Book and audio release in North America: September 28, 2021. Including the Macmillan Audio production, which is the one I am reviewing. Release by different publishers in other countries was March 18, 2021.
I won’t lie. What drew me to the book the most was the buzz and the fact that people who have read it don’t say much about it but give it high ratings. I wanted to be one of those people who are in on the secret and helps keep it!
In my humble opinion, it’s best to go into The Last House on Needless Street blind. But if my word is not enough, and you need a bit convincing, we meet Ted, his cat, and daughter, residents of the titular house next to the wild Washington woods.
They each seem to be more than meets the eye and are bound by a dark secret. They try to keep to themselves, but their symbiotic stasis seems to be at risk when a new neighbour moves in.
The book through my criteria lens:
I read this as an audiobook produced by Macmillan Audio and narrated by Christopher Ragland. The audiobook was excellent. Even though it is a single narrator book, Ragland was so good at giving each character their own voice and personality, I didn’t miss the full cast. His pace was impeccable, and his rendition of Olivia was beautiful, respectful, and quite honestly everything! I felt her, and I think that I wouldn’t have done as good a job with my “head voice” (what I call when I read it). For this character alone, I highly recommend the audiobook.
Catriona Ward really ticked all of my boxes with this book; her narrative delivers a punch you don’t regret getting, and it results in the kind of pain you’re thankful for. The atmosphere was so well crafted; it was dark and gloomy and scary and heavy. I do suggest having a light read lined up for after The Last House on Needless Street (unless you can handle carrying people’s despair and angst, as an empath, I can’t). We follow a few different character’s POVs, and they each bring their own emotional baggage. That being said, I loved how each character was so unique and so well developed; you get to know each of them well while not knowing who you can trust.
My favourite character was Olivia, the cat. You heard me right – a cat who loves the bible. Experiencing the world through her eyes was such a unique experience I am sure I’ll carry it with me for a long time. Ward was supernaturally inspired while writing Olivia; every single sentence made sense. Olivia’s experiences made sense; her thoughts were actually believable. Can I explain it? No, but trust me, you get her!
Even though the clues were more psychological, Ward played fair with her solution and delivered it terrifically. It was so layered that I suspect people won’t guess it all, but once you know, it makes sense and begs for a reread!
This book is unique and fresh – it’s the kind of book you didn’t even know you needed to read because your mind never went there – thankfully, Catriona’s did! It is, however, a slow burner, and as part of its originality, we have the introduction of new words to describe concepts we know (such as Ted for human, through Olivia’s POV). Even though once you get used to it, it becomes part of why the book is so brilliant until you do, it requires a bit of concentration, and for that reason, I didn’t enjoy it as much in the beginning.
The Last House on Needless Street is like general anesthesia – until you’re under, you fear the unknown and hope for the best. While you’re under it, completely immersed in the experience, everything is perfect and feels right. In the end, when you wake up, it feels like you have just been punched, and it takes a while for you to get your bearings but in the best possible way.
My personal feelings:
This is one of those books that is hard to review because the author has crafted a masterful immersive experience. To say anything about this book is to risk spoiling the reading experience to future readers. I know I would have been upset if I hadn’t gone along the journey with no expectations.
Ward is a master. In the Last House on Needless Street, she took some of the scariest horror tropes and spun them on their heads, making them even more frightening yet heartbreaking, poetic, and uncomfortable.
This book is so multidimensional and organic, you catch yourself turning off your brains and just giving in to your emotions – not all of them positive, but each of them intense and visceral.
To me, this book was scary. But I have a hard time putting the kind of fear it evoked in a category. Sorry to be vague, but for your sake, I have to leave it at that.
I will definitely be picking up this book in physical form (pre-order has been placed) as I want to reread it and annotate. This will make a great book club choice, as it begs to be discussed but not spoiled!
I hope this wasn’t too vague bit The Last House on Needless Street is a must-read book that you should go in prepared to face some uncomfortable feelings and to carry the thoughts the book provoked for a long time. To me, it was a similar experience as reading Shirley Jackson’s books. Amazingly sad and hauntingly beautiful.
My total rating: 4.83
Disclaimer: I first read it as an ARC. In exchange for an honest review, I am thankful to Macmillan Audio, NetGalley and Catriona Ward for providing me with a copy of The Last House on Needless Street.