Book Review – THE CABIN AT THE END OF THE WORLD by Paul Tremblay


Just a horns up before we start, this review does contain spoilers.

Seven-year-old Wen and her parents, Eric and Andrew, are vacationing at a remote cabin on a quiet New Hampshire lake, with their closest neighbours more than two miles in either direction.

As Wen catches grasshoppers in the front yard, a stranger unexpectedly appears in the driveway. Leonard is the largest man Wen has ever seen but he is young and friendly. Leonard and Wen talk and play until Leonard abruptly apologises and tells Wen, “None of what’s going to happen is your fault”. Three more strangers arrive at the cabin carrying unidentifiable, menacing objects. As Wen sprints inside to warn her parents, Leonard calls out, “Your dads won’t want to let us in, Wen. But they have to. We need your help to save the world.”

So begins an unbearably tense, gripping tale of paranoia, sacrifice, apocalypse, and survival that escalated to a shattering conclusion, one in which the fate of a loving family and quite possibly all of humanity are intertwined.

This is only my second ever Paul Tremblay read. My first was A Head Full of Ghosts, which I loved. So I went into The Cabin at the End of the World with extremely high expectations. As a rule, I don’t ever read the back cover of a book because I prefer to go into a book as blind as possible. Let’s start with the things I loved about this one.

The opening chapter was spectacular, as far as book openings go. A little girl called Wen plays in the front garden while her dads relax elsewhere, and a gigantic man approaches her. They’re in the middle of nowhere, Wen is vulnerable, and anything could go wrong. My immediate concern was that he was going to kidnap her and so I spent every page tense and mistrustful of every single thing he said and did, despite how nice he seemed to be. I kept waiting for him to suddenly snatch her up and run off, and my suspicion of him only intensified as this scene went on.

When the other members of his group turned up, my heart was in my throat. You’d think then that when he just let her go back inside the house with no attempt to take her or even stop her, I would have relaxed, but this was perplexing and only made me more anxious. I couldn’t imagine anything worse than this sweet girl being kidnapped, so the fact that this isn’t where the story went was more concerning, because how do you raise the stakes after subverting an expectation as heinous as an innocent child being taken? I was so fearful of where things would go from there, and it was great. What a riveting way to start a story!

The thing I enjoyed most of all about this book was the characters. I absolutely loved Eric and Andrew, both as a couple and as individuals. Their relationship was so believable and organic and I could picture them perfectly, particularly when they shared dialogue. Wen is also a wonderful, rich character with so much personality that I adored her from the first chapter onwards.

The antagonists that turned up to terrorise them (albeit in a weirdly friendly way), were also interesting, though I didn’t care about them as much as the family – which I’m sure was intentional. Leonard, the leader, was the one I could imagine most clearly but some of the others were a little nothing-y to me, in that I wish that their personalities were stronger. Besides Leonard, Redmond was by far the most interesting of the group, because he was the one who stood out, for reasons that become obvious as you read further into the story. I was excited each time I saw his name in a scene because I wanted to know what that dickhead was going to say/do next. His demise came as a complete and total shock and it was magnificent, because not only did it subvert my expectations about where I predicted this particular character would go, but it added tremendous weight to the claims of his group and provided insight into what they were actually capable of.

I found the writing engaging and pleasant to read, and made note of several phrases that struck a chord with me, for example –

The thunder rolling into the valley isn’t thunder; it’s the sound of the avalanching sky.

I loved the set up and the mystery.

I loved that the group were clearly a representation of the four horsemen of the apocalypse – at least as far as Andrew and Eric are concerned, because it’s through them that they lose their daughter, and to any parent, that surely must feel like the end of all things.

I believe that this whole book may possibly be one big metaphor for losing a child to a terminal illness, and the stages of denial and rationalisation and grief. The horsemen turn up and take their lives apart in stages and it’s not until they finally lose her that the last shred of hope dies.

And now, on to the part of reviewing that I hate – what I didn’t like so much. Before I proceed with these thoughts, I want to reiterate that I think Paul Tremblay is a wonderful writer and overall I really did enjoy this book a lot. Almost as much as I enjoy eating berries and grass.

I was tremendously disappointed when I started to encounter things I disliked about this story – mostly because for the first half I was absolutely enamoured with the book and didn’t expect to change my mind from ‘this is perfect’ to just ‘this is good’. The premise is absolutely gripping but after enjoying the hook for more than half of the book, I did start to wonder ‘okay, terrific set up, but surely there’s got to be something more than the entire book taking place in this house, with these characters going over the same thing over and over again.’ But until the very end, that really is the whole story. I was disappointed because when you’re reading about an apocalyptic threat, you expect the writer to keep upping the ante, but the stakes never get higher, which is a real shame. The threat is introduced, and it just hangs there.

I found the main problem to be the villains (or attempted heroes, depending on how you look at it). I was so scared for the family initially but then it’s quickly established that the intruders can not and will not harm any of them, and since you don’t know the intruders well enough to care if anything happens to them, there’s no tension. If Tremblay absolutely had to stick to the idea that the family had to willingly pick a sacrifice amongst themselves, then I wish he could have fleshed out the stories of the intruders so that we might have empathised. That way, at the very least, I would have been afraid for them instead. If they had been a family rather than strangers to each other, that would have helped, I think. If it came down to Eric and Andrew having to decide who to sacrifice, or else this other family has to pick someone to die from their own brood each time, it would have been horrifying to watch them being forced to whittle down their numbers.

A few other things that bothered me were that this group tied up Andrew and Eric and would leave them for prolonged periods of time, and then when they were minutes away from the next stage of the apocalypse, only then would they start trying again to state their case for the family to make a sacrifice. We’re talking the end of the world here… so why on earth would this group not spend every second pleading with Andrew and Eric? While we’re on the subject of this group and their weird methods, why oh why is it necessary for one of them to die each time Andrew and Eric don’t comply? Unless I missed something, each intruder’s death was pointless because it didn’t stop anything – disasters still unfolded. The end was still nigh!

Lastly, and this isn’t so much a legit criticism as a pet peeve, I didn’t care for the ending. I never care for that kind of ending. If we’re doing the apocalypse, then come onnnn let us see it! It’s what we’re here for! If we’re doing ‘this group are nuts and there’s no apocalypse’ then… come onnnn….. let us see it! It’s what we’re here for! I would have been happy either way if Tremblay had leaned really hard into one or the other and ended his sordid tale in a glorious, brutal crescendo. Now… that being said…

As I mentioned earlier, it’s conceivable that the entire story is one huge metaphor for a couple struggling to come to turns with the loss of their child. If this is true, then each time they refuse to give up hope and chose their child over the entire world, whichever intruder is killed instead acts as some sort of stage of the acceptance and grief process. Perhaps I’m reaching, but the longer the story bounced around in my brain, the more convinced I became of my theory. And it’s for that reason that actually, I very much like this book and the ending, despite what I just said. I know, I know. I’m a mysterious and confusing creature.

I’m very much looking forward to my next Paul Tremblay read. I know an author is for me when I’m nitpicking the hell out of one of their books but my qualms don’t ruin my enjoyment of it. I’d recommend it to people who like a slow burn, and a thoughtful, tense read. I’d definitely say it’s for you if you’re someone who enjoys ambiguity.

If you’d like to grab yourself a copy of THE CABIN AT THE END OF THE WORLD, you can do so here:


If you’d like to look up Paul Tremblay or check out more of his work, you can find him here:


2 responses to “Book Review – THE CABIN AT THE END OF THE WORLD by Paul Tremblay”

  1. “a horns up” oh my gosh, I love you all. I’ll have to come back to this review. This book is still on my TBR 😦 Thanks for the horns up!!


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