Even before I started reading Sara Pinborough’s The Death House, a review and the Amazon sample made me wonder if it was going to be another Never Let Me Go, the best-selling novel by Kazuo Ishiguro. It is, in a way, but only in its commonality with the theme of young people in desperate situations, written in the central character’s own voice. Another novel with this theme, which I haven’t read, but plan to, is The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan.
Ishiguro’s novel strings out gradual revelation to a fault, I thought. The seemingly endless details of everyday life almost made me give up in sheer boredom before there was any payout. Worse, I was well into the book before I had any reason to think that the children were in any particular danger. If there was a mystery in the making, that very fact was hidden.
The title of the Death House leaves the reader in no doubt that something terrible is happening, or will happen. The mood of the novel is very different from that of Never Let Me Go, with dread settling into place early on. Stylistically, not that most readers notice or give a damn about writing style Never Let Me go is far superior. The Death House narrator’s use of language was inconsistent, ranging from what you would expect of an average teen, to rather sophisticated. It was an easy read that left me with a lot of questions about the disease that defined the children as Defectives. I believe this was deliberate, so I can’t criticize the author for not clarifying the point. But for readers who want to know exactly what’s at stake, this could be unsatisfying. The ending, which is not a happy one, or even one that offers any hope, could be another down vote for some readers.