book: You Should Have Left (2016; trans 2017 Ross Benjamin) by Daniel Kehlmann

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A screenwriter rents a house somewhere on the edge of the Alps so that his actress wife and their four-year-old daughter can have something of a vacation while he gets his teeth into his latest screenplay — the sequel to his last movie, a phenomenally successful piece of fluff called Besties. What we read in this (very) short novel is his journal of the first few days after they move in, interspersed with bits of draft screenplay and the like.

It soon becomes evident that there’s something wrong about the house. At some times it seems to have more rooms than at others. There’s a picture hanging on one of the walls except when it isn’t. The lengths of the corridors seem unfixed. And there are times when you can’t see your own reflection . . .

You Should Have Left is a ghost story of sorts, and it’s certainly quite deliciously creepy. It reminded me, oddly, at least in its set-up, of Johan Theorin’s The Darkest Room, which is also about a young family coping with a house that’s somehow awry. This isn’t to say that the two books are anything like each other: it’s more as if someone handed the same basic premise to the two authors, who then went off in completely different directions with it. That said, the sense of the ominous in the two books was, to me at least, very similar.

I was also reminded more generally of the ghost stories of M.R. James, which can terrify through the slow accumulation of the discordant rather than through sudden shocks.

This is a book you can easily read in an evening . . . although you might be better advised to try to fit it into a lunchbreak, especially if you live on your own.

4 thoughts on “book: You Should Have Left (2016; trans 2017 Ross Benjamin) by Daniel Kehlmann

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