The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian
Read by Mark Bramhall and Alison Fraser
Length: 14 Hrs 17 Mins
Quick Thoughts: Bohjalian has created a novel that requires a lot from the listener and shouldn’t be taken on if you are looking for a simple tale to keep you occupied. If you are looking for a complex, multi-layered tale bursting with atmosphere that puts the listener right in the story, you can not do better than The Night Strangers.
You know that old adage, "Don’t judge a book by its cover." Well, it’s only partially right. I recently discovered, again, that the cover is one of a whole slew of things you shouldn’t judge a book by. These things include genre, the author’s sex, religion or political affiliations, and most importantly, the summary written on the back cover. While planning my spooky October reads for Murder, Monsters and Mayhem, I tried to get at least one book for a variety of chilling subjects, one of those topics being haunted houses. I used to love tales of Haunted Houses as a teenager, reading such classics as Matheson’s Hell House, Straub’s Ghost Story, and of course Stephen King’s The Shining. So, for tales of haunting I choose Chris Bohjalian’s The Night Strangers. Based on the summary it was about a broken man, a pilot recovering from a tragic plane crash, who moves his wife and twin daughters to an old Victorian house in New England, a house that contains a strange door bolted shut with the exact number of bolts as the number of victims who died in the pilot’s tragedy. This of course seemed like the perfect haunted house tale to send chills down my back, and cause me to constantly look over my shoulder. Except, it wasn’t. My assumptions about the novel based on the summary was quite off base. The Night Strangers was much more than a haunted house tale, in fact it was a complex, atmospheric tale of a broken family that defies easy characterization.
The Night Strangers may be the most chilling, disturbing book I have listened to in a long while. While it was simmering with supernatural subtext, alluding to ghosts, and witchcraft, it was the human elements that truly disturbed me. Bohjalian created such an atmosphere of otherworldliness that it’s easy, a first glance to miss the true horror of the novel, the idea that people would be willing to risk the lives of a child to gain what they want. I found the attitudes of the coven of herbalists and their blatant manipulation of the twin girls even more chilling than the disturbing ghostly visions of Chip Linton, the pilot who was being haunted by the victims of his tragic plane accident. What Bohjalian does so well in the Night Strangers is present a layered, multifaceted tale, that never spoon feeds conclusions to the reader. It is up to the reader to decide what actually happened, what the true causes of the events of this tale were. Personally, I feel that you could easily read this novel multiple times, and come away with different conclusions every time. Bohjalian’s use of the second person present tense in telling Chip’s Point of View only heightens this phenomena. Bohjalian puts you right into Chip’s mind, experiencing events as he does, allowing his possible madness to filter your own perceptions of events. I rarely get truly scared reading horror anymore, but Bohjalian’s blending of human evils with possible supernatural elements within this tale left me with a lingering sense of unease. The Night Stranger’s is a tale that will stick with me for a long time, allowing that sense unease to creep back into my mind, especially during those late sleepless nights when anything can truly happen.
The Night Stranger’s uses a two narrator system, employing Mark Bramhall to narrate Chip’s POV and Alison Fraser to handle the multiple female POV’s. I am quite familiar with Mark Bramhall’s works, as he has become one of my favorite narrators, and as expected he handles the reading of the second person narrative perfectly, adding the perfect amount of brokenness to Chip’s character. Alison Fraser is a new to me narrator. As first, I was a bit concerned that her voice was a bit too cutesy for such a haunting tale, but once I began to get used to it, I found it to be an excellent counterpoint to Bramhall’s gruff vocal style. Fraser handles her many characters well, showing excellent range covering women of many generations. In the end, I think using two narrators was truly the best way to handle this book, especially with the change in tenses requiring a unique voice to handle Chip’s story. Bohjalian has created a novel that requires a lot from the listener and shouldn’t be taken on if you are looking for a simple tale to keep you occupied. If you are looking for a complex, multi-layered tale bursting with atmosphere that puts the listener right in the story, you can not do better than The Night Strangers.