him he is a pretty believable albeit flawed, likeable individual. I was genuinely interested in his experiences and the journey he undertook through the course of the novel; I can’t recall reading a book that delves into out of body/astral projection before and there was a continual sense of dread that each time he went to sleep he would be confronted by something terrifying. With that notion hanging over him it was no wonder that he was so messed up.
The secondary characters in Unrest were also well-written, from the quirky Ophelia who Elliott encounters in his new job (and his potential love interest), to Elliott’s father who comprehends that there is something not exactly “right” with his son, but is doing his best to ignore that fact. I also thought Hodge, Elliott’s new boss was a great character, written in an unsettling manner yet appearing kind and considerate on the surface. From the outset though, there was just something about him that I didn’t trust, though it is hard to say whether or not he is a nice guy or a villain. The ghosts too, were nicely depicted, which sounds a bit weird to say, but I could picture them clearly and understand just how much they creeped out a young kid as they scared me, too!
I really liked the way that Past Lives, the museum in the book was written too. I personally envisaged it to be a bit like Beamish in the north east of England, which whilst I’m not sure has its own ghost stories, has certainly made me wonder now. I visited Beamish loads of times as a kid and again a couple of years ago and it would be spooky to think that it too, has its own paranormal tales to tell.
I suppose that whilst we learn some of the back stories behind some of the ghostly encounters too, I would have liked to learn just a little bit more about Tess, the former tenant of Elliott’s flat. Her story was both poignant and dramatic but felt perhaps somewhat ‘condensed’ into the last part of the book. The murder mystery element of the story too, felt a tad ‘squeezed in’ at the end. I feel that this book could have been extended by another fifty to one hundred pages, just to further flesh out the story, though despite this it certainly has a lot of depth as it is. I also feel that perhaps the budding romance between Elliott and Ophelia, whilst sweet, possibly detracted from some of the more exciting points of the narrative.
Unnerving, pacey and a book that I had trouble letting go of, Unrest is a novel I would recommend to fans of ghost stories and contemporary horror. Whilst it will certainly appeal to teenagers and young adults, it is sure to captivate older readers too. This is the first book I have read by Michelle Harrison, though I’m pretty sure it won’t be my last.
*Disclaimer: this may be because my bedside table was too overly piled with stuff, but it still gave me the heebie-jeebies. It also scared my cat.