As creepy houses go, Versailles is right up there with Hill House, Jamaica Inn and Manderley. Nope, not the palace in France; the subject of debut author Yannick Hill’s novel is an all-American Gothic nightmare for the digital age.
Built by and for Casey Baer, CEO of the world’s most popular social network, it’s an imposing beachfront mega-mansion filled with everything a family could ever want. Casey’s wife Synthea, and children Missy and River, have access to all the technology and toys money can buy. They ought to be happy. But something’s wrong, and it might have something to do with the rooms that Casey keeps locked.
To read Versailles is to fall under its spell a little bit. Hill’s use of language is meticulous; his writing has a hypnotic rhythm as he returns to certain words and phrases over and over again, shading them with different amounts of significance each time. The effect is coolly seductive, compelling you to keep reading and get dragged further into the horror that feels like it’s lurking just a page or two ahead.
It’s a smartly structured novel too, with a firm grasp on genre conventions. Hill uses all the classic Gothic archetypes (the isolated house, the shadowy tyrant, the constant promise of a horrifying secret), but transplants them into a hyper-modern setting. Here, internet trolls are scarier than ghosts, and rather than relying on obsequious servants, the bullying baddie can just use social media posts to keep an eye on his victims.
If there’s a flaw, it’s that the ending doesn’t quite pay off hard enough; it’s neither entirely triumphant nor completely horrific.