Publisher: Viper (Serpents Tail) 18th March 2020
I finished this novel in a sort of shell-shocked silence. I felt like I needed to go straight back to the beginning and start again. It is extraordinary and unlike anything I’ve ever read before. It’s also very difficult to review without spoiling other reader’s experience of it, but I have to give it a go.
The house in question is the home of our first narrator Ted. As we read Ted’s view of the world we start to realise there is something unique and odd about the way he experiences the world. He made me feel uneasy. We get a sense that something is very wrong when the birds he loves to watch, are trapped and killed. Ted spends a lot of time thinking about an incident several years before when a little girl disappeared from the lake nearby and was never found. Others might have forgotten, but not Ted and not the girl’s sister who has a huge sense of guilt about her sister’s loss. Ted was a suspect at the time and it’s not hard to see why; he’s a slightly strange loner, living nearby in a ramshackle home with boarded up windows. The girl’s sister hasn’t forgotten that Ted was a suspect and decides to rent the house next door and watch him, in the hope of finally discovering where her sister is. CCTV proved Ted’s alibi at the time, but the sister’s convinced she has found the culprit.
Things take a very strange turn when we meet another narrator, Ted’s cat Olivia. In other hands this might have seemed twee or whimsical, but here it isn’t. It did give me a shock in the first instance, when a narrator I’d assumed to be human, stopped to lick the back of their legs! I loved the way the author played with language in these sections. Olivia doesn’t realised Ted is a name, she thinks it’s a word for his species, so all people are ‘teds’ and dogs are ‘brouhahas’. She describes her love for another of her species, a beautiful cat with emerald eyes that she sometimes spies preening herself, through the cat flap. She also has a belief system, including her very own god who she refers to as LORD. Yet there are aspects of this cat, that are distinctly not cat-like and I started to wonder if all wasn’t as it seemed. Could this cat be someone or something else entirely?
Other narrators are introduced and I was sometimes thoroughly confused, but never contemplated putting the book down. The beauty of the language and cleverness of the structure kept me going, determined to work out what exactly was going on. I was starting to be unsure which sections were real and what was illusion. The author is clearly hugely skilled at creating that sense of the uncanny – when everything seems normal and recognisable, but there is just that sense that something is off-kilter and sinister. This was so psychologically clever and I enjoyed Ted’s visits to the ‘bug man’ who appears to be some sort of psychotherapist, until he appears where we don’t expect him. I was so involved in this world of Ted’s that I was starting to forget the original crime, the loss of a little girl on the beachfront of the lake. The writing is so involving that I was inside Ted at times and the uneasy feeling is that you will never be able to get out. I guessed some of what is going on, but not the whole and I love the ambition and audacity. This is a unique, original and deeply creative piece of work that enthralled and stunned in equal measure. Ward is a writer of immense imagination and talent and I feel privileged to have been given the chance to read this before it hits the shelves and becomes a phenomenon.
Meet The Author
CATRIONA WARD was born in Washington, DC and grew up in the United States, Kenya, Madagascar, Yemen, and Morocco. She read English at St Edmund Hall, Oxford and is a graduate of the Creative Writing MA at the University of East Anglia. Her next gothic thriller, The Last House on Needless Street, will be published March 2021 by Viper (Serpents Tail).
Ward’s second novel, Little Eve (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2018) won the 2019 Shirley Jackson Award and the August Derleth Prize for Best Horror Novel at the 2019 British Fantasy Awards, making her the only woman to have won the prize twice, and was a Guardian best book of 2018. Her debut Rawblood (W&N, 2015) won Best Horror Novel at the 2016 British Fantasy Awards, was shortlisted for the Author’s Club Best First Novel Award and a WHSmith Fresh Talent title. Her short stories have appeared in numerous anthologies. She lives in London and Devon.