Review: The Lingering by SJI Holliday from Orenda Books

Classic haunted house horror, classic thriller, or is it? So many facets to this story and its well-drawn characters you’ll be wondering what exactly is going on right to the climactic scenes.

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Where to start with this book, I’m not entirely sure. It’s a difficult one to review without giving too much away. To be clear, that’s a good thing, a very good thing. SJI Holliday’s writing is smooth and natural in a way that makes you almost forget you’re reading words on a page. The story is a set in a commune housed in an old psychiatric hospital and is told from the perspectives of a handful of characters and in a mixed approach. Four characters take us through the journey, Ali, Angela, Smeaton and Dr Henry Baldock. Dr Baldock provides some of the history through diary entries from 1955, where the story is set in the present day. Of the three modern characters to provide perspectives to drive the story, Holliday utilises different narrative styles to great and engrossing effect, it not only serves to highlight the different personalities and motivations of these individuals but gives them all their own unique voices. There is no blurring of the lines between people telling this story, the decisions taken in using this approach to storytelling show the clearest of understandings that the best stories are driven by character rather than plot.

That being said, you still need a good story to tell and an interesting world for your characters to inhabit and The Lingering has both by the bucket load. The story tells of Ali and Jack, a couple looking to start a new life in a commune away from the hustle and bustle of living in London. We know they bypassed the usual entry procedures by offering cash, we know that Jack has struggled at work recently and had to retire from his job as a police officer. We don’t really know why. We don’t the ‘why’ to a lot of things as the story opens, every chapter throws up questions and challenges pre-conceptions, you start to form ideas about how a person may react or what their motivations are to have that thrown to the wind really quite quickly.

Ghosts play a significant part in the story as you might imagine, both literal and metaphorical. Angela is a ghost hunter, convinced that there are hauntings on the site and desperately seeking the proof. Right from their arrival Ali starts seeing and experiencing things that are definitely out of the ordinary, things that she tries to convince herself aren’t real, Ali has a scientific mind and struggles to reconcile what is happening with scientific fact. The longer Ali and Jack stay at the commune, the weirder things get, but we also learn more and more about their past and their motivations for being there. As our tale unravels there are a lot of twists and turns getting darker and darker by the page. It soon becomes clear that this isn’t a safe fun ghost story, this has elements of out and out horror of a number of sub-genres. The less I say about the second half of the book, the more you’ll enjoy it. Go in blind, the story does not go where you think it will as it charges towards an exciting and unexpected ending.

Playing with genre convention can be a challenge, SJI Holliday meets it head on and in fine style. There is a lot here to satisfy the most ardent of horror fans, all pulled together with style and finesse. A book well worth your time.

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