The Night House: A novel

Image of The Night House: A novel
Release Date: 
October 3, 2023
Reviewed by: 

“Nesbø’s taken a mischievous left turn into modern mythology and added a substantial seasoning of Edgar Allan Poe.”

Norwegian author Jo Nesbø is best known for his crime novels featuring Inspector Harry Hole; his most recent in that series was published in English in May 2023 as a classic dark police procedural.

However, Nesbø is also a vocalist and writer for a rock band, an author of a children’s book series about a crazy professor, a dabbler in black comedy film, and has retold Macbeth set in 1970 with a police team targeting bikers and drug dealers.

So it should be no surprise that for his second 2023 release in English, Nesbø has gone wildly far from expectations, so that The Night House has been labeled a classic horror novel. In fact, it’s far from classic anything, cutting fresh ground, not always successfully.

Part One offers the miserable life of Richard Elauved, living without joy with an aunt and uncle in a rural town after the death of his parents. Richard offers several advanced forms of meanness: stealing from a popular kid in the class, tormenting a stammerer and an overweight boy, and suddenly framed for the disappearances and/or deaths of both those kids through a horrific demonic presence that seems to relate to the rural town’s buried history.

But the demonic being, Imu Jonasson, targets Richard as well, and begins to invade even the (very very small) corners of his life where Richard may have some (deeply hidden) good motives. This is the presumably classic horror segment of the book—although it’s not as frightening as most contemporary horror and gives the impression of possibly being written for preteens, to mute the terror that’s customary in the genre.

Probably the most frightening moment in Richard’s attempt to convince the adults that he hasn’t killed his two almost friends is offered by the local sheriff, who declares, “I will personally make sure that you, Richard Elauved, are locked away in a very dark, very remote place where no one will ever find you,” if one of the missing kids isn’t located right away. But how can Richard defend against the threat when nobody believes his tale of a demon?

Soon a scene resembling Hitchcock’s The Birds arrives, substituting red-eyed cicadas instead, and Richard becomes an insect killer. Which may or may not relate to his own character—hard to tell whether it’s an act of murder to swat a bug while exploring a haunted house.

All this adds up to what might be an early draft of a spooky novel for preteens, and poor Richard ends up getting his apparent just deserts (and more scary threats from adults) as Part One wraps up.

Then, as if the book were actually a modernist drama, Part Two turns the plot inside out. And Part Three twists it into a Moebius strip of threats from authority figures.

In other words, Nesbø’s book is not only entirely “other than” when compared to his Harry Hole crime series—it could have been written by some other person, for some other reason. There is no way for a reader to “solve” any portion or predict any subsequent one, and the finale suggests the author’s been teasing, all the way along.

The best way to read this Norwegian (not quite horror) novel is to assume all of it is meant to tease the reader—and that may in fact be the case. If so, Nesbø’s taken a mischievous left turn into modern mythology and added a substantial seasoning of Edgar Allan Poe. Reader, beware: Assume your leg is being pulled (or ground up in a sausage grinder), and buckle up for a most peculiar ride.