What I liked about Starling House is the mystery surrounding the Starlings and the House. The story gives small town mystery vibes that is reminiscent of Shirley Jackson books, such as "We Have Always Lived in the Castle" and "The Haunting of Hill House". The main character, Opal, is good at spinning lies and seems to have a chip on her shoulder at all times. While Arthur, the heir of Starling House, is a broody-mysterious love interest that doesn't really know how to communicate and is hiding a lot of secrets.
The way Alix E. Harrow built a story around a haunted house, a mysterious lady that allegedly killed her husband, and a children book is quite interesting. It ticks a lot of elements for a good story, but sadly in the execution, for me, it didn't entertain me as much as I want it to be. This is all due to Starling House's slow and long-winded pacing. The story takes at least 50% to get interesting and for readers to reach the 'fantasy' parts (and it's not even gratifying). The first 50% dealt more with exposition for Opal and Arthur, while developing their relationship through non-existent and bare minimum interaction. I'm saying conversation that last 3-6 sentences at best. What's even more confusing is them suddenly developing romantic feelings for each other that doesn't make any sort of sense. I stopped reading when Opal and Arthur had their first romantic scene and break up at the same time. The romance is tragically uncompelling and boring. I just did not want to finish it. Starling House gave me nothing to root for.
this book reads like a fever dream. i read cassandra khaw's short story before and really liked it so i am curious about her long form story. this novella did drop me in the middle of action and left me wondering on what's going to happen. but when i got to the ending it didn't evolve into anything else. the prose is heavy handed and lacked restraint, beautiful and yet all consuming (not in a way that leaves you awestruck, but fatigued and bored). anyway, good book to start 2024.