Author Egan Hughes mixes a potent cocktail of past trauma and mental health issues with a young couple’s switch to rural living and our growing dependency on tech to create a fraught and unnerving suspense in Leave the Lights On.
Their new ‘smart home’ is Joe’s dream. A remote cottage where everything – from the lighting to the locks – is controlled through an app. It’s the perfect blend of old-world charm and modern convenience. What better place for them to escape after all Lauren’s trauma?
Lauren desperately wants Joe to be happy after all she’s put him through, so she doesn’t tell him how much she hates being so dependent on technology. How vulnerable it makes them.
Then ‘the incidents’ begin. Joe thinks Lauren is the victim of her own fevered imagination. But Lauren can’t be sure. She doesn’t believe in ghosts, but she also knows the past rarely stays buried. And she is haunted by one question: Is their past finally catching up with them?
Leave the Lights On cleverly shows how Joe’s dream house can so easily become Lauren’s nightmare, as well as how blinkered he is to that happening. When he champions technology and his new business until (whether intentionally or not) he puts them before their relationship and his wife’s mental health, the young couple risk losing everything.
Egan Hughes certainly makes you stop and think about how smart it is to so readily embrace smart tech. After all, Joe starts out with good intentions. He believes that what he’s doing is best for Lauren to ensure she feels safe at home, while also making their cottage a show home for his new smart home business. But where technology is involved, what might feel secure or convenient also can be subject to faults, misuse, compromise or attack. If those targeting you are small woodland creatures looking for nesting materials, this might not be disastrous, but more malevolent attacks could cause real harm.
Initially, the couple’s move to the country makes it sound as if they’re living the dream. Lauren and Joe’s cottage certainly seems to live up to any romantic notions we have of country living and her art studio in the garden summer house is every artist’s dream. But Egan Hughes is keen for us to see that it is far from the rural idyll we imagine it to be: the couple have roughed it while renovating their cottage; there’s only one near neighbour who has been antagonistic from the outset, and they are actually pretty isolated living where they do. There are no street lights when Lauren walks the dog which means it’s all too easy to be spooked by rustling leaves or burrowing animals and make monsters out of shadows.
All of which sets up the main action perfectly. Once the unusual incidents begin, the couple’s dream cottage and smart home quickly turns into something more akin to a nightmare. Especially for Lauren, who is forced to question not only everyone and everything she knows but also her own sanity. By tapping into our growing dependancy on tech, and having a protagonist who lives with a sustained past trauma and fragile mental health, Egan Hughes creates such a palpable sense of uncertainty, continually wrong-footing the reader while also mirroring Lauren’s own feelings, which some might see as bordering on paranoia. Not content with that, Egan Hughes ramps it up to such an extent that Leave the Lights On had Lauren (and me!) suspecting everyone and everything and pouncing on each new revelation in an attempt to figure out what’s going on, and why, before being driven crazy by it or everything imploded.
Leave the Lights On made for compulsive reading; it’s a riveting, nerve-jangling ride of a suspense novel and I would take the title’s very smart advice and make sure you leave the lights on when you read it.
Leave the Lights On by Egan Hughes is published by Sphere, a Little, Brown imprint. It is available as an audiobook, ebook and in paperback from tomorrow. You can find it at Amazon UK (affiliate link), Bookshop.org, Hive and Waterstones. You can follow Egan Hughes on Facebook or on Twitter.
My thanks to Francesca Banks at the publisher for sending me a review copy.