Naomi’s Room

9 Feb

Fans of M R James probably know author Denis MacEoin better as Jonathan Aycliffe, writer of The MatrixThis novel features strong themes of black magic and necromancy, and is centred around an indestructible occult tome, known as the Matrix Aeternitatas (which, rather like the cursed talisman in M R James’ Casting the Runes cannot be given back once one has taken possession of it). Like James, Aycliffe is a master of mood and atmosphere, creating an increasing sense of creeping dread in the minds of his readers the longer they read his stories. It is therefore perhaps not surprising that Aycliffe shares James’ background as an accomplished scholar: he studied English, Persian, Arabic and Islamic studies at the universities of Dublin, Edinburgh and Cambridge, and lectured at the universities of Fez in Morocco and Newcastle upon Tyne in the UK. He even carried out his doctoral research at King’s College, Cambridge, which was James’ alma mater. Probably Aycliffe’s most famous work of fiction is Naomi’s Room, a novel of psychological horror, which shot him to fame in the 1990s. With the recent re-publication of Naomi’s Room, coinciding with the release of Aycliffe’s latest novel, The Silence of Ghosts, now is perhaps the perfect time to take a look back at this spine chilling classic.

Charles and Laura are a young, happily married couple inhabiting the privileged world of Cambridge academia. Brimming with excitement, Charles sets off with his daughter Naomi on a Christmas Eve shopping trip to London. But, by the end of the day, all Charles and his wife have left are cups of tea and police sympathy. For Naomi, their beautiful, angelic only child, has disappeared. Days later her murdered body is discovered. If you like ghost stories in the vein of M R James then you are likely to enjoy Aycliffe, as  in my experience very few modern authors write ghost stories and creeping tales of dread and terror as well as he does. Be warned though – Naomi’s Room does become much more grisly as it reaches its shocking ending. Up to that point, however, the book is a masterclass in unsettling, heart-pounding unease as Aycliffe shows an almost uncanny, very Jamesian, ability to unsettle and disturb the reader. Almost everyone who has read this book seems to have said that they have had difficulty sleeping, or even being on their own, for a few days afterwards, so this is certainly not a horror novel for the faint-hearted (and make no mistake, Naomi’s Room, by the end, is very much an out-and-out modern horror rather than a gentle chiller in the mould of the classic Jamesian Edwardian ghost story).

Turning to Aycliffe’s new novel, The Silence of Ghosts is a tale of terror set during the Second World War. When the Blitz starts in London, Dominic Lancaster, injured out of service at the battle of Narvik, accompanies his 10 year old sister Octavia to the family house on the shores of Ullswater in the Lake District. Octavia is profoundly deaf but at night she can hear disturbing noises in the house. When questioned by Dominic as to what she can hear, she replies: ‘voices’. Two nights later she comes into his bedroom to tell him that the dead children in the house want them to leave. Then Octavia falls mysteriously ill and during her sickness she tells Dominic he must go to the attic. There, he releases an older, darker evil that threatens the lives of Olivia and himself. Although not quite up to the quality and originality of Naomi’s Room, at times Aycliffe shows in The Silence of Ghosts that he has lost none of his power to by turns mesmerise, shock and unsettle his readers. Incidentally, the book I mentioned at the start of this post, The Matrix, is well worth seeking out if you like Aycliffe’s style, as it’s somewhat broader and deeper than either Naomi’s Room or The Silence of Ghosts, as well as, needless to say, tipping its hat to one of M R James’ most famous stories. I suspect that the old don would be fairly proud to have Aycliffe as his successor if he were still around…

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One Response to “Naomi’s Room”

  1. Woody Dexter March 30, 2017 at 5:36 am #

    Reblogged this on Haint-Blue Shudders.

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