Review: The Grip of It by Jac Jemc - Unsettling truths and unexplained absences

Thursday, 7 December 2017

The Grip of It by Jac Jemc
Released: 1st August 2017
Published by: Macmillan (US)
Genre: Horror
Source: Bought
Pages: 276
My Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Touring their prospective suburban home, Julie and James are stopped by a noise. Deep and vibrating, like throat singing. Ancient, husky, and rasping, but underwater. “That’s just the house settling,” the real estate agent assures them with a smile. He is wrong.

The move—prompted by James’s penchant for gambling and his general inability to keep his impulses in check—is quick and seamless; both Julie and James are happy to start afresh. But this house, which sits between a lake and a forest, has its own plans for the unsuspecting couple. As Julie and James try to establish a sense of normalcy, the home and its surrounding terrain become the locus of increasingly strange happenings. The framework— claustrophobic, riddled with hidden rooms within rooms—becomes unrecognizable, decaying before their eyes. Stains are animated on the wall—contracting, expanding—and map themselves onto Julie’s body in the form of painful, grisly bruises.

 Like the house that torments the troubled married couple living within its walls, The Grip of It oozes with palpable terror and skin-prickling dread. Its architect, Jac Jemc, meticulously traces Julie and James’s unsettling journey through the depths of their new home as they fight to free themselves from its crushing grip.
What is worse? To be confronted with an obvious horror, or to be haunted by a never-ending premonition of what's ahead?

This new release from Jac Jemc being coined as 'literary horror' is the type of book which disorients the reader as much as it does the characters. Psychologically unsettling, the story unfolds as a young couple contend with an omnipresent entity in their newly purchased home. Set in a quiet neighborhood with some questionable residents who may know more than they let on, Julie and James become increasingly affected by an unspoken terror which threatens their grip on reality. While the 'big reveal' didn't leave me awestruck, Jemc's command of language was undeniably impressive. 

I remember that I have no answer for where the bruises come from or for where I disappeared when the house swallowed me up, and we have no explanation for the noises - the intonation or the deep breathing in the night or the voices looting our dreams - and no reasons for the drawings or the children in the woods, things we see together, even if we're apart. 

Let me start off by saying that this is not an example of the typical 'haunted house' trope. Yes, strange things happen in the building itself, but there is something altogether more uncomfortable when the cause could just as easily be rationalised as coming from the couple themselves. What makes The Grip of It so chilling goes beyond the already disturbing events of bruises which appear on Julie, or the sounds that keep James awake at night. You wouldn't need jump-scares in a horror movie if it instilled the kind of unease which is present here - something that is difficult to shake, but impossible to turn away from. The short, alternating perspectives let us get to know both members of the couple, as their vices and growing suspicion of each other begins to infiltrate the miasma of fear. There are lots of missing pieces though, and much of the background to the town and its past left me wondering where the story could possibly be headed. Things are dealt with at a slower pace in this novel which is almost entirely character driven, and often confusingly so. However, I can see where the author was coming from, and how it serves the purpose of always keeping you one step behind the truth. 

I feel this threat to our credibility sharply behind my eyes. The inability to trust ourselves is the most menacing danger. I fear what we could find here. I fear what we wont. 

I love how Jemc has contrasted such elegant prose with her darker subject matter. It's definitely made me want to read more of her work, as she is able to articulate human instinct and emotion in even the most surreal circumstances. She challenges the reader to question where the figments of our imagination begin and reality ends. Is there a true boundary between the two? This book excels at asking that exact question. As for the answer...well, I challenge you to take on The Grip of It and see what conclusion you reach.

We can mark the place that indicates This is how much we can take; we can monitor it, but that line, nevertheless, constantly moves. 


It can be hard to judge a book when I'm not even completely sure what had been going on at times, but perhaps that's the catch with a story like this - realising that the thought of the impossible is the most threatening of all. 

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