A horror house

This is a tale of paranormal horror about a house in Richmond Town

Andaleeb Wajid’s House of Screams is a tale of paranormal horror about a house in Richmond Town. The house is old and large, and irregular, and privy to all sorts of secrets — including weird presences and a suffocating atmosphere.

Muneera, the protagonist, inherits a strange house from a relative, much to her surprise. It seems like a way out of her troubles, and she hopes the house will allow her and her young family a fresh start in life. That house, located in a posh locality, is a bungalow with many rooms — and Muneera is puzzled by it right from the start. Her husband Zain sees possibilities, but they cannot sell the house. They settle in with their three year old son, Adnan.

Right from the start, Adnan slips in and out of what seem to be trances. There are entities only he can see. Screams awaken both his parents at night. Delivery persons pass the house and insist that the building does not exist on the map. A strange maid appears and gets on Muneera’s nerves, but as she is the only individual willing to actually work there, Muneera has no choice. And there are moving shadows, flickering lights, and a locked room with dusty paraphernalia.

As far as characterisation goes, Muneera is a caring, considerate individual, and an attentive mother to Adnan. She tries to adjust to her new life in the house. She tries to befriend the maid and is rebuffed. She tries to help a beggar woman out in the street and is again rebuffed. Most of the time, she manages to keep her wits about her. She also hiccups a lot. Zain appears aloof and short tempered, but is not always as distant as he seems. The maid Asha is judgmental and snappish to the point of being rude. Adnan is very much a little boy, curious about the new house and frightened by the odd things he begins to see. There are small chapters devoted to Adnan’s point of view, which were interesting.

House of Screams does rely on some rehashed tropes, though.

The house is shunned because of rumours of a haunting. Or several hauntings. Screams rent the air at night. Lights go off at the most inopportune moments. The child is the only character who can really sense anything. There is an in-between plane of existence where spirits are trapped. A psychotic individual threatens to bring the roof down. A mysterious young boy drifts in and out of Adnan’s vision.

A backstory to the house suggests evil doings. When Muneera talks about the strange goings-on in the house, her husband thinks she’s crazy. She does, after all, see what nobody else does. Including children marked with blood.

There are too many events going on at once in that house, too many past threads. That the house itself is terrifying to live in is portrayed with a rather heavy hand. Character perspectives shift to and fro after the middle of the book, jumbling the sequence of events.

The trouble here is with the change of narrative style, from third to first person and from past to present tense; back and forth as timelines change again and again. In short, it does get a little confusing. There is a fair bit of violence thrown in, of deaths and murder and bloody revenge. Even possession and walls that want to drink blood. Not all of them are as chilling as they could have been.

That greed is one of the triggers for the mania is put across very, very blatantly. Character histories are told in elaborate detail, reading in some parts like an essay. You do get a lingering sense of déjà vu, a sense of having read or watched similar story lines before.

The story does, after a point, get predictable. Bengaluru as a city is not as well described as it could have been. Except for the place names and the brief nugget from the past that states that Bengaluru was discovered by the British, not much is offered.

House of Screams has an interesting idea, that of a scary house. The book moves fairly quickly at times and slowly in others, an odd mix.

The paranormal elements shift from mysterious to downright mundane after a point. The screams at night were described very well, and then the story just… drifts.

House of Screams does hide within its pages a very familiar tale of greed and lust for money. That could have been elaborated, and some of the many paranormal events could have been trimmed a bit. The length of the book at 239 pages seems barely enough to present everything the story wants to present, and all the multiple goings-on could have been moderated.

Overall, House of Screams could have used some more subtlety.

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A horror house

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