I was in search of a new Canadian-authored Halloween book to read during October, and had trouble finding something, as I typically do. Luckily, I stumbled upon this terrifying little novella, Nothing but Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw, who was a new-to-me author living in Montreal. Just looking at this frightening cover (which I had to put facedown on my nightstand, because I couldn’t stand the sight of it) gives one a sense of how scary this book truly is. It’s short, but it packs a more-than-spooky punch!
5 friends gather in a decrepit old mansion in Japan to celebrate a wedding. The wealthy ‘golden boy’ of the group Philip, paid for everyone to fly there and arranged the rental of this supposedly haunted property. Apparently the bride Talia had always wanted this spooky experience to be a part of her marriage to Faiz, so she revels in the creepy past of the house. According to its lore, it houses the remains of a bride who was asked to be buried alive there when her husband-to-be never made it home for their wedding, and each year, a new girl has to be buried alive in the walls and sacrificed to the house to keep this bride happy. Over the course of one evening and 124 pages, this risen-from-the-dead bride resurfaces as she looks for her next victim.
Simply catching glimpses of this creepy cover made me uncomfortable before I had even started reading it. And the good old-fashioned haunted house setting is one I still revel in because I have an overactive imagination and haunted houses are a legitimate fear. I love the look, smell, and feel of older homes, but I do have this niggling terror of moving into one and discovering it’s haunted a few weeks in. Anyway, the idea that a bunch of 20-year-olds are shaking up in a haunted house, all with entwined romantic histories and resentments sets up the perfect plot; it’s been done over and over, but for good reason – bad things are bound to happen. Khaw ups the suspense when we discover the buried-alive-bride isn’t the only ghoul to make an appearance, the paintings of historical Japanese figures and artwork slowly come alive as well, so the whole house becomes a living, breathing mess of horror. I was shocked by the ending and how quickly I got there, as the book plugs along at incredibly fast pace.
I scanned a few goodreads reviews of this book before I started reading it, and many commented on the flowery language that Khaw uses. Although I was more attuned to her choice of words once I read this review, and I definitely noticed a ton of similes and metaphors, it didn’t interrupt the flow of the story. Was it all entirely necessary? Probably not, but the descriptive language layered on top of the chilling plot developments were expertly paired together to really situate me in each horrifying moment of this book. The atmosphere was incredibly well done, which made this such a successful Halloween read.