The House of Sight and Shadow

Thoughts on Nicholas Griffin's The House of Sight and Shadow

Having greatly enjoyed Nicholas Griffin’s first novel, The Requiem Shark, I was excited to discover this second novel bearing his name in my local bookshop.  The House of Sight and Shadow (the full equivocal nature of the title is revealed slowly throughout the book) begins as young Joseph Bendix arrives in eighteenth century London hoping to become the apprentice to the talented and notorious anatomist, Sir Edmund Calcraft. Upon their initial meeting, Bendix admits to Calcraft that what compelled him to seek the doctor was his reputation. Bendix relays, “They say that your house is built upon bones, curtains stitched of women’s hair, and pillows sewn of eyelids. They say that you are monster.” This stirred within me an excitement that perhaps this Dr. Calcraft was of a similar moral character as other doctors of literature, such as Victor Frankenstein and Henry Jekyll.

During the first half of the novel, the plot progresses at a deliberate pace, with Griffin teasing the reader with tantalizing morsels of information, introducing foreboding characters such as Mister Sixes, and putting the main character into unusual situations that caused me to question what was really going on and wish for more facts. Unfortunately, the great first half was tarnished by the final third of the story which seemed rushed, with events happening so rapidly that I was left wondering if it was the author’s intent to zip through them, thinking he was bringing the story to an exciting crescendo, or if he had simply run out of time to meet his delivery deadline and was not able to flesh out portions of the story as he may have liked. Especially as the story draws to a close, it seemed the events taking place deserved to spend more time on the page than Griffin allowed. One particular event, similar to another that had consumed an entire chapter earlier, was over in just a couple of pages but was of such monumental importance to the main character that I felt cheated. The event was handled so rapidly, almost thrown away, that it landed with no weight at all when it should have been a huge moment in the story. This seemed to happen several times during the final third of the book, which hampered my enjoyment of the overall experience and brought a novel I was really enjoying to an unsatisfactory conclusion.