Saturday, September 12, 2009

Nightshade by John Saul

The child lay still; anyone observing it would have been certain it was sound asleep. But it was not, for long ago-----so long ago that there was no memory of how it began-----the child's mind had learned to defend itself from the agony that the body it inhabited was forced to bear.

Title: Nightshade

Author: John Saul
ISBN: 044900590
Publisher: Ballantine Books/2001
Pages: 399

Mark is a 15 year old good natured boy, who is happy enough with his mother Joan and step father Bill Hapwood in New Hampshire. Hapwood House is where Mark is at peace since he arrived there when his mother married Bill. He was 5 years old at that time. All seems well until Emily, Joan's mother arrives to the Hapwood house to live with them. She has Alzheimer's and Joan can't simply abandon her. Not that Emily doesn't deserve it.

Emily is obssessed with her dead daughter Cynthia and recreates her room in their house. From then onwards, they have trouble at home. Bill and Joan grow distant and Bill leaves his home. Mark is affected by it all. He also starts seeing his Aunt Cynthia, and can hear her speak, beckoning him. And on the morning of Mark's 16th birthday, tragedy strikes in a way that affects the whole town. Mark finds himself all alone except for the support of his mother. He finds himself drawn to the shadow of his aunt. And when Emily too disappears along with his friend Kelly, Mark knows he has to get into the bottom of it. But the voices in his head stop him, give him a false sense of hope.

Nightshade grabs the reader right from the first page. Emily has never loved Joan but adored her older daughter Cynthia, who has been dead for more than 15 years. She keeps Cynthia alive by keeping all her things in one place and doesn't let anyone touch those. She considers Mark as a bastard child and doesn't love him either. In Joan memories, Cynthia too is not a loving person but is manipulative who blames Joan. Joan has been abused as a child and we can see her fear even now in her memories. Yet she loves her mother who has never returned her feelings. Bill loves Mark as his own son even though he had not adopted the boy.

Cynthia although dead, holds some sort of power over Joan and now Mark. She is present even though she is not there. Her shadow looms large over their lives. In the climax, dark secrets tumble out destroying everyone in its way. Can Mark come out it? What with tragic consequences, one can only wait and watch.

The prose might be stilted, writing may leave much to be desired but the fear, secrets, horror, child abuse, ghost, nightmares and the tragedy keeps one on the edge. And one has to finish it, no matter what. The scent of Nightshade engulfs the reader too, the way it does with Mark.


serendipity_viv said...

This sounds like a really good thriller, but I struggle to read about child abuse in books. Is it a large part of it, or is it just mentioned within the book?

Missy B. said...

John Saul is an awesome author! I haven't read Nightshade - it sounds like a creepy story. I will have to check it out.

Nan said...

I don't think I've ever read anything by John Saul, and I know he has written a ton of books. This sounds like a good one.

bermudaonion said...

Oh, my gosh, that sounds totally creepy!

Beth F said...

I don't do horror! This sounds way too scary.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Sounds very creepy!