Book Review: The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward

It’s been some time since I read a novel that truly surprised me and Catriona Ward’s The Last House on Needless Street not only surprised me, it astonished me. This strikingly original, difficult, and heartfelt novel disguises itself as a horrific story about a serial killer and a missing child, leading readers down disturbing paths and in all the wrong directions as it slowly but surely reveals itself to be much more.

Told through the perspective of multiple narrators, we follow the life of Ted, a strange and lonely man who lives at the end of the forebodingly named Needless Street. He has boarded up all the windows in his house, which sits at the edge of a deeply wooded park and regularly hosts visits with his estranged daughter. His only friend appears to be his cat Olivia- who is also a narrative voice and is quite charming.

The tale opens on the anniversary of the disappearance of a young girl, a disappearance that Ted was initially suspected of causing, and we also meet the vengeful sister of the missing girl who is still trying to track down her sister’s potential murderer years later. This deeply layered plot is revealed little by little with each chapter, and keen readers will note right off the bat that all is not as it seems with each narrator, and we are clearly not getting a complete picture.

The final few twists of this novel are stunning, and absolutely heartbreaking, making this a standout novel of psychological horror, but also an emotional story of trauma and finally, and most importantly, hope. A detailed author’s note at the end further explains Ward’s excellent work on this story and why this is a very realistic tale of trauma. Highly recommended for fans of deeply woven mysteries, unreliable narrators, and psychological horror.

Note: There are some very upsetting and intense scenes in this novel, particularly depicting animal abuse and child abuse, so please proceed with this trigger warning in mind.

Request a copy here or snag a digital copy here!

Nicole’s Top Ten of 2021

Beowulf: A New Translation by Maria Dahvana Headley– An iconic work of early English literature is updated in Headley’s feminist adaptation, bringing to light elements never before translated into English.

A Hawk in the Woods by Carrie Laben– A suspenseful, dark tale of family trauma, abuse of power, and the bonds of sisterhood that centers on supernaturally gifted twins Abby and Martha Waite and follows Abby’s choices after she discovers she has been diagnosed with late stage melanoma.

The Push by Ashley Audrain– A tense, page-turning psychological drama about the making and breaking of a family and one woman’s deeply affecting and difficult story of motherhood, womanhood, grief, and guilt.

Build Your House Around My Body by Violet Kupersmith– Haunting and inspired, this novel looks at the stories of three women in Vietnam, weaving together Vietnamese folklore and themes of national and racial identity, women’s bodies and their burden, and sweet revenge.

Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke by Eric LaRocca– A standout novella featuring an interesting combination of atypical structure, beautiful writing, and body horror about two women who meet in a queer chat room. This book, and the ending in particular, will keep you thinking long after you finish this short work.

Love and Fury: A Novel of Mary Wollstonecraft by Samantha Silva– An amazingly well-crafted and beautiful historical fiction novel of Mary Wollstonecraft – arguably the world’s first feminist and one of the world’s most influential thinkers. Inspiring and enlightening.

Betty by Tiffany McDaniel– Perhaps my most favorite book of the year, this heartbreaking and remarkable novel is inspired by the life of McDaniel’s own mother. Set in rural Ohio during the 50s, readers follow Betty Carpenter, as she endures terrible discrimination, violence, loss, and love in this luminous and often emotionally difficult book.

The Death of Jane Lawrence by Caitlin Starling– A beautifully written gothic romantic thriller with a dash of magic and horror. Drawing inspiration from such classics as Bluebeard and working the dangerous bridegroom trope, Starling delivers an engaging and tense tale.

The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo– A skillful and fantastical reimagining of The Great Gatsby that reimagines Jordan Baker as a queer Vietnamese immigrant, embellishing upon Fitzgerald’s original plot  with commentary on gender, race, and  sexuality, set in a magical Jazz Age New York.

Seek You: A Journey Through American Loneliness by Kristen Radtke– A timely and moving meditation on isolation and longing, both as individuals and as a society, delivered in a beautiful graphic novel.