November 16, 2021

Review: Nothing But Blackened Teeth

Nothing But Blackened Teeth Nothing But Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This novella explores the haunted house trope, in this case taking a group of twenty-something friends and sticking them in a house they come to find out is full of ghosts and demons drawn from Japanese folklore. The setup is familiar, and the situation brings all the simmering tensions between said friends to the surface. Cat, the narrator, is just coming off a recent suicide attempt, and her other friends--Lin, Philip, Faiz, and Talia--have pasts that involve unrequited love and dating each other. Naturally, all this is brought to the fore by the ohaguro-bettari, the ghost of a murdered bride who sets them against each other.

Having said that, the most interesting thing about this book was the creepy and scary as hell cover. This faceless bloody-mouthed being reflects exactly what is described in the book, and is one of the most effective covers I've seen in a long time. The author does play a bit with horror movie cliches in the narrative--in fact, when the ghosts begin to show themselves, one character says, "Cat, this is literally the part where the supporting cast dies horribly. You're bisexual. I'm the comic relief. It's going to be one of us." Unfortunately, any momentum the story gathers is inevitably derailed, for me, by the clunky turns of phrase the author keeps using. I'm sorry, but for the most part this prose does not flow, and many of the similes and metaphors had me rolling my eyes and thinking, Really? I appreciated Khaw's ambition and attempts to stretch herself, but these experiments did not work.

Still, the haunted house is dripping with atmosphere, and the main ghost, the ohaguro-bettari, for the brief moments she is onstage (she's well and sparingly used) is enough to give you nightmares. I just wish this book had been better written.

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