The Supernatural Enhancements, by Edgar Cantero

At the risk of sounding a bit like a bad real-estate commercial, The Supernatural Enhancements is a novel that really has it all. There is the old, mysterious house with a dark past; cryptic messages that need deciphering; an occultist secret society; murder and mayhem; the ghost in the bathroom and two young, seemingly unsuspecting people who come to claim their inheritance here at “Axis House.” What this novel also has is a brilliantly fresh, engaging and totally out of the ordinary style of writing, which will have you wondering “why can’t all horror novels always be this good?”

Spanish novelist Edgar Cantero is fearless, as he takes elements from classical literature, seminal horror-novels, detective fiction, scientific journals, popular media and TV and mixes everything up in a narrative that features first-hand diary entries, letters, and footage from security cameras inside and outside of Axis house, audio tapings, and even purchase receipts. There is not a dull moment as the mysteries – plural(!)- rapidly unfold through these various devices; but even as you think you may be figuring out what is going on you are bound to be one step behind this intricate plot structure.

The novel begins – as so many horror novels do – with the arrival of a young couple at an old house: the nameless “A.”, who has just found out that his “second cousin twice removed” – one Ambrose Wells from Point Bless Virginia – has appointed A. as the new heir of Axis House, shortly before jumping out of a closed upper story window. Accompanying A. is a young, mute teenage girl called Niamh, who is partial of alternative hairstyles and Christianity. As they settle into the massive and confusingly designed mansion, they seem determined to uncover the many questions surrounding Ambrose Well’s demise – why did he commit suicide at exactly the same age his father did? What are the mysterious annual gatherings at Axis House that the neighbours speak of? And why is the butler missing?

The double-mystery here is also about the fact that the narrative does not reveal much about the two protagonists themselves – it is unclear what the relationship between A. and Niamh is, where exactly they came from, and who Aunt Liza (the recipient of A.’s dry and witty letters) actually is. And yet, despite the fact that there are so many unknowns, A. and Niamh manage to draw the reader straight into their charming, young yet mature, ostensibly innocent personalities, and their unique and powerful relationship which provides the backbone to this novel. When A. starts to see strange things that no-one else can see, and starts to sink deep into a world of disturbing nightmares, it is up to Niamh to protect him from the unknown.

Spanish writer and cartoonist Edgar Cantero titles his first novel written in English after a line from an Edith Wharton ghost story, where “the supernatural enhancements” allude to the undefinable imposition of another reality. The theme of the unknown possibilities of phenomena and what we take for granted as “reality” is played around with throughout the novel – the science versus spirituality debate, the believers versus the sceptics. In the end it doesn’t matter what you believe, as this novel takes you on a joy-ride of possibilities, whether you are convinced or not, the ride is definitely worth it.

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TITLE: The Supernatural Enhancements
AUTHOR(S): Edgar Cantero
PUBLISHER: Penguin Random House
RRP: $36.99
ISBN: 9780091956462

Tanya is a freelance writer, reviewer and blogger with a background in comparative literature. When she is not reading fabulous new books or writing about them, you can find her horse riding or walking her dogs in the beautiful Waitakere ranges. Visit Tanya at livingwritingreading.com.

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