|Title:||The Last House On Needless Street|
|Publisher/s:||Jonathan Ball Publishers/Viper|
|Disclaimer:||Jonathan Ball Publishers kindly sent me a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.|
The Last House on Needless Street is a novel like no other novel you or I have ever read. I say this without even a hint of irony. I went into Catriona Ward’s novel expecting a Gothic horror, and I launched myself out of the last pages in the haze of a psychological thriller that will remain with me for a very long time. Its’ that kind of story – the kind that stays with you long after the book has collected dust on your bookshelf. Long after the nightmares have vanished.
Ted lives in an old house on Needless Street. He is an adult now, but he grew up in that same house with his mother and father. Ted didn’t have the best childhood, and this was mostly because his father drank too much, and his mother who used to be a nurse, and who was sent home from work, used to pretend that Ted was a patient, all the time – even when he wasn’t sick. Ted and his mother and father ate from baby food jars because it was the best form of nutrition, and one day he came home from buying ice cream to find his parents no longer lived there anymore. It was a day that Ted had to be brave and do a very difficult thing.
Olivia lives in the house on Needless Street with Ted. Olivia is a cat who remembers the first day she met Ted. He rescued her from drowning on a rainy day, and she has loved him every day ever since. Olivia speaks English and is fanatical about reading the Bible and praying to God. Olivia would do absolutely anything for Ted, and the Lord. She never leaves the house because Ted has warned her that it’s very dangerous outside. That’s why he keeps the windows boarded up, and only leaves the house to buy food, to visit the woods behind his house, to meet with his therapist whom he refers to as ‘the bugman’, and to go on dates with women. Olivia hates it when Ted goes on dates, and she also hates it when his daughter Lauren comes to visit. When Lauren visits Olivia gets forgotten.
14 years ago a little girl named ‘Lulu’ went missing. Ted knows her simply as ‘Little Girl With Popsicle’. Ted sees things differently from other people, and when Lulu went missing they searched his house and thought that maybe Ted was responsible for her disappearance. Ted can’t be responsible though because he’s too busy watching monster trucks on TV, drinking too much bourbon, and making up strange sandwich recipes.
Dee is Lulu’s sister, and ever since her sister went missing from the beach all those years ago she’s been searching for her. And now she’s finally decided to go back to the house on Needless Street and moves in next door to Ted. He has no idea who she is, but it doesn’t matter because Dee is watching everything he does, and the one thing that worries Dee the most is that no one ever comes in or out of Ted’s house – except Ted.
Catriona Ward tells the story of a house on a very plain street where there are rarely any visitors. It is a house whose furniture has not changed for decades, and for a time even the reader begins to feel as though they’ve been stuck in a time warp. The atmosphere is stifling and suffocating, and as the story progresses the house becomes more than just a house. It becomes a place where bad things once happened, and very possibly, where bad things are still happening, or are going to happen.
Who would know if something bad was going to happen in that house? It can’t be Ted because he’s too busy searching for a murderer (of birds), and it can’t be Lauren because she has a bad attitude, and it can’t be Dee because she can’t see inside the house behind all that those wooden boards and nails. That leaves Olivia the most reliable narrator of all. A cat with a crush on the next-door neighbor’s tabby and an unusual habit of observing those around her. Olivia has a lot to say regarding love, morality, ethics, loyalty, and family, and in this devastating and heartbreaking novel, she is the one voice that makes sense. Even if she is just a cat rescued from a rain gutter by a man named Ted whose traumatic childhood has possibly turned him into a disturbed and very lonely adult.
Catriona Ward has written a novel that manages to feel like a ghost story and a terrifying thriller all at once. It’s wrapped up in the horrifying (and very real) package of a missing child, and the aftermath of that, and in the character of Ted who is both childlike and monstrous at the same time. It’s a story that will shock you and break you, and keep you up all night walking through the rooms of the house on Needless Street, in your dreams.