Review published on February 24, 2017.
Seb Logan, now in his fifties, is a renowned writer of supernatural horror stories. He has received many awards for his work over the years and he has attracted a large following of loyal fans. His success has enabled him to live a life of some affluence and his tastefully furnished house in Devon overlooks the sea. He has an almost obsessional need for everything in his home to be neat and tidy, and he enjoys his relatively solitary, orderly existence. He is a still a bachelor, albeit one with a girlfriend, although, as he is generally satisfied with his own company, he keeps her very much at a distance.
As this story begins, he is struggling with his latest novel, partly because he is being distracted by somebody trolling him with a succession of negative reviews of his books. However, something even more disturbing is happening: he has become aware of a dark, shadowy figure that seems to be watching him. These visions become increasingly frequent, even appearing in ghostly form in his home and, feeling very disturbed by this unwelcome intrusion into his life, he invites his girlfriend to stay with him for the weekend. Initially she believes it is all in his imagination until, when they go for a walk, she too sees a mysterious figure and also experiences the feeling of being watched by something dark and menacing. Feeling very badly shaken she returns home, leaving Seb feeling deserted and even more vulnerable.
At this stage Ewan, an old roommate from Seb’s university days, a strange and disturbing man, all but forgotten in the intervening years, appears at his front door demanding help; he is drunk, looks like a vagrant and is filthy and malodorous, the very antithesis of Seb and his need for an ordered life. Ewan has spent years researching the paranormal, an interest he and Seb shared during their university days, but which now appears to have led Ewan into a very dark and dangerous place, as demonstrated by his manic rants, delusions and weird ideas. As their original friendship had ended in a less than friendly way, Seb has no desire to allow Ewan back into his life, but he feels powerless to get rid of him and, falling back into an old pattern of allowing himself to be manipulated by this man, allows him into his home. This is the start of a nightmare that will turn his ordered world upside down and expose him to horrors he couldn’t, even in his wildest dreams, have imagined.
For some time, a friend of mine has been trying to persuade me to read Adam Nevill’s books but, as the horror/supernatural genre has never particularly appealed to me, I had, until now, managed to resist. Then, when I noticed Under a Watchful Eye on the list of books available to review for Nudge, I thought that I should take this opportunity to overcome my resistance! However, as hard as I tried, I just couldn’t find a way to immerse myself in the story and, far from finding it terrifying or spine-chilling, I felt bored by it. I think the author evoked a credible sense of the way in which Seb’s ordered existence was violated by Ewan’s reappearance in his life and I did appreciate this aspect of his writing. However, this psychological veracity was not enough to make me feel any sort of empathy with Seb – I just found myself feeling increasingly irritated that he allowed himself to continue to be manipulated! I think that part of the problem for me in the general story-telling was that there were too many detailed descriptions of the “horrors”, too much “telling” and not enough subtle “showing”, which only served to reduce their impact on me.
Having now looked at the reviews on various websites, I realise that Adam Nevill’s books have attracted many devoted fans so it is clear that, for people who enjoy this particular genre, he is an author who is much appreciated – so now I feel guilty that I have deprived a more sympathetic reader of the opportunity to review this book! I really did try to persevere with this story, but finally admitted defeat just over half way through – when the lure of all the other books on my “to read” pile became too great to ignore! In all honesty I cannot give it more than one star as a personal read, but maybe it would lend itself to some lively discussion in a reading group, hence the three stars!
Linda Hepworth 1/3
Under a Watchful Eye by Adam Nevill
Macmillan 9781509820405 hbk Jan 2017