The Vessel by Adam Nevill

October 30, 2022

Struggling with money, raising a child alone and fleeing a volatile ex, Jess McMachen accepts a job caring for an elderly patient. Flo Gardner—a disturbed shut-in and invalid. But if Jess can hold this job down, she and her daughter, Izzy, can begin a new life.

Flo’s vast home, Nerthus House, may resemble a stately vicarage in an idyllic village, but the labyrinthine interior is a dark, cluttered warren filled with pagan artefacts.

And Nerthus House lives in the shadow of a malevolent secret. A sinister enigma determined to reveal itself to Jess and to drive her to the end of her tether. Not only is she stricken by the malign manipulation of the Vicarage’s bleak past, but mercurial Flo is soon casting a baleful influence over young Izzy. What appeared to be a routine job soon becomes a battle for Jess’s sanity and the control of her child.

It’s as if an ancient ritual was triggered when Jess crossed the threshold of the vicarage. A rite leading her and Izzy to a terrifying critical mass, where all will be lost or saved.

It’s nearly Halloween so it seems appropriate that this week’s review visits the darker side of human nature, and the horror that comes with it. 

I should offer a warning before we get started. Elements of The Vessel’s narrative could potentially be triggering to some readers. The story is set in the aftermath of a toxic relationship that has broken down beyond repair. 

When we first met Jess, she is struggling to rebuild her life. Determined to begin again, she has escaped a violent past and is trying desperately to move on. She longs for nothing more than some semblance of normality for herself and her daughter, Izzy.  A new role miles away from the claustrophobia of the inner city seems the ideal option. 

I’ll admit to being fascinated by horror that captures the inherent wrongness of a situation. You know what I’m talking about. Our protagonist finds themselves in a situation that outwardly appears entirely ordinary, almost banal, but with each new word that feeling of disquiet grows. At first glance, Jess is just a caregiver to Flo, but it swiftly becomes evident that all is not as it seems. Each visit to Nerthus House is punctuated by inexplicable events. Izzy quickly bonds with Flo like she is a long-lost friend. Jess begins to have vivid, visceral nightmares. Is Jess succumbing to the previous trauma of her life, or is something more sinister going on? To me, this is what real terror means, an increasing sense of psychological dread; when you get to the moment when the evil finally manifests physically, it feels almost like relief. All these conflicting sensory moments mess with my brain just as all the best horror novels should.

As an aside, how long does it take for a thing to become a tradition? Ritual Limited have been spoiling us with new books from Adam Nevill pretty much consistently every October for years now. It will not surprise you to discover that it has become one of the highlights on my literary calendar. 

I’ve read much of his work now, and Adam Nevill’s writing never disappoints. It always manages to be horrific, and in the same breath thoughtful. It’s a rare breed who can frighten but also offer keen insight into the human condition. 

The Vessel is published by Ritual Limited and is available from 31st October. Highly recommended

My musical recommendation to accompany this novel is the soundtrack to The Cellar by Stephen McKeon. It’s just the right side of unsettling to perfectly fit the tone of the novel. There is a track called A Mother’s Tears that feels particularly apt. You know the drill by now. Read the book while listening to the soundtrack and enhance your enjoyment of both. Win, win.

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