Hi friends! I received this book from Random House and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This book has already been published, so you can read it now if you’re interested! Although I received this book for free, all thoughts and feedback are my own.
Synopsis & Quick Thoughts
A House at the Bottom of a Lake is a novella written by Josh Malerman, author of the fantastic horror novel Bird Box (among other works). In this novel, teenagers Amelia and James are a new couple. Their first date? Canoeing on a tranquil lake. The outcome? Finding a two-story house underneath said lake, front door unlocked. Curiosity turns into obsession, and nothing is as it seems.
I finished this novella in two hours and was left going “wait, what the fuck?”. I re-read the last chapter a couple of times and then just sat on my bed defeated and confused and hoping that Josh Malerman would break into my apartment and explain the whole thing to me. But also…in a good kind of way? This story definitely isn’t for everyone, but for the most part I really enjoyed it! This is also the first experience I’ve had with reading a novella for fun, and while I’ve decided I enjoy full-length novels more, it was an overall positive experience.
Oooooh this lil book is CREEPY. I really enjoyed the juxtaposition of the outdoor summer vibes and fun recreational activities with the dark and ominous descriptions of the house. The last twenty or so pages had me on the edge of my seat and incredibly captivated. In fact, the whole book was fast-paced and never lulled in the action, which was well-executed because it would be easy for this plot to get slow and repetitious. It absolutely did not. All of the suspense and tension that I loved in Malerman’s Bird Box is present here full-force and isn’t abridged or compromised by the shorter length.
As I’ve stated in a number of my past reviews, I love ambiguous endings, and while this one is bound to be polarizing, I really enjoyed it. While I keep all of my reviews spoiler-free, I try to give examples of media that have similar elements to what I’m reviewing to help give a better indication of whether this book is for you. In this case, I’d say this ending has a similar vibe to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (the film adaptation, not King’s novel). Just a moment at the end of the plot where you’re told/shown something that makes you go “wait, what the fuck does that mean?” that throws a wrench in the whole plot you’ve just read and you just have to accept that you’ll absolutely never know what the point of the ending was. I loved it, many won’t. What I wouldn’t give to ask Malerman what his thoughts were in having the novella end the way it did.
Negatives for this novella are difficult because the things I would like to be changed would then possibly take away some of the positives I’ve mentioned above. I wish the relationship between Amelia and James was more developed (though I did appreciate the awkward teenager thoughts and emotions), but I worry that doing so would lengthen the novel in a way that would slow down the pace that I greatly enjoyed.
I also wish that there were more horror elements interspersed throughout the plot, as most of the action takes place at the end of the book. However, the length of the novella is short enough that it didn’t feel like I was starved for horror, and adding more elements would involve a longer length to properly build up tension for each event, which could get repetitive. Thus, I feel stuck in my criticism and have to say that while I don’t think A House at the Bottom of a Lake is perfect, trying ot make it more so may have an opposite effect on its enjoyability.
Rating & Final Thoughts
A House at the bottom of a Lake is a total 4 out of 5 star book for me. I finished this book two days ago and my rating kept going up the more I thought about it. I think this novella is a great quick read for those in-between longer novels, and for those who don’t mind being confused and left with more questions than they started with while reading. I can see how people would dislike this book, but it was a blast for me. If you notice, like me, that you tend to enjoy horror that has low ratings on Goodreads (see: I’m Thinking of Ending Things), give this a go. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Buy A House at the Bottom of a Lake by Josh Malerman here.*
*as a reminder, I am an Amazon affiliate and make a small commission off of purchases made using my link.