The Grip of It by Jac Jemc
Titan, pb, £7.99
Reviewed by Sarah Deeming
Julie and James need a fresh start to help James combat his gambling addiction. They think they’ve found the perfect answer in a new town with a large house, just right for a family. They move without issue and begin their new lives, new jobs, new friendships. But at a time when they should be settling into their new house, nothing is familiar. Stains on the walls grow before their eyes, corresponding with inexplicable bruises on Julie’s body. Water turns mouldy instantly, and there are strange smells and noises that they can’t identify. As the couple struggle to find peace in their new home, the cracks in their relationship start to show. Initially, the strange instances can be explained away, a new house in a new town where they have no emotional support, and the resentment at the move because of James’s gambling. Suspicions set in. Is it the house or are Julie and James causing the disturbances without realising it?
Written in first person, present tense, The Grip of It’s chapters are short, sometimes only a page, and they alternate between Julie and James’s point of view. While this can make for tense reading, I found there were few distinguishing features between the two points of view other than their own names and that of the one friend/peer they had. For me, that made it hard as my reading flow was either broken by the short chapters or trying to remember who I was with.
That said, the tension grows throughout as each new occurrence serves to isolate James and Julie from one another at a time when they should be coming together. And there were a number of chilling incidents which stand out. One is Julie thinking she’d gone home only to find herself in her hostile neighbour’s house. She can’t remember how she got there, but she can’t deny where she is, and to make it worse, her cardigan is there covered in hair belonging to the neighbour’s pet. Has she unintentionally wandered into his house before and left the cardigan behind? Has the neighbour stolen it from the washing line? Who knows, and the lack of answers makes every encounter with the neighbour creepier. Because of the literary style, don’t expect any concrete answers. This is not The Shining where the malevolence of the house is made clear. Maybe it isn’t even the house at all. Maybe it is simply the stress of moving house to a completely unfamiliar place taking its toll on the mental health of two very different people. Whatever the answer you conclude to yourself, The Grip of It is a solid example of the literary horror genre and well worth a read.