Writer: Rae Louise
Publisher: Black Rose Writing
A review by Amelia Wellman
Fear is all in the mind. But Mia’s nightmares become a reality when she and her troubled sister Jamie inherit their deceased uncle’s house and experience paranormal phenomena. No one’s secrets stay buried for long, and the psychological abuse that the family are forced to endure soon turns physical. When the evil spreads beyond the boundaries of the house and wreaks chaos in the lives of those closest to Mia, she knows that she must uncover the house’s past, along with the identity of its ghostly inhabitant, in order to sever its hold on anyone who enters.
I was immediately intrigued by The Fear for the summary’s promise of a good ole fashioned haunted house story! If there’s one thing I adore without fail, it’s ghosts, and The Fear was on the right track to deliver just that.
The most important narrative element to establish in the horror genre is the atmosphere. Horror relies heavily on vivid descriptions and, as a genre, depends the most on show, don’t tell. I do feel like The Fear lacks the in-depth atmosphere construction of the books it seems to be trying to emulate, relying instead on horror shortcuts like gore, extreme violence, and ending chapters abruptly by having characters pass out. But overall, the story is still full of tense and striking scenes all its own. The atmosphere of dread is established as quickly as possible with the ever useful trope of an animal sensing something before its owners do. It’s a fairly standard trope that can bring a reader right to how it feels to be in a haunted area. Who doesn’t empathize with dogs, after all? It’s clever when done right, and Louise does it right in The Fear.
I also love how small an area it is where this haunting takes place. Houses don’t get very big in England. The cramped nature of a small village cottage, compared to the huge, hilltop mansions that are usually the centre of hauntings in literature, does wonders in making this story feel very claustrophobic and personal.
The characters within The Fear all feel alive and real, which is also important within the horror genre. Build characters that you can empathize with and the terrifying situations become all the scarier. With Mia (the reluctant matriarch of the family), Jamie (Mia’s attitude-heavy teenage sister), and Louisa (Mia’s five year old daughter), all the tropes for that classic paranormal taste are present! There’s the disbelieving authority figure, the brooding teenager that spurs the activity into a frenzy, and the child that’s most susceptible to the dark energy. The character archetypes are ones that every horror lover has seen before, but the details added to each one make them so much more than the tropes that they were built upon.
The pacing of The Fear is also exactly where it needs to be. It’s not an immediate start, but it’s not quite a slow-burner either. The narrative never runs too slow or too fast, striking the perfect balance of the slow moments of exposition, the tense atmospheric buildup, or the violent and shocking action. There are a few questionable inclusions to the ghost story though. Problems I had while reading The Fear are few overall, but depending on how you like your supernatural horror, the problems that are present could prove to be huge.
The smaller of the problems (and really more a personal gripe) are the few moments of self-aware horror. You know the trope, it’s when a character in a piece of horror media refers to a ghost story or a horror movie and comments how they’d never do that only to immediately do it. It muddles the message and tone if characters know what’s going to happen. The whole point of horror is for characters to do things that the audience themselves never would, but if the characters know they’re not supposed to do it and do it anyways? You can’t sympathize with those characters. Either make a completely meta, self-aware piece of horror like Scream, or don’t, there’s not really a comfortable middle ground to be found between the two options.
The other problem within The Fear, and definitely the larger of the two, is the inclusion of violent sexual assault. This was included because the supernatural force in the story became more powerful as the residents became more scared, so it would purposefully go after their worst fears. Now yes, a lot of women are scared of rape, but could Jamie not have been scared of something else? Sexual assault is a very real thing for women and a legitimate concern, whereas a phobia is something that’s not really that scary that people are scared of. There are a host of phobias Jamie could have sported. Spiders. Clowns. The dark. She’s a fictional character and anything could happen to her, so why make it something that happens all the time in real life? Shock for shock’s sake is the laziest type of horror and rape should never be a plot device.
Check it out. Horror is subjective, meaning that different things will scare different people to varying degrees. While I love ghosts and the stories told about them, there were a few parts of The Fear that held back my own enjoyment of the narrative, namely the sexual assault that’s used to drive the plot into its third act. I think paranormal horror should use mostly atmosphere to strike fear in your heart, and I’m against using rape as a plot device forever and always, no matter your justification. However, if you like a less rigidly Gothic formula to your paranormal stories than I do, The Fear might be what you’re looking for. There is a lot to experience in this story, possibly even your worst fears.