Book Review: The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3 of 5 stars
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: William Morrow (June 26, 2018)
Length: 288 pages
I was a huge fan of Paul Tremblay’s A Head Full of Ghosts. But his next novel Disappearance at Devil’s Rock? Not so much. Which is why I was curious when I found out about The Cabin at the End of World, because I wondered just how it would stack up. And as it turned out, I think it fell somewhere in between. Still, one thing is certain—this one feels very different from the author’s previous work.
The story opens on a remote cabin by a lake in New Hampshire, where seven-year-old Wen is on vacation with her parents, Eric and Andrew. On a quiet afternoon, while Wen catches grasshoppers in the front yard, a very tall young man suddenly appears out of nowhere and asks to speak to her. He tells her his name is Leonard, and that he would very much like to be her friend. Although she knows it is wrong to talk to strangers, Wen falls into a comfortable conversation with him, until three more people come walking out from the woods towards them, each dressed like Leonard in jeans and a buttoned-up shirt while brandishing scary improvised weapons. Despite Leonard telling Wen that these newcomers are no friends of is, he is clearly on familiar terms with them, and together they are adamant that they must be allowed into the cabin to speak to her parents.
Terrified, Wen runs inside to alert Eric and Andrew, who are alarmed at the appearance of these four menacing strangers. However, Leonard continues to swear that they mean no harm, that they only want to have a heart-to-heart talk—so if they would just please open up the door and let them in. He claims that what they must discuss concerns the fate of the entire world. But if Leonard and his companions are as harmless as they claim, then why did they cut the phone lines, their only means of communication in these isolated woods with no cellular reception, where their closest neighbors are miles away in all directions? Why are they still on their front porch clutching their strange makeshift weapons, refusing to go away?
It appears the response is split when it comes to this novel. A couple of my blogger friends loved it, though I know just as many people who had the complete opposite reaction, with one even claiming that the book was a complete waste of their time. After finishing it myself, I think I can better understand now why the reviews have been all over the place. The Cabin at the End of the World is definitely not a book for everyone, and personally, I would not recommend this to readers who prefer stories that tie up neatly with no ambiguity. I would also caution those who are sensitive to violence and horror to stay away. Bad things happen in this book, but not really the sort that would fill you with revulsion or terror. No, in some ways, it’s even worse. This is more like the kind of horror that breaks your heart and hollows you out. Indeed, there’s not much happiness or hope in this story, just a sense of anxiety and despair that keeps your mind teetering constantly on a knife’s edge. If you enjoy heady, atmospheric psychological thrillers, then the tension and dread you’ll find here will make you feel right at home.
That said though, I can also see where some of the criticisms are coming from. Apart from not answering any questions, this story also often made me feel as though not much was happening. For one thing, the plot became very repetitive after a while, with half the book consisting of the same conversation presented in multiple ways. At first, Leonard’s emphatic promises that they weren’t out to hurt anyone paired with his disclination to actually reveal any information was an effective device to ratchet up the suspense. I mean, small wonder that Eric and Andrew would refuse to have anything to do with this apparent bunch of crazies. However, after pages of this same exchange going absolutely nowhere, it started to become tedious. One wonders why Leonard and his pals didn’t just leave their weapons in the woods and approach the house pretending to be a family in need of some help after their car broke down, as it would have spared us all this pointless time-wasting and back-and-forth.
In some ways, I feel The Cabin at the End of the World would have probably made for a better short story. The ideas here were good, but there just wasn’t enough material to sustain a full-length novel. And while I usually have nothing against open endings, I did sort of wish there had been something a little more to this one. Most ambiguous endings still offer a bit of closure, presenting a point to which you can anchor your imagination and let it take care of the rest. But this book felt like it ended in the middle of a longer scene, as if the author himself had no idea how to bring it to a conclusion, so he simply decided not to finish writing it.
In truth, despite some of the issues I was having with the novel, I overlooked a lot of them due to the story’s incredible tension and atmosphere. However, the disappointment I felt at the ending hit me so hard that it probably dragged my final rating down by a full star. Had the final chapter wowed me as much as the first one did, The Cabin at the End of the World might have easily become my favorite Tremblay book. As it is though, I can only recommend this one cautiously. Like I said, it is certainly not for everyone. Keep in mind it’s a book in which horrible things happen to good and bad people alike, and you might not like the way things play out. Definitely not a light read, but it does have the potential to generate a lot of pondering and speculation.