A child-sized doll is the object of his mother's obsession. He's beginning to wonder why...
The son of a world-renowned photographer, Morgan Riley is familiar with his mother’s creative eccentricities. Having been the subject of one of her photographic series, he knows all too well how focused she can become with a new project. So he’s not overly concerned when his mother shows him her newest series that spotlights a small, featureless white plastic manikin the size of a two-year-old child that his mother has named Sebastian. However, as Morgan watches his mother’s obsession with the manikin grow, he begins to question her sanity and fear for her safety…
Flame Tree Press have often provided me with sleepless nights. Some of the books I have read from them have been truly chilling and with that portrait of a mannequin on the front cover and the book publishing ready for Halloween, I was ready for a scary ride with Sebastian.
I think that my expectation, (which to be completely fair was not backed up by the books blurb or tagline so is completely on me) was what made Sebastian fall a bit flat. I was expecting a bit of an RL Stine affair – a creepy mannequin found in the corner of a shop which has mysteriously closed when the protagonist comes back to ask important questions a few days later. A mannequin that moves, impacts dreams or is responsible for unfortunate circumstances. Sebastian, however, is none of these things, it’s more a family drama about a son trying to come to terms with his mother becoming elderly and losing her mind. As a photographer she is never without her camera, but when she buys a blank faced mannequin she names Sebastian, she begins to become obsessed with it.
The book is a very slow burn, and I would not say it is creepy or scary at any point – it’s more unsettling. We read how Sebastian is assimilated into every aspect of the mother’s life, how she treats it like a son, or sometimes a friend or a partner. The family scenes all feel dramatic and filled with tension, but it takes a long time to build to anything substantial. I think it needed to be edited down, particularly in the middle section. The chapters are interspersed with conversational dialogue between Morgan (the son) and an unknown person. These try to increase the stakes with ‘if only I’d known then what I know now’ kind of dialogue which becomes a bit wearing over time. There are also some comments made in those chapters that make no sense when looking back in hindsight of what really happened, particularly regarding the mother’s camera. In reading some of the other reviews I was looking forward to a shocking twist at the end, but it’s not actually that impactful and I had guessed what was happening quite early on.
Overall, Sebastian did not become an obsession for me I’m afraid - it’s a slow-burn and unsettling read but not a scary one. Thank you to NetGalley & Flame Tree Press for the chance to read the ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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