Your House Is On Fire, Your Children All Gone is possibly the most disturbing book I’ve read in a long time. Like, Oh the Humanity! disturbing. The setting is some old German backwater, Hemmersmoor, where the people are superstitious and strangers regarded with suspicion. It never ends well for strangers in this book. People outside of Hemmersmoor don’t much like the villagers either. They are the type that outsiders would say “kept to themselves,” a euphemism for “too many cousins marrying for centuries.” There is something quite wrong with these people. They have a complete lack of empathy.
The book opens with a group of once childhood friends gathering in front of The Big House for a funeral. One of the group plans on turning the house into a hotel. There is bitterness and hatred under the surface and hints at hidden secrets. The book then flashes back to the past when they were all just kids. It is sometime after World War II, though it could be a century ago, the village doesn’t change. The book is a series of alternating points of view, each vignette more disturbing than the next, chronicling their childhood.
The first tale sets the tone for the book. The villagers, in a fit of violence, murder a family of six and burn their house down. No one feels bad about this event. It’s business as usual. The children grow up in an atmosphere of violence. Their parents are superstitious, angry, and deranged. The kids aren’t any better. One boy commits his first murder when he’s just seven years old.
The stories remind me of Grimm’s fairy tales. Tales where random and inexplicable acts of violence are committed. The villagers are quick to forget their own dirty deeds but real and imagined sins are never forgiven and payback is brutal. Old legends are weaved into the memories of the children. The devil makes an appearance though I wonder if the narrator of this tale is reliable since he seems to be the maddest of the group. They do terrible things or are silent witnesses to them.
Even though Your House Is On Fire, Your Children All Gone is crazy loco, I couldn’t stop reading. I had to find out all the secrets. It’s well written too. Some reviews complain about a lack of denouement. It does just sort of end, but I went back and read the prologue and it all seemed to make sense. The town is about to have to deal with changes. Their secrets aren’t going to be their own for much longer. That’s kind of an ending.
This book will give you a sense of unease and while it’s not for everyone, I recommend it.