Dr. Charles Hillenbrand is living the high-life of Cambridge academia and enjoys an idealistic family life with his wife Laura and their four-year-old daughter Naomi. But on Christmas Eve, 1970, this idyllic life is shattered when Charles takes his eyes off Naomi for just a second in the busy toy shop Hamleys in London; she's taken from him forever. The Hillenbrands’ nightmare is only just beginning, however. Soon the bereaved couple start hearing ghastly things go bump in the night: first a piercing scream from Naomi’s room, then footsteps in the attic. Charles’ suspicions that these occurrences are not simply in their heads are confirmed by a reporter who has been desperately trying to catch a glimpse of them since the tragedy; he shows Charles the photographs he has taken of their house which show the faces of mysterious people at the attic window, a pair of young girls dressed in Victorian clothing, a slender woman in grey, and worst of all, in one of the photos is Naomi herself...
Aycliffe throws you right into the thick of it, with no messing about. The novel begins 20 years after Naomi’s disappearance, with Charles recounting the events of his past. Aycliffe gives you small pieces of information to keep you hooked, but the whole story is very gradually revealed. For example Charles records ghostly things happening at the very moment he is writing his memoir:
“Very well, let me admit it, I’m afraid to go up there, afraid of what I may hear. Or see. She may be there.”
“I made the mistake of looking down. I should not have done that. I looked at the floor. There was something on the carpet, just outside the old nursery door, Naomi’s door. A length of blue ribbon. I didn’t touch it, of course. It might still have been warm.”
Furthermore, another early statement designed to intrigue is: “I loved Naomi as much as I loved Laura.” Which immediately made me think - hmmm loved in the past tense, well what happened to Laura? Did she die? If so how, why and when? Or did they just get a divorce? Tricks like this always keep me intrigued and eager to read on, and Aycliffe has a particular talent for them.
The novel is really well written and succeeds as a creepy, unsettling ghost story; the narrative maintains a strong sense of foreboding and dread throughout, making Naomi’s Room a surprisingly scary little story that I read almost in one sitting - it was that gripping.
Naomi’s Room is not a pure ghost story though; the book escalates into shocking grisliness and nastiness at the end and what happens to Naomi may be hard to swallow; it is not for the faint-hearted.
All in all Naomi’s Room is a very good ghost story, with some visceral horror thrown in. It is genuinely scary and highly chilling despite the somewhat cliché subject matter of ‘haunted house’. Naomi’s disappearance in Hamleys plays into a parent’s primal fear, making the novel even more effective for mothers and fathers. It is very short (158 pages); it doesn’t drag and a good pace is maintained throughout. I’d recommend Naomi’s Room if you really want to be scared; it’s a good one to read in winter, late at night when it’s dark, with only one low-watt lamp shining over you.