Title: The Last House on Needless Street
Author: Catriona Ward
Genre: Psychological Thrillers
Number of Pages: 341
WARNING: THIS BOOK REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS. CONTINUE AT YOUR OWN RISK
Sometimes, as a writer, you have to be overcome with admiration and jealousy for the sheer amount of imagination some people have. How did she come up with that? More importantly, how did she pull it off? What sounds unworkable in theory becomes beautifully effective and fluid in the hands of some masters. The Last House on Needless Street is one of those books. It’s technically impressive and it’s a joy to read too. It isn’t perfect but the author accomplishes more than you’d ever expect her to.
Ted is an imposing but childlike man who uses alcohol to deal with his trauma. Olivia is a devoutly religious lesbian cat (that’s how my mom described her after she read the book, and even though it’s hilarious it’s also 100% true.) And then there’s Lauren, a teenage girl who can’t walk and is filled with rage. They’re all connected with the disappearance of a little girl, Lulu. Lulu’s older sister Dee thinks Ted’s responsible for what happened to her and is determined to get retribution.
She ‘moves into’ the abandoned house next door and seeks information under the guise of being a friendly neighbor. Told through the alternating perspectives of Ted, Olivia, Dee, and several other characters, this is a fascinating book that offers a glimpse into the protagonist’s fractured mind. Ted and Olivia’s voices in particular are so much fun and have such a unique feel to them. (*spoiler*) I might have enjoyed this book even more if I hadn’t known about the DID (dissociative identity disorder) element going in.
It probably would have added to the experience if I’d gone in blind, even though this part of the book isn’t particularly hard to predict. I have serious doubts about the actual existence of DID (it seems more like a psychiatrist’s wet dream than a credibly backed-up condition) but this didn’t prevent me from enjoying this book in the least. The DID isn’t just a generic plot twist like in a lot of psychological thrillers and it seems like the author put a lot of time into researching the mental health aspects.
I was glad that Ted didn’t turn out to be the monster you were led to believe. He and Olivia really gave this book it’s heart. I didn’t understand the character of Ted’s mother, though, or what made her tick. Was her unnecessary surgery on kids some kind of sexual fetish (as suggested by the fact that she always targeted little boys, never girls?) The storyline felt contrived in places (like the big reveal of Lulu’s fate and her sister’s role in it, which was disturbing but strained credibility when you really consider the decisions that were made) and there were a lot of unanswered questions, like what happened after Ted attacked his therapist.
It was a fantastic read, yes- but there were some frustrating loose ends. The hopeful ending was a pleasant surprise and I found it interesting how Ted managed to make peace with his alters and learned how to share a safe space with them. It would have been easier to go for a gloomy and nihilistic ending and I appreciated how the author did something different with the characters than what you would normally expect.
I’d love to read more about Ted and Olivia and Lauren and how they all ‘live’ together in the same body. Rob was also a great friend for Ted, and I was glad he found someone outside of himself to communicate with and who he could count on. This is a premise that shouldn’t have worked but did and I’m eager to explore more of this author’s work in the near future.
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