When supernatural and real-life horror collide

At one point while I was reading Adam Nevill's No One Gets Out Alive, I tweeted that I was reading a horror so poor that even Garth Marenghi would have been ashamed of it.

For those not in the know, this is Garth Marenghi:

As a comedic creation, Marenghi is a legend; if he were a real writer, there would be... issues. And the opening chapters of NOGOA have more than a hint of Slicer to them. There is definite tension and intrigue as Stephanie takes a cheap room in this Birmingham house, only to be plagued by strange noises and the suggestion of something in her room, but by throwing the reader into the story in media res and starting with a pretty hardboiled account of scratching under the bed and a drop in temperature, it feels like the work of a hack. 

In truth, I would have given up on the book at this point if I had had anything else to read. But I was in France at the time, and the other book I had taken with me had been left on a table in a café that I was never able to rediscover. If you went to a panini place in Strasbourg last month and found a free copy of The Sellout and a tapir bookmark, you're welcome. So I kept on with it.

And that's when a strange thing happened. I was suddenly really fucking scared. Further into the story, Stephanie's isolation is broken when two young Eastern European women are hustled into the house at the same time as she is introduced to the landlord's creepy AF cousin, Fergal. After all the things-go-bump-in-the-night cliché, the introduction of real life terror hits like a jolt. Although the supernatural activity could all be in her head, the threat of physical and sexual violence here is very real. I had to reassess my reading up to this point. There must have been more going on in those opening pages. After all, I could imagine the house in every detail, could picture the people and hear their voices, and could put myself into Stephanie's place with depressing ease. When the danger became real, I could feel the terror, the claustrophobia, and was desperately trying to work out what I would do in that position. In fact, when the supernatural and real-world horrors collide, I was as scared reading this as I've ever been reading before. Quite the turnaround.

No One Gets Out Alive by [Nevill, Adam]NOGOA is split into two parts, and I can't really detail the second part without giving quite a lot away. Suffice it to say, there were repeats of some of the problems I found with the first part: namely, a lot of slightly overwrought set up before you get to the good stuff. The payoff isn't as strong in Part 2 - most seasoned horror fans will have seen where it's going long before we get there - but the reader is fully engaged by this point, willing the characters onwards to the finale. Nevill does the groundwork so that the audience is ready to accept the crazier elements of the story and has invested in the characters enough to care about their fates. That's not always a guarantee in horror, but Nevill nails it here.

I can't say that I loved No One Gets Out Alive - the incredibly slow start, unconvincing character voices, and reliance on cliché, holds it back from that - but I can say that I felt proper fear whilst reading it. The same kind of heartpounding terror I had when I read Let's Go Play at the Adams' or watched Black Swan for the first time. When you expose yourself to as much of this genre as I do, it's hard to find things that genuinely scare you. You might get the odd jump scare or a wry smile at good use of a trope, but there's not much that can really get the heart thumping. Nevill manages that and then some. I can't think of higher praise for a horror writer.


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