Book Review – The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum

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I’ve never been shocked by a book before, although I’ve been close a few times. I love grotesque and frightening stories where things never work out for the protagonist. The more gore and death, the better.

But finally, something has shocked me. Not in a ‘this is terrible, I can’t read any more’ kind of way, more of a ‘this is terrible, I am engrossed’ vibe.

This horror in this novel is the very definition of the word. There are no monsters, no serial killers, no supernatural elements infiltrating humanity. The characters in this book are evil, and they are also 100% human.

I think instead of psychologists providing patients with their psychopath tests to determine sociopaths, they should just get them to read this book and relay their thoughts. Because the subject here is so horrific and yet so ‘realistic’ that any person with an ounce of empathy will be screaming for it to be over.

I blitzed through this in only a few days. This was partly down to it being so superbly written and engaging, but also so I could get it over with and read a good old romance novel where nice things happen.

It reminded me a lot of the feelings I had watching A Serbian Film. If you haven’t seen this, or even heard the premise, you can easily look it up online. The subject matter is shocking, yet the way the story is told and the movie is shot and acted, you can’t look away. Oh, if only you could!

Staying with movie parallels, the plot of The Girl Next Door is similar to the film, Martyrs. Again; shocking and brilliantly made. That is what this book is like.

I won’t go into the plot here, there’s plenty of better reviews out there so go and read those. But in a nutshell; two sisters who tragically lose their parents are forced to live with an aunt. The setting is Stephen King-esque America, on the surface everything is wonderful. But the sisters soon become prisoners in their home where their ‘family’ go to extreme lengths to satisfy, well, something.

The story of a young girl and her younger sister being tortured and ridiculed by a crazy aunt and her three sons, is always going to be grim. I’d heard how downright depressing it was, but my imagination wasn’t even close!

But this isn’t just scene after scene of depravity. The narrator, David , who lives next door and is a friend of the family, recalls the events from his childhood and recounts his feelings towards it all. Although never an active participant he was far from innocent.

At one point, I was about a third of the way through, I was muttering ‘no way,’ ‘aww, come on,’ ‘that’s bad, man,’ and the like. But I knew it was going to get worse, and it did. Every time something truly terrible happened it seemed like it was only whetting the sadistic appetite.

And that’s what made this so – good isn’t exactly the right word but you know what I’m getting at. For all David’s descriptions and how sickening they were, I found myself disgusted that he did nothing to stop it. OK, he was a kid and scared of speaking out, but come on!!

It would be easy to say that it’s only a story, yet it’s not. This really happened. And I’m sure it happens more often than any of us know.

This was a very uncomfortable read, but it had me hooked and wouldn’t let me put it down. And for that, it’s got to be top marks!

It seems I’m not the hard-assed bastard I thought I was. I’m off to pet some pretty kittens and crack open some Harry Potter!!

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