Reviewing: If You See Her by Ania Ahlborn

Content Warnings: Suicide, death of children, alcoholism, depression.

My rating: 4 books out of 5

Highlights:

  • This story is genuinely haunting
  • Love a good haunted house
  • Small town life can be horrifying tbh 
  • Breakdown of relationships done excellently 
  • That ending though

They called it a farmhouse, but there was nothing farm-like about it. It must have been built by some weird eccentric because the place was taller than it was wide. It reminded Jesse of something out of a Hitchcock film, or maybe he was thinking of the Addams Family.

I’ve wanted to read this book since it was announced, so when I saw it on Kindle Unlimited I immediately added it to my Kindle and bumped it up my TBR. This is a novel that takes the ghost stories children tell and turns them into something horrifying even to adults. There’s always that building where you grew up, a dilapidated old house that never seems to sell, an old barn in a field, somewhere the grown-ups tell you never to go because it’s dangerous. For Jesse it’s the old farmhouse out on the edge of his small, middle-of-nowhere town. The house in this story is very much a backdrop to what unfolds, as opposed to many ‘haunted house’ style novels where it becomes almost a character in its own right, but what a backdrop it is. I loved the descriptions of the interior, the faded outlines of crucifixes and crosses nailed to the walls, the crumbling remnants of furniture once treasured by those long gone. I’m the sort of person who finds old houses fascinating, the sort of person who would probably watch Casey’s YouTube channel on a loop – fortunately I’m also the sort of person too cowardly to ever go inside them (what if there’s germs, or its unsafe, or illegal, or HAUNTED) so all things considered I’d probably be pretty safe in this town. Ahlborn has an incredible ability to create a setting without having to list every single detail and the house was spectacularly rendered in my mind. Then there’s the characters. 

“There was someone there.” 

Jesse’s response was something between a squint and a wince, partly because he didn’t get it, partly because he was sure he was about to throw up. 

“A shadow. A figure,” Casey clarified, but that only intensified Jesse’s malaise. “A girl,” he said. “It was a girl, Jesse. The more I replay that night, the more I’m sure we weren’t alone.”

Jesse is our story’s main protagonist, an ex-alcoholic English teacher, aspiring writer and father who wouldn’t be out of place strolling the halls of the Overlook Hotel in The Shining. He’s a loving father, a good husband, and that just makes what happens throughout this book hurt more. Grief and a desperate hope to publish a novel and earn enough money to move his budding little family out of their dead-end town drive Jesse back to the farmhouse that has loomed large over his life for as long as he can remember. One of my favourite things in horror is the breakdown of a character’s perception of reality – as things get more and more twisted and horrifying, it is easy to question whether or not what is being described is even happening. Jesse’s grasp on the world around him slips as his obsession grows. Telling this story could be his salvation, or it could kill him. 

If Casey was trying to freak him out— “Tell me if you see her,” Casey said. A moment later, Jesse was stumbling sideways. He nearly lost his footing as his shoulder crashed hard against the wall. Because that’s when Casey rushed past him so quickly he was nothing but a blur.

Using one of my favourite things – dual timeline narratives – we see Jesse’s discovery of the house’s past and the girl tied up in it all. Georgiana Ecklund’s story is a good old fashioned historical gothic tale of madness and the devil and I loved it. I wanted to see more of her if I’m honest, given that she’s the titular ‘her’, but I very much enjoyed it when she did show up. The image of the ghostly woman in white is as old as time, but it never gets less chilling. The idea of being haunted is scary enough, but when the ghost haunting you seems so vulnerable as a young girl in her nightdress – well, kids are creepy. Especially historical kids living in gothic farmhouses. 

“Did you know that the most dangerous of the Devil’s friends disguise themselves as the innocent?” Father Donner asked. 

“As virginal girls and small children, as visions draped in white.” 

I think the only things holding me back in terms of rating are the pacing, which I found to be a little slower than I’d like at times, and the fact that I wanted to see more of the house and its potential ghostly inhabitant. These are more personal preferences than huge narrative issues, but I never claimed to be an entirely objective reviewer. Additionally, this book deals with some heavy topics as you can probably tell from the content warnings, the foremost amongst which is suicide. If this is a topic that puts you off a book, this isn’t the one for you I’m afraid.I definitely want to read more of Ahlborn’s work, and I’d recommend this to any horror fans out there looking for something more on the psychological side of things!

And do let me know if you see her.

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