[Book Review] Camilla Sten’s Resting Place

There’s more than one way to haunt a house…

If walls could talk…

What’s in a name? An age-old question, perhaps, but no less impactful for the passage of time. The answer could be anything, if you were willing to go deep enough in an explanation. In Camilla Sten’s The Resting Place, translated by Alexandra Fleming, the answer is power. Power, security, and secrets. So many of each, in fact, that in other hands they might have gotten lost in the weeds and forgotten along the way. In Sten’s capable hands, we are given a constantly shifting, intricately crafted narrative that relies just as much on keeping its secrets as it does on revealing them.

I had the good fortune to review Sten’s prior novel, The Lost Village, last year, so when I heard she was so soon after putting out another work I knew I would be in for a ride. What I didn’t expect is that it would center around a protagonist with a seldom engaged with disability — prosopagnosia, the inability to recognize faces — who, after walking in on the horrific scene of her grandmother’s murder and being left to deal with her estate, dedicates herself to discovering the identity of the killer while uncovering decades worth of secrets in her grandmother’s Swedish summer house.

Face blindness as a plot device seems both wholly original and criminally underused in the horror genre. I am by no means calling for it to become anything close to a trope — men and authority figures in the genre already don’t believe women when they do have names and faces to go by, and gaslighting women into madness is already enough of a trope of its own — but seeing it in the protagonist of a novel was a refreshingly original approach. So often the monsters are faceless and cast into anonymity by their own choice; what happens when the facelessness is accidental? Naturally, to us and to Eleanor, everyone becomes a suspect.

It is a credit to Sten’s ability that the suspense of each reveal in the novel is kept tight to the chest, but perhaps more important even than that continually building sense of dread is the construction of Eleanor herself as a strong character not in spite of but rather alongside her prosopagnosia. She is constantly placed in situations where her anxiety should take the forefront, and yet she trusts herself enough to know and use the tools she has at her disposal to assuage her own fear, even when those around her try to cast doubt on her assertions as a way to settle their own nerves. She allows herself moments of vulnerability but refuses to be continually treated like some breakable object because of her disability. Naturally, I adore her all the more for it.

Alternate cover for The Resting Place

The Resting Place is, at its heart, somewhere between a ghost story (of sorts), a murder mystery, and a labyrinthine family history. While we’re never spinning enough around the narratives turns to get fully lost, they are paced well enough to put us in just as precarious a position for trust as Eleanor herself. It’s never so much that Eleanor is an unreliable narrator — the novel alternates between her in the present and a young woman named Anushka in the 1960s — but that the narrative path and the intricately crafted characters come together to create an atmosphere of constant unease.

As we wander the halls of the deceased Vivianne’s summer home, the very air of the place takes on a sense of smothering secrecy, not to mention the mysteriously papered over doorway…and whether she wants to or not, Eleanor is compelled to bring those secrets to light. The Resting Place propels readers along in a cleverly convoluted mystery that asks and offers an answer to how much we can truly trust what we see, even when we do remember it. And how much truth is in one person’s memory?

The Resting Place will be released on March 29, 2022 from Minotaur Press, an imprint of St. Martin’s Publishing Group.

I would like to thank NetGalley and the publisher for the opportunity to read an advanced copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

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Katelyn Nelson’s writing interests lean mostly toward pop culture analysis and representation. She tweets @24th_Doctor, mostly about horror.

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Katelyn Nelson

Katelyn Nelson

Katelyn Nelson’s writing interests lean mostly toward pop culture analysis and representation. She tweets @24th_Doctor, mostly about horror.

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