*This review will contain spoilers!*
There are not even enough words to describe how impressed I am by this novel.
‘Sweet Damage’ tells the story of Tim Ellison, a twenty-ish guy who is lounging around, not really doing anything with his life apart from working in his fathers restaurant. He’s lodging with his ex-girlfriend, Lilla, and her current boyfriend, Patrick, so tensions are high which is what causes him to move out. He moves to a large house called Fairview, one of the largest houses in all of Sydney, moving in with a reclusive young woman called Anna London. Anna is suffering from agoraphobia, so Tim is giving a very low rent price in exchange for him keeping her company and buying things from the shop for her.
And then things get creepy.
Tim wakes up in the middle of the night, sure someone is watching him. Then he hears footsteps following him home from a night at work. A birthday present gets delivered for him – a box full of spiders that quickly take over his room. A mysterious message written in red appears on the wall. Tim automatically assumes Anna is behind the creepy goings-on, but the truth is much worse than that…
The reveal comes very quickly in the last fifty pages of the novel, meaning for a little bit before that it starts to drag. When you know there’s going to be a big reveal and it’s slowly building up to it, it definitely raises the anticipation but it made me extremely impatient; surprisingly, it was absolutely worth the wait.
Along with the main plot line of what the hell is going on here what is all this, there is the more emotionally centered and heartbreaking story of Anna’s past. Anna is suffering with agoraphobia and depression following the death of her son, Ben, who drowned a little over six months before the novel commences. It takes a lot of time for Anna to open up to Tim, so there are a lot of questions waiting to be answered over the first half of the novel, but I think the revealing and Tim’s subsequent dealing with the new information on her past was handled so amazingly well. I was extremely impressed with seeing agoraphobia tackled in a novel anyway; I’ve never seen another book about it and I found it very interesting getting inside Anna’s head and learning more about how the disorder really makes you feel about yourself and about the world around you.
I hated Lilla’s character from the beginning, so the fact that the big reveal ended up with her being an absolute psychopath didn’t annoy me but it definitely did surprise me. I’m normally good at seeing hints coming along the way but there were a lot of little things (the mention of Anna’s fathers affairs, Tim seeing the satchel in Lilla’s house) that I let slip through my net because I thought they were completely irrelevant, so I was very happy to actually be surprised by the ending of a novel for once. It’s reminiscent of ‘Blood Brothers’ (if you haven’t heard of it, it’s a play about two twins who are born to a poor mother; she gives one away to a rich family to give him a chance of a better life and then everything kicks off when the poor son finds out that his twin is loaded) but that’s not a negative, it’s really good to see a modern twist on it and the female point of view as well.
Tim is probably one of the best male narrators I’ve ever experienced; too often they’re painted to be inconsiderate, unemotional and fearless, but Tim demonstrates all too well that he can be terrified and in love, so I enjoyed seeing a male character so in touch with their emotions.
I haven’t read any other Rebecca James novels, but I’m definitely going to keep an eye out in future because this is one of the best books I’ve read in the entirety of 2014. It blends horror/spooky elements with enough mystery to keep you guessing, but it’s also a contemporary new adult novel with Tim and Anna’s developing relationship and them learning how to be together and to know each other. I’d definitely recommend picking up this book, especially if you can get hold of it before Halloween because it’s the perfect atmospheric spooky read for this time of the year. Not many books make my heart race but this was indeed one of them!