Knap Hall is a Tudor House with a history. Connected to nearby Winchcome and Sudeley Castle by the tragic tale of Katherine Parr, Henry VIII’s last and surviving Queen, and striken by centuries of evil, charlatan landlords, it has no welcome for the living. It is, though, a natural home for the dead. When Hollywood actress Trinity Ansell and her husband Harry bought the house, Trinity became obsessed by it, hosting Tudor weekends for the rich, dressing in the stunning red dresses of Katherine Parr. But Trinity’s destiny soon becomes tragically tied to this house and it’s not long before it is back on the market, snapped up this time by Leo Deffard, the head of an independent TV company, who is after the perfect haunted house in which to set his paranormal, psychological TV experiment, which will, he trusts, make a killing in the TV ratings.
Leo’s plan is to put a group of celebrities into the house in what would be a mix of Big Brother and Haunted House. Their opposing views on ghosts and the supernatural will, he hopes, lead them into conflict and, ideally, something will happen that will put them all on the front pages of the newspapers.
The first half of Night After Night follows researcher Grayle Underhill’s attempts to build background to Knap Hall, looking for clues to the Katherine Parr connection as well to the lives of those who lived in the Hall during its subsequent darker years. Grayle has her own history, as do many that she meets, and it strikes the reader more than once that she is rarely more than a knife’s edge from breakdown. You could say a similar thing about her friend Cindy, the transsexual ex-minor-celebrity psychic analyst and ventriloquist who turns up in the house as a ‘resident’ in the TV show but is also a double-agent. He is there to watch the drama, feed it and bring it to a ratings-hungry head.
Written in the present tense throughout, Night After Night is a book that does its utmost to tempt the reader in, just as if the reader were a viewer of the Big Other, as the show is unfortunately named. Initially, it works quite well. I was intrigued by the sad and rather appealing character of Trinity Howell whose last dreams were bound so tightly to Knap Hall. I also enjoyed the setting in the beautiful Cotswolds. This is an area I know very well and I could picture the scenery and history as it was revealed to me. My fascination with Katherine Parr and Sudeley Castle is also strong and I was interested to see how both would be treated here.
However, as the novel went on it lost me. While pretending to be something ‘other’ from Big Brother, it actually felt rather the same to me. Also, I could not understand the appeal for TV audiences of the Big Other‘s premise. Second-rate personalities debating ghosts, being freaked out themselves by bumps in the night – why is this so different from other programmes you’d not be surprised to see on some of the channels with high numbers?
I believed that Night After Night would be a supernatural tale, a ghost story, and I spent much of the novel waiting to be frightened – and I am very easily frightened. But not once did I flinch. There is nothing to frighten here. The stories of past horrors at the house are revolting and disturbing but no more significant than that. The supernatural element of the novel merges with other more earthly themes of jealousy, superstition and violence. Deffard has purposely placed opposing personalities in a claustrophobic and oppressive situation. It’s not surprising that it erupts. That’s what he wants after all. The ghosts are almost an after thought. And that’s rather a pity.
I was very disappointed by Night After Night – it never proved to me that it was one thing or the other. Never frightening and never puzzling. I didn’t warm to any of the characters with the exception of Trinity and she is soon relegated in importance. The character of Cindy could have been intriguing but his dialogue – imagine having a conversation with Yoda – alienated me from him almost instantly. But my main problem with the novel is that I forlornly spent its entire length waiting for something to happen that would make my time investment worthwhile. Not being able to overcome my lack of interest in the banal Big Other didn’t help. The only thing that did surprise me about Night After Night is that I finished it.