Thirteen Storeys by Jonathan Sims

Gollancz | 2020 (26 November) | 400p | Review copy and Bought copy | Buy the book | Listen to the book

Banyan Court is a thirteen-storey high residential block, nestled within London. One half of the building is enjoyed by the very wealthy; the other half is social housing, its tenants uncared for and regularly evicted. At the very top, in his penthouse, lives Tobias Fell, the reclusive billionaire who designed and built Banyan Court. Many of the residents have a tale to tell about this building that they live in and here we are presented with the stories of twelve of them. These men, women and children live in both sides of Banyan Court, or they service it in some way – a security guard, a plumber, a letting agent. And each of the stories ends with the teller receiving an invitation to attend a party in Tobias Fell’s penthouse, a party from which, we are told at the very beginning, Tobias Fell will not emerge alive and yet not one of his guests saw a thing.

I love a ghost story, even better the tale of a haunted house, and in Thirteen Storeys Jonathan Sims gives us just that, but with a modern twist – it is a city tower block. Each of the residents lives independently from the others. We do meet people more than once (which can add a touch of something extra menacing as well as being rather entertaining as we see how the stories are related) but generally their lives are self-contained. This means that the novel comprises thirteen distinct ghost or horror stories. As you’d expect, some are better than others and, regrettably, the first story was my least favourite, which meant I did have to push past it, but I am so glad I did. There is some fantastic storytelling going on here and Banyan Court begins to take on a life of its own – a terrifying, horrifying life, all watched over by Tobias Fell.

I loved some of these stories! They are so imaginative and are all very different, signposted by the eerie chapter headings. We have invisible friends, an insane yet caring flat AI, a haunted painting, a sinister stain on the wall and so much more as each of the stories takes us deeper into the fabric of Banyan Court, into its hidden places, its secrets. But what does it all mean? The answer to that is the absolute joyous achievement of this very creepy, sinister, dark and brilliantly executed novel.

I listened to the audiobook, which is extremely successful, not least because each of the stories is narrated by a different reader. This really works to bring the residents alive and is particularly effective in the final, completely brilliant chapter when everything comes together. My only problem was that I did have some difficulty remembering who was who on occasion. But this was far outweighed by my enjoyment in listening to the different voices.

This is the perfect read for a dark wintry night as you glance at the walls of your home and wonder what stories they might have to tell about those who live on the other side. Excellent!

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