- The Home.
- Mats Strandberg (translated by Agnes Broome).
- 400 pages.
- Horror / Thriller.
- My Rating: Hellyeah Book Review.
Once inseparable, Joel and Nina haven’t spoken in twenty years.
When Joel’s mother Monika develops dementia, he has no choice but to return to his home town. Monika needs specialist care, and that means Pineshade – which also means Joel is going to have to deal with his one-time best friend, for Nina works there.
It’s not long before Monika’s health deteriorates – she starts having violent, terrifying outbursts, and worse, she appears to know things she couldn’t possibly know. It’s almost as if she isn’t herself any more . . . but of course, that’s true of most of the residents at Pineshade.
Only Nina and Joel know Monika well enough to see the signs; only by working together can they try to find answers to the inexplicable . . .
The Home is an eerie story about love, friendship and the greatest fear of all: losing control of ourselves . . .
I received a free copy of this book courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Twenty years ago an eighteen-years-old Joel left the small village of Lyckered to try and make it as a musician in Stockholm, now aged thirty-eight he has returned. A few years ago his mother, Monika suffered a heart attack where she died and had to be resuscitated. The heart attack brought on dementia that now plagues her, orchestrating Joel’s return to his childhood home where he moved back to become her guardian.
Joel has an older brother, Bjorn who is largely absent with his own family, job and responsibilities, leaving caring for Monika completely up to Joel. Dementia has gradually overtaken Monika, a slow decline that has recently gotten far worse and Joel can no longer provide the care that Monika needs. Monika has moments of clarity, lucidity where she is able to break through and resurface, but they are few and far between and she is lost beneath the surface, drowning in the depths in a sea of forgetfulness. The light has faded from her eyes and she is living in the past and not the present. Monika needs round the clock and specialist care and, when a room becomes available at Pineshade, a care facility in the nearby town of Skredsby, Joel, as her guardian decides that it is the best option for his mother.
Monika doesn’t take to living in Pineshade and her condition rapidly deteriorates. It is like she is withering away, being poisoned and eaten from the inside. Monika seems to become a different person, the abrupt mood swings, hallucinations, spiteful words, changes in personality and violent episodes are all traits of dementia, but is it just the natural effects of the devastating illness taking its toll? Or, is there something more? Something malign and sinister that is happening to her? A malevolent presence that has taken hold and is influencing her? One thing that can’t be explained by the dementia is that Monika knows things that she couldn’t possibly know, the hidden and painful secrets that people keep locked away, and the truths that they wouldn’t tell themselves, that they would only admit in the deepest, darkest depths of their minds.
Joel has to face the constant guilt that he feels for putting Monika in Pineshade, knowing that it is the best thing for her, but hating himself for it. They never really knew each other, as a child he was an outsider, she was a closed person, there was always a divide between them. Joel’s former childhood best friend Nina works at Pineshade which makes things even harder from him. There is a history, a traumatic history between the pair that they have to face in The Home, looking at themselves in the mirror and confronting their past. For Joel, he will have to look at his regrets, his failings and he will come to realise the truth that though you may blame others, often, you are the one to blame for your own failings. They haven’t spoken in twenty years blaming each other for their hopes and dreams going up in flames. Seeing Nina is hard for Joel and it brings the past all back for him. The decay of their friendship, once inseparable, their partnership, they didn’t drift apart, they severed. Joel’s return for Nina is an unwanted surprise too, she never expected to see him again, never wanted too. His return brings back memories that she has suppressed from a part of her life where she was a different Nina and a different person. For them both it is the reopening of a wound that has festered and has never fully healed.
Joel and Nina were from different worlds, but they got on and connected over a love of music. There was nothing romantic between them, Joel isn’t interested in women and they formed an alternative music duo. They were good and after some gigs, a demo followed and, eventually, they received an offer for a record contract. The day it all fell to pieces was the day that they were due to go to Stockholm and sign the record deal. Joel was self-destructive, an addict who was deep into drink and drugs, Nina wasn’t and on the morning that they were due to leave to pursue their dreams, she chose a suburban life, turned and walked away from the chance of fame and fortune. Joel went on his own, tried and failed. They were better together than apart, the record company didn’t want a solo artist, they wanted the duo and Joel didn’t make it. Since then he has spent his troubled life drifting around from job to job, struggling to get by and keep steady employment as the drugs took hold of him. Finally, he managed to get clean, and he is now a recovering junkie who has on the road to recovery for over six years.
Nina has a history with Monika too. Since Joel left, Nina has avoided Monika, but when they were younger Nina spent a lot of time at Joel’s house and Monika was like a mother to her. In place of her own mother who was an alcoholic with a bottle in hand rather than caring for her daughter, Monika was the mother that Nina always wanted which makes it hard for Nina to see Monika and the husk that she has become in Pineshade.
The Home is told in the third-person with alternating chapters from Joel and Nina with occasional chapters that focus on the residents of D Ward and the happenings at the care home, titled ‘Pineshade’. For the first half of The Home, Strandberg slowly lets the tension build, foreshadowing, getting beneath your skin, unnerving and saturating the story with an ominous undertone of a menacing presence lingering, but just out of sight. He takes his time establishing the characters of Joel and Nina, attempting to settle Monika into Pineshade and getting to know her fellow residents on D Ward (Bodil, Petrus, Lillemor, Edit, Anna, Wiborg and the sister’s Dagmar and Vera). There are glimpses, portents, small things occurring in Pineshade, of gathering darkness, of something not right and the creeping unease of something unnatural. However, many of the occurrences are deceptively devious and are things that could be put down to the distorted reality that, to some degree, all the residents suffer from and that the Pineshade staff see on a daily basis. In the second half, things take a darker turn, the shadows lengthen and the shroud falls, covering the story in the cold and spine-chilling caress of the supernatural as what started as hints at something threatening and evil comes to the fore.
Along with the story of supernatural evil and possession in The Home, there is another element, a layer to be found that is surprisingly moving, thought-provoking and touching. The elderly residents of Pineshade who have forgotten most of who they were, what made them, them and their lives. Some are stuck in an endless loop repeating, others stuck in an in-between place somewhere between the past and the present, but that is neither and is a fantasy, a time of their own making. While others are stuck entirely in the past, believing that they are far younger, that loved ones, parents, relatives, children are all still alive when, in truth, they are long gone. Some have moments of clarity where they awaken, realise the truth and then, in an instant, gone, back to their current state, but the moment is long enough to torture them for the fleeting seconds where they are whole once more before dementia once again takes hold. The residents are all fragile shells of their former selves, some with only the deepest memories, remnants of their former life that still remain, those memories that have been etched deep into their soul and are the last to fade. Even though they are only characters in a book and names on a page my heart went out to the residents of D Ward. Honestly, I couldn’t help but be moved by the heartbreaking depiction of dementia and the anguish and grief that it causes both the sufferers and their family members.
There is nothing exaggerated, no theatrics or anything that can be classed as outrageous and ‘over the top‘ that tries to scare you with shock tactics and then, inevitably fails in The Home. Instead, what you get is an atmospheric and disturbing story that is suffused with a whispering dread that unfolds in a grounded and believable way and is all the more terrifying for it.
Purchase The Home by Mats Strandberg.
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