The Death House – Sarah Pinborough
Toby’s life was perfectly normal… until it was unravelled by something as simple as a blood test.
Taken from his family, Toby now lives in the Death House: an out-of-time existence far from the modern world, where he, and the others who live there, are studied by Matron and her team of nurses. They’re looking for any sign of sickness. Any sign of their wards changing. Any sign that it’s time to take them to the sanatorium.
No one returns from the sanatorium.
Where to start with this haunting story?
We have a world very similar to our own – yet very different. Children appear to be susceptible to a mysterious ‘defective’ gene. They are all tested for the deficiency and for those that are identified as having the deficiency are shipped off to a remote island to live in virtual isolation in The Death House. There they will remain until their (undefined) illness triggers and they are taken to the sanatorium. They never return.
The main focus of The Death House is very much the children – nurses and teachers are peripheral characters. We are guided through the story by Toby, he is one of the older children in residence and holds a degree of influence over the younger kids. As is the way of any group factions and friendships are formed and, for the most part, the kids get on with life in their unusual out of time existence. I say out of time as there are references to old books, record players and old games – no videogames, mobiles or modern tech on show here.
There is the constant threat of illness and a trip to the sanatorium lurking over the whole story, however, for the majority of the reading you could be mistaken into believing you were reading a coming of age story or an updated take on the boarding school tales of our childhood. Imagine Jennings or Mallory Towers with the children boarding in The Shining’s Overlook Hotel.
The Death House is not the longest of books, however, Sarah Pinborough makes every page count. You care about all the characters, you fear the sounds in the night when children are removed from their dorms and taken to the sanatorium and you will love Toby’s story…right until the point where Sarah Pinborough hits you with a sucker punch that will leave you reeling.
There are so many unanswered questions in The Death House but it doesn’t matter – this is masterful writing, just go with it.
The Death House is published by Gollancz and is available now in Hardback and digital format.