Thursday, December 31, 2020

Book Review: The Nesting

By Jami Denison

A dead wife. Two motherless children. An isolated home in the cold, snowy woods. Ghosts. Any writer working with these elements will have a high bar to reach, with classic gothic tales such as Jane Eyre and The Turn of the Screw establishing the genre and still popular more than a century after publication. More recently, Ruth Ware’s The Turn of the Key proves that gothic plot points can work well in the most modern of settings. 

C.J. Cooke’s latest thriller, The Nesting, combines classic gothic plot points with tropes from Scandinavian literature. The result is a somewhat uneven, but always compelling, mystery.
Lexi Ellis has hit rock bottom, literally homeless and friendless after a suicide attempt and a break-up. A chance encounter leads her to assume the identity of a super nanny and apply for a summer job in Norway. Architect Tom Farraday needs someone to care for his daughters, Gaia and Coco, while he builds his wife’s dream house on an isolated cliff in the woods. His wife, Aurelia, is dead, though… having jumped off that very cliff in the middle of the night. As Lexi becomes closer to the girls—and finds Aurelia’s secret diary—she becomes convinced that Aurelia’s death was not an accident. And the “Sad Lady” without eyes who haunts her in the basement makes things even worse.

Cooke tries to do a lot with this book. Lexi is a troubled narrator, and my initial concern, when she accepted the job, was that this friendless, suicidal imposter who had barely even babysat would do something to hurt the girls. But Lexi pulls off her con with surprising ease and falls in love with the girls (and them her) fairly quickly. The biggest plot point of the book quickly fades in importance. 

Lexi is not the only narrator, and the story takes place in the past as well as the present. Aurelia’s point-of-view is captured in narrative and diary form, and even Tom’s point-of-view is presented, as his complications with the house build are a major plot point, and factor into the feeling of a dangerous, supernatural nature that the book creates. These complications detract from the main plot rather than adding to it; Tom's issues with meeting payroll and his relationship with his father have nothing to do with Aurelia’s death or the atmosphere in the home. 

With its many subplots, flashbacks, narrators, and supporting characters, The Nesting is muddier than a typical thriller. Most thrillers usually build on a strong spine and one specific question that is answered strongly enough to leave readers satisfied; The Nesting leaves some questions unanswered and shrugs off others. Still, it delivers a familiar sense of unease in an unfamiliar setting, creating an atmosphere that is captivating enough to overlook its other shortcomings.

Thanks to Berkley for the book in exchange for an honest review.

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