Book Review: The Death House

The Death House by Sarah Pinborough

Toby's life was perfectly normal... until it was unravelled by something as simple as a blood test.

Taken from his family, Toby now lives in the Death House: an out-of-time existence far from the modern world, where he, and the others who live there, are studied by Matron and her team of nurses. They're looking for any sign of sickness. Any sign of their wards changing. Any sign that it's time to take them to the sanatorium.

No one returns from the sanatorium.

Withdrawn from his house-mates and living in his memories of the past, Toby spends his days fighting his fear. But then a new arrival in the house shatters the fragile peace, and everything changes.

Because everybody dies. It's how you choose to live that counts.


I always keep a close eye on books that are published but somehow The Death House escaped my attention until a mysterious package popped up in the post... a package in brown paper with a key tied around it and a small note that stated "Welcome to the death house" well if you want to catch my attention this is the best way to do it. This package contained the soon to be published (February 2015) book The Death House. And I was one of the lucky readers to be given an early early review copy. Gollancz, I feel honored! I have been a big fan of Sarah Pinborough's writing, her stories readily draw you in and just don't let you go. The Death House in particular won't let you go without breaking your heart. 

The Death House tells the story of the young boy Toby and how he grows up in a place known as The Death House. On the first everything does seem normal or at least it sounds normal. The first introduction of Toby only gives away that he is in a place like something of an orphanage but soon after this you get to see glimpses of something more darker. Toby tested positive on a blood test which gave him the "stamp" of being a Defective. If you test positive in this way, you are a locked away in a place known as The Death House and carefully looked after by an entity known as The Matron and her nurses, when they start to show symptoms of the Defective illness they are transported through a single door to the sanatorium. An even dire place that The Death House as this is a place one never returns from. Toby is far from alone in The Death House as there are many others that also tested positive, being a Defective. Many of the adventures that Toby has involve him and his friends and let me tell that they aren't all stories of joy. 

The interesting part of the book that will get you hooked to the pages if the normalcy of the children in The Death House. They aren't special, they are just normal kids with a defect. And this readily comes to show in how they behave. Being ripped away from their families they start to try to live normal once again in this new place, with this comes making new friends and unavoidable also making enemies and getting bullied on. Toby isn't a physical strong kid but is smart and he uses this to select his friends and making his new move. With this focus on Toby the story gets a very nice spin on a coming-of-age story as Toby soon discovers more and more about becoming an adult: the importance of making solid friends and finding out his interest in the other gender. I already mentioned that Toby was a smart boy, every day before they go to sleep the children are given sleeping pills, but TOby doesn't take them, he uses the night to roam around the corridors exploring and having time for his own, her he meets a nice girl called Clara, who he readily fancies and luckily the feeling is mutual. Given the resources at Toby's disposal it was very beautiful to see how he went about to capture the heart of this girl.  

I have read several other stories of Sarah Pinborough: Murder and Mayhem and Beauty. But never have I had the protagonist of the story capture my heart in this way. The way that you see the story though Toby's eyes, the moments of joy , the moments of courage and the sad moments, particular at the end, create a protagonist that will stay with you for a long long time. The writing and narration of The Death House is solid and creates that chill that makes the hairs stand on your arms and at the same time gives a feeling of warmth in the happy moments that Toby and Clara spend together. 

Another great part of the book is that the story is shown in "less is more kind" of way. From the first moment you are introduced to the premise of the story, Toby in the Death House and that he is a defective but you never know what happens outside, what happened leading up to people being defective and actually what being defective means, only that you possible go slowly mad in the sanatorium? Here again Sarah Pinborough place nicely into your imagination making you think and wonder what it all could be...
  
I can only say that I feel once again honored that I was selected with the first 30 to read this amazingly rich book. The Death House is a very unconventional story, I haven't read such a thing before. Having read some other books of Sarah Pinborough, The Death House is something completely different and doesn't fall into one definite category. There are many thoughts underlying the storyline but the most prominent ones are an extraordinary love story, between Toby and Clare and a coming of age story of Toby. The Death House is bound to be one of the most talked about books for 2015. Trust me. Be sure to add this on your to read list!

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