Under a Watchful Eye

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Reviewed by: Tom Muckian
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Tom Muckian

Adam Nevill writes horror. He writes very good horror, and Under a Watchful Eye is a very good horror novel. Nothing surprising there, what is slightly surprising, at least for anyone familiar with his last novel Lost Girl, is the scale of the horror on offer.

Under a Watchful Eye is a psychological (and psychic) horror novel. The protagonist is a writer of horror novels whose life is turned upside down by a reunion with an old college mate from years earlier. A loyal fan base, film adaptations of his work in development and a luxury pad on the south coast, life for Seb is good. What could possibly go wrong? Well, Seb Logan’s  latest novel isn’t quite coming along as he would like and at 50 plus he isn’t quite the bright young thing he used to be.

Into his life comes Ewan Alexander, an old roommate from his college days when both were aspiring writers. Life hasn’t been quite as good to Ewan and he’s not happy about it. He sees Seb as his meal ticket and despite his best efforts to discourage him; it’s not very long before Ewan has moved in with a very reluctant Seb as his host.

Ewan sneers at Seb’s work considering it populist pulp fiction and hints at a work of his own that will be important and real, a masterpiece. He wants Seb to “structurally re edit” his masterpiece and get it published for him. Despite his own worsening writers block Seb refuses. From this point on Seb’s life and world start to slowly unravel. He suffers horrific nightmares, threats insinuated and real from both Ewan and subsequently from other members of a cult of which Ewan was a member. His dream lifestyle becomes a nightmare from which he can’t escape.

This feels like a very personal novel by Nevill.  Unlike Lost Girl which was a thrill ride of a novel as much a thriller as horror. All its horrors were writ large, extreme climate change, child trafficking, murderous cults and corporate terrorism. The main character referred to only as the father, inadvertently becomes an unlikely if ruthlessly efficient action hero, willing to do anything to find his lost daughter. The horrors on offer in Under a Watchful Eye are of a more personal nature. Things are turned inward. Seb’s life, home, mind and ultimately his talent are invaded and corrupted. The father rushes headlong in pursuit of his nemesis.  Seb Logan tries to run from his. But where do you run to when the horror invades the darker corners of your mind?

If all this makes Under a Watchful Eye a little sedate by comparison with Nevill’s previous novels, fear not. The terrors in Under a Watchful may indeed be less immediate and horrific, they are though more visceral, they live with you longer. Not unlike Ewan Alexander, they move in with you and won’t leave. I should also make mention of a certain Thin Len, a character who surely deserves a novel of his own. All in all, Under a Watchful Eye is a fine addition to Adam Nevill’s growing and impressive cannon of work.

Under a Watchful Eye by Adam Nevill    ISBN 9781509820405 €15.60  is published on 12th Jan 2017, Anyone mentioning the Roe River Book Review can avail of a discounted price of €12.95 (offer expires Jan 31st)