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You Should Have Left by Daniel Kehlmann #BookReview

“It is fitting that I’m beginning a new notebook up here. New surroundings and new ideas, a new beginning. Fresh air.”

These are the opening lines of the journal kept by the narrator of Daniel Kehlmann’s spellbinding new novel: the record of the seven days that he, his wife, and his four-year-old daughter spend in a house they have rented in the mountains of Germany—a house that thwarts the expectations of his recollection and seems to defy the very laws of physics. The narrator is eager to finish a screenplay, entitled Marriage, for a sequel to the movie that launched his career, but something he cannot explain is undermining his convictions and confidence, a process he is recording in this account of the uncanny events that unfold as he tries to understand what, exactly, is happening around him—and in himself. 

Title: You Should Have Left | Author: Daniel Kehlmann | Publisher: Pantheon Books | Pub. Date: 21 October 2016 | Pages: 114 | ISBN: 9781101871928 | Genre: Horror | Original Language: German | Source: Self purchased | Starred Review

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You Should Have Left Review

This month, Sci-Fi & Scary is shining a spotlight on German creators. So what better time to dive into this German novella!

Our unnamed narrator, a struggling screenwriter desperate to finish his next script, decides a family vacation to a luxurious, secluded mountain house in Germany is the best way to get his creative juices flowing. But the house may have more to offer than what the Airbnb ad lets on, and the family quickly becomes uncomfortable with their choice of lodgings. I love a good epistolary novel, and it isn’t a format I’ve seen much in horror, so the format alone ticked a major box for me. That said, I was a little nervous about the format at first with You Should Have Left. The narrator’s voice is very dry at the outset. The reader experiences the story through his diary, and the first couple entries are almost clinical, with little emotion. Happily, this changes quickly as the weirdness of the house sets in.

This story is insidious; it ramps up very slowly, leaving the reader with a sense of unease that’s hard to pinpoint until you’re fully ensconced in the terror. The slow build and the nature of the house reminded me quite a bit of House of Leaves, if House of Leaves were distilled down to only the house bits. (Disclaimer: have not actually read House of Leaves in its entirety, it has bested me a few times now.) The aspects of (what I read of) House of Leaves that left me most uncomfortable are present in You Should Have Left, and they were just as effective here. I won’t say much, but there is something deeply unsettling to me about angle that don’t add up. It’s such a subtle way to show that the rules don’t apply in this place, and it gave me major heebie-jeebies.

Because of the diary format, the reader can never be 100% certain that we’re being given a factual account of the events. I loved the seed of doubt planted by the format – are the things described really happening, or is the narrator completely unhinged? As the story goes on and the narrator himself begins questioning his earlier diary entries, that doubt becomes even more important to the plot. The unreliable narrator trope is one I find to be a bit overdone, but it was executed damn near perfectly in this novella.

You Should Have Left is a fantastic bite-sized bit of horror that doesn’t let its short length hamper the terror it offers. A non-traditional haunted house story that begs to be read in a single sitting, this novella should definitely be on any supernatural horror lover’s TBR.  

You can find this book at many retailers via clicking on the appropriate link on Goodreads (buying direct from retailers is a good way to support indie authors); however, in the spirit of supporting literacy programs, we would like to point out that you may be able to purchase this book through BetterWorldBooks.

Published inHorror Book ReviewsStarred Reviews
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