I love horror films. Horror may be my favorite genre, especially when it’s psychological and involves ghosts and a haunted atmosphere. Perhaps surprisingly, though, I’ve never read any horror books. So when I stumbled across The Apartment by S. L. Grey, I was intrigued. It’s published by Blumhouse Books, an offshoot of the film production company behind so many of my favorite scary movies. It was an impulse buy, and I dove in right away.
The Apartment starts in Cape Town, South Africa. Mark and Steph are new parents to their young daughter, Hayden, and everything is fine until men break into their home. Rattled by the experience, they decide to finally go on that trip to Paris they’ve been putting off. To make it more affordable, they find an online service to do a house-swap. (More strangers in their house? An odd choice, but okay.) Steph finds a great apartment in Paris, and their own home will be available for the French couple to vacation in. With the arrangements all made, Mark and Steph leave for France, leaving their daughter with Steph’s parents.
But this lovers getaway starts to go wrong almost immediately upon arrival. There’s an issue with their credit cards, leaving Mark and Steph momentarily without a way to pay for anything. Then they found out that the Parisian house-swap couple – the Petits – haven’t shown up in Cape Town yet, and they’re completely unreachable. What happened to them?
But there’s something even worse than all of that: The Parisian apartment seems to be haunted. It’s dirty and feels practically abandoned. Creepy visions and noises keep Mark and Steph – mostly Mark – feeling unsettled, and the only neighbor in the building doesn’t help matters. Things get more and more muddled and frightening as the hours tick by. Are they going crazy, or is this place inhabited by some malevolent spirit?
The Apartment is told in alternating perspectives, Mark and Steph taking turns telling their side of things. This really helps us see how their relationship is crumbling under the stress of this trip. What are they each hiding from each other? What past memories are creeping up to haunt them now in this toxic apartment?
As we dive into their own psychologies, we also watch as they try to unravel the mystery of their vacation spot. What happened here? Why is the building nearly abandoned? Who actually owns this apartment, and where are they?
This novel combines my favorite scary story genres: part horror, part mystery, and part psychological thriller. It’s hard to tell what’s actually happening and what’s purely in their imaginations. You feel as helpless as they do, but also uncertain about the reliability of what they’re describing.
Although I love the concept of The Apartment, the writing wasn’t always super strong; it felt a tad juvenile sometimes. Perhaps that was just the voices of the characters, but I felt the writing could have been more compelling and consistent. I also wish the story had gone further with the hauntings and creepy factor. It was spooky, to be sure, but I never felt completely scared.
All in all, I enjoyed The Apartment. It went in unexpected directions and was vivid in my imagination. It wasn’t as amazing as I’d hoped, but it wasn’t bad either. I may try another book by S. L. Grey, or by either of the duo’s two individual writers, Sarah Lotz and Louis Greenberg.