Debut Review: The Birthing House

The Birthing House
The Birthing House (Amazon USAUKCanada)
By Christopher Ransom (US Website, UK Website)
UK Publisher: Little, Brown (Sphere) (Jan. 1, 2009)
USA Publisher: St. Martin’s Press (Aug. 4, 2009)
Hardcover
Excerpt (pdf)
Review copy provided by Little, Brown.

Reviewed by Raven.

I started The Birthing House (debut showcase here) with high hopes. A birthing house, which I had never heard of before, is apparently a house owned by a doctor, and women would go there to give birth. The idea behind The Birthing House is that birth, the beginning of life, is just as traumatic an event as death, the ending of life, so it’s just as likely to open the door to evil and result in a house becoming haunted. This concept intrigued me, and I liked the writing style in the excerpt, so although I rarely read ghost stories, I wanted to read this book.

Having read it, I still think the concept is intriguing. I enjoyed the way Christopher Ransom pulls the reader into the head of his main character, Conrad Harrison. However, a couple of things kept me from enjoying the book as much as I wanted to.

One biggie was I felt Ransom didn’t exploit the concept fully. He set up a lot of births and upcoming births (several pregnant women, a clutch of parthenogetic snake’s eggs, and a number of odd, apparently ageless children born in the house). The problem was none of these setups really paid off. Instead the book took off in a different, less original direction, and most of these intriguing mysteries never got explained. The less interesting story we got instead even made me roll my eyes at one point, unfortunately.

I guess I’ve read books before where the author seems to run out of steam in the second half, although I see it more often in movies. Most of the time it seems to happen in works with a high, easily explainable, original concept. Well, this book has one of those. It hooked me with the “birth opening the door to evil” idea. But, as seems to happen with these concepts all too often, the author didn’t explore every angle. So, while the concept made me read the book, I wasn’t satisfied.

So, a note to writers writing strong, original concepts: follow through. In the case of The Birthing House, the whole book should have reflected the birth/evil idea. But instead this idea seemed to go by the wayside halfway through.

I also wished the hero were more active and, well, more heroic. Instead of working to solve the mysteries he was encountering, he moped around and reflected on his past. Granted, his past tied into the theme, but I would’ve loved to see him presented as a guy taking action to whip this house and its ghosts instead of letting them whip him.

But I probably could have forgiven the hero for being passive (okay, maybe I could have) if the novel had been strong in the second half. Can you tell I’m gritting my teeth with frustration because it wasn’t? The mysteries I wanted to see resolved are still mysteries.

Has this happened to you? You’ve been hooked by a concept and disappointed by the execution? It really does frustrate me, because strong concepts have so much potential to become strong novels (or movies) that I hate to see them not do so.