The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian

The Night Strangers is a book I’d been hearing about around the blogosphere for a while, and when I found it was available at my library, I thought it would be a perfect book to kick-off my R.I.P season reads. I had also read a previous book by Chris Bohjalian, Midwives, which I remembered enjoying.

The book starts off with an event that, no matter the storyline, would have given me pause–a plane crash. I hate flying, and I don’t need to read and/or watch material that gives me any additional reason to be anxious about it. Luckily the scene is short, and the crash itself is only the impetus for the storyline that follows it, as the airplane’s pilot, Chip Linton, and his family have to deal with the aftermath of the crash and its effect on their lives.

Reeling from the disaster, Chip, his wife Emily, and their twin daughters move from their home in Pennsylvania to the small, isolated village of Bethel, New Hampshire. Their new home, an old Victorian, holds secrets that they will only discover over time, but they learn early on that the previous owners also had twin children, one of whom died young. As they settle into life in Bethel, they begin to make the acquaintance of their neighbors, including a group of passionate gardeners known as “the herbalists”.

The herbalists quickly welcome the Lintons into their fold, bringing by homemade meals, inviting them to dinner parties, and taking care of the girls after school as Chip becomes increasingly unreliable. Unbeknowst to his wife, Chip has started having visions of three of the passengers from the crash, and they have an agenda. Just as the herbalists’ influence over Emily and girls begins to grow, so does the effect of the passengers’ will upon Chip.

As a premise, the plot of the book sounds interesting enough. Even writing this summary makes me wish that this were a different book, because the idea is a good one.  Unfortunately, the story doesn’t stand up to the telling, and in its execution it lost all interest for me. The first two-thirds of the book is such slow going that it took me several weeks (picking the book up for 15 minutes here and there) to get through it. I never felt any attachment to the Lintons as characters–they are presented so blandly, as so lacking in emotion and spark, that it made it difficult to care about what happened to them.

The herbalists (with the exception of Reseda who was my favorite character in the book) come across like villians from a bad t.v. movie. They are ridiculously melodramatic in their religious zeal for plants, as they cook up their special treats and plans for the Linton family. The women of the group have all been rebaptized with plant names, so it’s easy to see who in the town is part of this secret (not at all secretive) cult. And as for what their agenda is–well, it seemed pretty obvious to me from the beginning, so there was no real mystery surrounding them.

The action finally starts to pick up in the last quarter of the book, when the body count begins to increase. Just as I was starting to be hopeful that an exciting conclusion was around the corner, I reached the point at the book in which the true events surrounding the death of the original twin who lived in the house are revealed. Reading this literally made me sick to my stomach, and it was a feeling that never really left me until the end of the book, when if I had had a paper copy in hand I would have undoubtedly thrown it across the room. Granted, I don’t read a lot of horror, but there’s a big difference between a book being creepy and scary and it being downright awful, and this was awful. I can’t say precisely why without giving away the ending, but suffice it to say I wish I could unread it.

I can’t recommend this book, although there are plenty of other bloggers who have read it and liked it. If you still think it sounds like something that would appeal to you, I suggest reading other reviews for a different perspective. I’m not sure my opinion is 100% objective because of the way the ending affected me, but I can say in all honesty that it was not an enjoyable reading experience.

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5 thoughts on “The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian

  1. Chinoiseries

    What a disappointment, Beth 😦 The circumstances start out good, and I would expect it to start to get creepy pretty soon. I’m sorry to hear that you dislike it to the point that you wish you could unread it. Nope, not a book I am going to read now!

  2. lynnsbooks

    That started out sounding so promising. It’s a shame you didn’t enjoy it but I’m always grateful for a frank review – because I think they’re sometimes harder to write than the glowing ones.
    Lynn 😀

  3. Pingback: End of Year Book Survey | Too Fond

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