Apartment 16 by Adam Nevill
Is hell so overcrowded that they are coming back? Even if they are, they can be outsmarted, but no character managed to. If I were in the book, I’d hire someone to knock me out, and take me to the nearest plane. I’d be in Tahiti by the time I wake up.
It’s Halloween on my mind; when I saw Apartment 16 advertised in Fully Booked’s newsletter I could not help but rush to the bookstore to buy it, and read it–never mind my TBR challenge where I listed books gathering dust on my shelf and never mind my tight budget, almost exhausted by my recent trip to Hong Kong and Macau. A success story of book pushing, to my wallet’s detriment but my Halloween’s wicked glee.
I was drawn to the cover–an imposing apartment building, the kind that only the rich can afford; brooding; dark sky; with a sort of dust coming out of one of the windows. It could be smoke, the way its movement is depicted, yet I can see individual particles, moving synchronized with all the rest.
The book immediately reminded me of the Stephen King movie, Room 1408, where a grand but aging New York hotel harbors a haunted room. Guests check in, and come out dead or insane. No one knows what happens inside that room. Watching it made me feel claustrophobic, as whatever was inside that room can stretch minutes into days and memories into nightmares.
I don’t think Apartment 16 was scarier, or maybe it just suffered for not having John Cusack and Samuel Jackson in the cast, but it did go a step further than claustrophobia and added agoraphobia to the murkiness coming from one abandoned apartment.
In Barrington House, an upmarket block in London, there is an empty apartment. No one goes in, no one comes out. And it’s been that was for fifty years. Until the night watchman hears a disturbance after midnight.
A young American woman, April, arrived at Barrington House to claim her inheritance. She was left an apartment by her estranged aunt Lillian who died in strange circumstances. She was mad, said many. Yet her diary suggested a horrific event decades ago, which took the life of her beloved husband.
As April investigated, she found out about the death-obsessed artist who used to live in Apartment 16. Practicing the occult, he may have opened a gateway into hell that has since permeated the block’s stone and woodwork. This evil infected everyone with spiritual malaise, making the world seem ugly. Or maybe it just made them see things as they really were? People also became more open to the psychic world; they saw distorted creatures everywhere even in broad daylight. When they tried to go out of London, the creatures that once were human would overwhelm them.
I was surprised by the appearance of three little hairless girls with the strangest misshapen heads, all long and thinnish. They were wearing surgical gowns tied at the neck and they did a horrible little dance on their stick legs, right there on the pavement before my eyes. Under the gowns I think their bodies were stitched together. But it was the way they moved…
Seth, the night watchman, was easily influenced. A struggling artist, he was trying to make ends meet while seeking his muse. His muse found him, unfortunately, and gave him nightmares. Pages were devoted to describing the horrors the death-obsessed artist created, by himself at first and then through Seth. He liked his subjects torn, mutilated, trapped, hanging, decaying, despairing, about to be swallowed up by a vast and seething nothingness. Stagnancy and a descent into a primitive animal state were also favorite themes.
Definitely, the power of the atmosphere put most characters in the shade. Seth was ok, but April was just a device to give the readers important background information. Excited though I was to acquire this book, it took me a while to get into the story. I was slightly bored with Seth’s introspection, not knowing yet of course how it related to what followed. When April learned more about her aunt from the head porter, the pace picked up. I said “most” not “all” because The Friends of Hessen were interesting. Sad rather than scary, and freaky rather than macabre, they have embraced ugliness while pretending they were special. I wished they can be given an opportunity to stay in Apartment 16.
According to the brief author bio, Nevill used to be a night watchman in exclusive apartment buildings in West London. I wonder what he has seen and heard inside those snooty walls inspiring this horror story? I myself daydream about living in an old yet prestigious apartment building. Maybe I should stop not because of ghosts but because only the rich, old and paranoid for neighbors until the end of my days is a truly horrifying thought. I’d die of boredom first before the ghosts can come and get me.