At just 124 pages, Dwellers by Eliza Victoria is really more of a novella than a novel. Set in the Philippines, particularly around Manila, this fantasy novella follows the story of two young men who have the ability to inhabit the bodies of others. This ability is a family secret which they cannot disclose to anyone. They chose to occupy the bodies of
brothers and IT professionals Jonah and Louis in an effort to escape their demons and leave their old lives and sins behind. However, the two men quickly realise that they have signed up for more than they bargained for as not only do they have to recover from the injuries that Jonah and Louis suffered in the car crash that killed them, injuries which have left Jonah confined to a wheelchair. They also have to deal with the fact that Jonah and Louis were men of questionable character, with a dark and disturbing secret which comes in the form of the dead body of a young woman which is sitting in a freezer in their basement.
This novella is deeply disturbing and strangely compelling. Its a very quick read and the mystery surrounding the body in the basement, who the men occupying the bodies of Jonah and Louis are and why they have abandoned their old life keep a reader turning the pages. I absolutely flew through this piece. It took me less than two hours to read but pulled me along on a terrific journey, a journey which has convinced me of the fact that Eliza Victoria is a very talented writer. As such I’m not surprised that my close friend Clarisse considers Victoria to be her favourite Filipino author. She certainly is a compelling author whose works I can see myself picking up in the future.
While this novella is rather short, I think it did a really good job at developing the primary characters. We got to know the two men occupying the bodies and to understand their motivations for running away from their past and starting a new life. We also got to see the frustrations and difficulties which the person in Jonah’s body faced in having to deal with having a physical disability which left him confined to a wheelchair. While I am not myself disabled, the frustration and anguish conveyed felt like a very genuine reaction. Furthermore, the author did not fall into the trap of providing a magical cure to the injury, there was a hint that such a cure existed but that the person in Jonah’s body would not be able to avail of it. Back to the issue of character development, we also got a lot of character development for Jonah and Louis, we came to understand how they lived their lives before the crash and the awful way in which Jonah, in particular, treated the people around him.
Furthermore, the ending to this novella was perfect, frustrating, but perfect. It provided just enough of a resolution to be satisfying but enough uncertainty to leave the reader questioning what truly happened. Generally, these types of endings don’t work for me but I felt like this ending fitted with the book’s overall mysterious tone and suited the story.
The one part of this story which really didn’t work for me was the conflict at the climax. It seemed overblown and overdramatic, which is saying a lot because this is a highly dramatic story. The entrance of particular characters at exactly the right time to create tension just felt too coincidental and engineered for me to really believe it fully and that took me out of the story. Furthermore, villainous character introduced at the end came across as very one dimensional – a psychopath hell bent on cleaning up the remaining mess. This lack of any emotion or development damaged the story and almost made this particular character feel like a caricature.
Overall, this was a solid and highly unusual story and I would recommend giving it a go!
Final rating: 3.5 stars