Girl in the Walls (2021) – A.J. Gnuse

Title:Girl in the Walls
Author:A.J. Gnuse
Publishers/s:4th Estate/Jonathan Ball Publishers
Publication date:2021
Star Rating:⭐⭐⭐
Disclaimer:Jonathan Ball Publishers kindly sent me a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review

Eddie, do you, or have you ever felt, that besides me, and you, and Mom and Dad, that somebody else is here with us in the house?”

Girl in the Walls is an incredibly suspenseful and claustrophobia-inducing novel. It tells the story of a little girl named Elise who is living inside the walls of the house she once shared with her own mom and dad. The house no longer belongs to Elise’s family. It belongs to the Masons, Nick and Laura, and their sons Eddie and Marshall. Eddie is about Elise’s age and likes to spend a lot of time on his own. He even eats dinner alone in another room away from his family. He loves to read, and when the family is out Elise sneaks into Eddie’s room to borrow books to read. In fact, when the Masons are at work and the boys are at school Elise does a lot of sneaking around. She lives in the house, and that means she has to eat and go to the bathroom and brush her teeth all without the family discovering a thing. As impossible as that might seem Elise knows the house and the walls better than anyone and manages to remain unnoticed for months.

Elise’s tragic past begins to unravel as she walks through the walls of her old home. Her parents died in a car accident leaving her an orphan, and she ran away from the orphanage she was meant to spend a night in before being sent to a relative. Somehow Elise wandered all the way back to the house she remembers growing up in and moved out of years before. Somehow she found her way into the walls, and somehow she’s managed to live unobserved. Until now…

Eddie is the first person to start noticing little things. A missing book, a misplaced piece of Lego, and the muffled noises at night. Too afraid to say anything, Eddie doesn’t mention his suspicions because it seems as though he shouldn’t believe in the girl in the walls. She’s not possible.

Marshall also starts to hear the sounds at night. Then his favourite snacks go missing, and for some reason, no one in the family will admit to eating the Raisin Bran – but someone is. Unlike Eddie, the elder brother decides to get some help to figure this out, and he goes to the only place one really can – the internet. Marshall discovers a forum where people from all over the country discuss house hauntings, and some of these people seem to have experienced very similar incidences in their own homes. Then one day he comes across a stranger online who wants to help Marshall and Eddie with their invisible visitor.

Elise is beginning to suspect that Eddie and Marshall know that she is there. Perhaps not her, but something or someone is living in the house with them. The brothers who were never close, because Marshall could never quite understand how different his younger brother was, become united in their need to find out who or what is sharing their family home.

As the boys get closer to discovering Elise, the girl in the walls needs to become more invisible than ever before. She needs to become a part of the house. Following her through the dusty splintered walls, and through the tight spaces and cramped quarters, Elise has started to disappear. She is beginning to shrink and soon she won’t exist at all.

No, not a ghost. A house. How could anyone summarize the patches of warmth or lingering smells of food after a meal? What do you say about the placement of furniture, the depth of doorframes, and what it’s like to move around them, on instinct, when the lights have gone out?”

In the hallway of the house stands a grandfather clock painted with tiny delicate birds. Each hour that the clock strikes, a different bird song escapes and it is through this clock that Elise can structure her life within the house. The novel much like the clock is like a dream – a strangely structured dream. Elise’s very existence is a mystery, and it would not be remiss of the reader to question the little girl’s very existence. Like a fever dream, the girl in the walls wanders through the house, and the outside world ceases to exist until Eddie and Marshall have no other choice but to believe in her. In some ways, the house becomes a living and breathing thing – a character all on its own.

Gnuse’s début novel is haunting and heartbreaking. It is terrifying and tragic, and as you navigate the narrow walls you may struggle to take a deep and full breath. Elise’s existence is like a dream, the kind you wake up from and feel as though you’re still a part of. You will wake up from this dream drenched in feelings of isolation and loneliness, trying to make sense of not just Elise’s world but your own world too.

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