The House at Midnight is the first novel by British author Lucie Whitehouse. Neo-Gothic in tone, the story is primarily about the relationships between seven friends from college: Joanna (the narrator), Lucas, Danny, Michael, Martha, Rachel, and Greg. When Lucas inherits Stoneborough Manor from his uncle Patrick, he encourages his friends to treat the mysterious old house as their own. Soon, Joanna finds herself in a romantic relationship with Lucas, he decides to move in with his parasitic friend Danny, and things get trickier when Joanna discovers Rachel and Greg in a compromising position on the floor one night.
There’s a whole slew of interchangeable (and sticky) relationships between these seven characters, characterized by a lot of drinking and drug-taking. It took the author six years to write, and I get the feeling that she began the novel thinking that she originally intended the characters to be younger than they eventually turned out to be. Although approaching the age of thirty, all of these people act as though they’re still in college and trying to figure out their lives. The novel is heavy on the relationships between these characters and not so heavy on character development and plot. Even Joanna, the narrator, isn’t a particularly attractive character; she’s a little bland, and blasé about her career, relationships, and future.
I picked up this novel because I thought that this would be a Gothic type of novel, similar to Barbara Vine’s work; but the key to writing a Gothic novel is using subtlety, which this book doesn’t have. It seems as though the reader is repeatedly hit over the head with how eerie Stoneborough Manor is, or appears to be. Also, the ending, while truly unexpected, seemed a little bit tacked-on. I give the author props for writing about what she knows best, and for the intriguing premise of the novel; but the execution of that premise ultimately falls flat. This book has been compared to Donna Tartt’s The Secret History; and while I see superficial similarities between the two books, The House at Midnight doesn’t even come close to the other.