Book Review – The Grip of It

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The Grip of It by Jac Jemec

the grip of it

Julie and James feel a strong need to leave their urban apartment and purchase a home in the suburbs. They find a large house that is surprisingly affordable but even during their first walk through something is off. There is a hum coming from somewhere beneath them, inside the walls, never becoming too loud but always ringing in their ears. The couple shakes it off and goes on with moving in and making this home their own. Things just get worse though, rooms that didn’t exist before suddenly appear, stains appear on the walls that won’t seem to go away, and even the neighbor and boys playing in the woods nearby start to become figures of menace and dread. James and Julie start lying to each other which only increases their paranoia and disconnect, leading to a horrific conclusion.

The Grip of It is an indie horror film on the page. It is profoundly ambiguous and offers no clear explanations, and the supernatural is the canvas on which a more human story is painted. But that is its strength, that the truth about the house is unknowable to our main characters. Much like the television series The Leftovers, the focus is not on uncovering the roots of the hook, but rather how the people involved live with this aberrant element in their lives. The story teases with hints of who used to live in Julie and James’ home but never features exposition to spell it all out.

The structure of the book is also paramount to its effectiveness. They are alternating short chapters featuring the first-person perspectives of Julie and James. At first, it seems arbitrary until the midway point, and then we understand why we hear the interior monologues as they contradict each other and reveal the truth behind what they are saying and doing to each other. James starts lying about where he is and what he is doing, yet he has honestly abstained from gambling. However, just the fact that he starts lying about his whereabouts triggers mistrust in Julie. Julie starts feeling like she is losing her mind as she discovers an impossible room and a journal inside.

This is not violent or graphic horror, it’s all mood building, establishing a creepy, eerie atmosphere. I was reminded of Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach trilogy in the way that it doesn’t deliver piles of answers but is content in letting its characters explore this space and for the readers to sink further in a mysterious living horror. This is also a surreal story that isn’t taking place in a rational universe, and these people are not in full control of their faculties. The energy of the house has almost intoxicated them. So when you wonder they don’t just leave like a rational person would, this couple is not in their right minds.

Do not enter The Grip of It with the expectation of a story about a haunted house where you will learn the secrets behind the house. Open this book looking for a story about a relationship where the setting is a haunted house. The ambiguity can be frustrating, but I would argue that it lingers with you long after you finish and this becomes a text you want to return to, haunted by it in fact, like Julie and James.

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