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The Land the House Stands On is Not What it Seems: A review of You Should Have Left by Daniel Kehlmann, translated by Ross Benjamin

“I searched everywhere for a proof of reality, when all the while I understood quite well that the standard of reality had changed.” 

This quote from the The Willows, a mind-bending supernatural novella written by master of horror and weird fiction Algernon Blackwood,  perfectly sums up the equally mind-bending supernatural novella You Should Have Left by celebrated author Daniel Kehlmann, translated by Ross Benjamin.

This novella reads like a journal kept by a struggling screen writer who, on top of having to turn out a second hit — and fast — has to deal with his four year old daughter who demands his constant attention. He’s also coping with his rapidly crumbling marriage, along with the weird haunting and logic-defying happenings in the house his family is renting.

It’s a house in the mountains of Germany, where the laws of time and physics fail to operate as they are normal expected to, where reflections can’t be trusted and a spectral woman with narrow eyes that are “very close together” haunts your dreams.

This novella is a quick read maxing out at 111 pages and, like Algernon Blackwood’s novella ‘The Willows’, takes full advantage of the setting the characters find themselves in — transforming the mountains, the house, and moreover the land which the house stands on, like the willows in Blackwood’s story, into something increasingly menacing and shifty.

The house, and the land the house stands on, seems to be alive and live completely in its own version of reality, where things move and change on their own accord, and strange sounds and spectral figures haunt the ever changing architecture of the strange retreat.

Starting slowly and uneasy before reaching a climax of full on panic and terror, and then ending with a plummet back into unease and depression, this book — for its short length — serves as a quick spook ride that thrills, chills and mystifies.

In closing, if you’re looking for a chilly breeze of a read this summer, you can’t go wrong with You Should Have Left! I read this novella in just under three hours (allowing myself time to stop and get a drink and a snack, etc.) and couldn’t have been happier or more haunted by those three hours.

Finally, I would like to thank Professor Philip J. Snyder — who teaches, among many other wonderful courses, horror literature at Monroe Community College — for recommending this book to me. I was going through a rough patch in my personal life when he recommended You Should Have Left to get my mind off things, and it certainly did for three supremely creepy hours

And for that I am I’m eternally grateful.

So what are you waiting for? You Should Have Left when you read who wrote this book and gone out and bought it! Go now! While you still can…

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