Liz Kendall has divorced her abusive husband, but that doesn’t stop him from launching one last attack–only this time, Liz fights back and wins. However, in the moment, she feels as though someone else entered her body and controlled her actions. She continues to have episodes where it’s almost as if a second consciousness has entered her mind, taking control of her body and driven mostly by rage. Day by day Liz becomes more and more unsettled by what she thinks is a coping mechanism created by her own brain, but turns out to be a lot more sinister.
At the same time, a young girl named Fran is the survivor of a kidnapping. It’s ten years after her trauma and she still has vivid hallucinations, including one of a fox companion named Lady Jinx who acts as her dearest friend and protector. Along with hallucinations, Fran is missing a lot of memories. Determined to uncover the truth about what happened to her and overcome her trauma, Fran decides to go digging into the story of her kidnapping and the man who did it.
Eventually Fran and Liz’s stories intersect. Fran and Liz both go to the same psychologist, and then Fran becomes friends with Liz’s son Zac. Soon enough it is clear that it’s up to Fran to save Liz and her family from the violent interloper who threatens them.
This is a poignant and unsettling book about the nature of self, the aftermath of domestic violence, mental illness, and the possibilities of parallel universes and different realities. It’s also about love and loyalty and friendship. Carey’s writing is vivid and compelling, and he’s got a real way with his characters’ voices. This is a supernatural thriller, but one that’s firmly grounded in a story about family and love.
If you enjoyed Carey’s The Girl With All the Gifts, you’ll probably like this one, too. I’d also suggest Jennifer McMahon’s The Night Sisters or All Things Cease to Appear by Elizabeth Brundage.
After being beaten nearly to death in a robbery, Toby heads to Ivy House, the old family manse, where his uncle Hugo is dying of brain cancer. Toby’s always considered himself a very fortunate guy, until the attack and his less than full recovery afterward. While he’s trying to heal at Ivy House as well as care for his uncle, a human skull is found in an elm tree on the property.
Of course a whole skeleton follows, which brings the detectives calling. Whose body is it? How did it get there? Toby, caring for Hugo and not having the greatest memory after the attack, tries to answer these questions as best he can–both for himself and for the detective who seems to have Toby on the list of suspects.
French’s writing is lavishly detailed and so finely wrought you want to savor every sentence. The story is atmospheric and compelling, and the characters are all well-developed and authentic. There’s still an element of crime fiction in this stand-alone, but it takes a backseat to a story of identity and family. It’s also fun to see the other side of the usual stories French writes, which focus on the detectives of the Dublin Murder Squad and their investigations. Here we’re with Toby the whole time as he tries to piece together his recollections and make sense of the present.
I really enjoyed the relationship between Toby and his cousins, Leon and Susanna. They grew up together, almost like siblings, and their bond is clear, in all its complexity and history. A lot of their relationship relies on memory now, and memory is a big theme in the novel–how people experience and thus remember things very differently, including relationships.
If you enjoyed French’s Dublin Murder Squad series, definitely check this one out–it’s not a crime novel, as I said, so you might miss that, but everything else great about French’s work is on display here. Fans of Gillian Flynn and Kate Atkinson who haven’t tried French yet certainly should as well.
There’s a very old-fashioned feel to this psychological thriller. In style and tone Bitter Orange reads a bit like Patricia Highsmith or Shirley Jackson. The writing is elegant and the mystery a hook from the get-go. The perfect book to curl up with on a December evening!
Frances Jellico, elderly and nearing death, recalls the summer of 1969 in an old country mansion in England. That summer she was at Lyntons to study the garden’s architecture. A couple named Cara and Peter have taken the rooms below hers. Soon Frances befriends the young couple, only to find that there’s a lot more to both of them than they let on.
Fran, middle-aged and lonely and clearly with a lot of emotional baggage, is giddy to have friends. Cara, strange and beautiful, finds an easy audience for her fantastic and romantic stories in Frances. And Peter soon becomes the object of a crush. I like how, as the story continues, it becomes clear that Fran is hiding something. You begin to question exactly how reliable a narrator she is.
The back and forth of the narrative adds to the tension. You’re aware as you’re reading that some sort of calamity is going to happen, and that Fran is actively hiding details. It’s the bomb under the table sort of suspense.
Fuller’s writing is incredibly rich. She sets a lovely scene, and her descriptions are wonderfully immersive and evocative. There’s a touch of the Gothic here, too, with the dark and sinister secrets and things going bump in the night at Lyntons.
If you liked The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud for the narrator and tone, give this book a look! The Talented Mr. Ripley fans might find a lot to like here, too, as well as those who liked The Haunting of Hill House.
My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh
Dwight Garner, in his New York Times review of Moshfegh’s Homesick for Another World, described her writing as being “like watching someone grin with a mouthful of blood.” That’s too perfect a description for me to top. This novel is about a young woman who decides she’s going to check out of society and hibernate for a year–and she does so with the help of dozens of different medications, planning to never spend more than a few hours at a time awake. The story follows that year, and fills in some background, all while showcasing Moshfegh’s compellingly disturbing style and black humor. She likes to get under the skin, and to get into the raw physicality of her descriptions. These characters aren’t likable at all, but they’re sure morbidly fascinating!
My son spent most of the first couple months of his life on my lap. He’s a real snuggler and likes to nap on people instead of in his crib. Not that I minded–not only did I get baby snuggles, it was the perfect reading time! Here’s what I managed to read one-handed and carefully balanced:
The Outsider by Stephen King
I liked how much of a mystery this book turned out to be. There are seriously chilling sequences, and the foe is indeed supernatural, but The Outsider plays very much as a detective story. Great characters and pacing, compelling, and I like the cross-over with the Bill Hodges books.
The Ruins by Scott Smith
I’d been meaning to read this one for years. A disturbing horror story (lots of body horror and paranoia) set in a Mexican jungle, this is a great one to keep in mind for future Horror Months!
Tides: The Science and Spirit of the Ocean by Jonathan White
A fascinating and fun book about how the tide works. Covers history, travel, and science, all told in a very engaging and personable way.
The Woman in Black by Susan Hill
Boy do I love Hill’s ghost stories. They’re so elegant, dark, and spare. This one, a story about revenge from beyond the grave, is wonderfully chilling and atmospheric.
Batavia’s Graveyard: The True Story of the Mad Heretic Who Led History’s Bloodiest Mutiny by Mike Dash
By far the craziest historical incident I have yet read about, and I’ve read about the Crusades. In 1628 the Dutch ship Batavia ran onto a reef off the coast of Australia. A total psychopath happened to be on board, and he proceeded to take control and terrorize the survivors. Includes lots of great historical background about the Dutch East India Company and life on a Dutch trading ship, but mostly an affecting telling of a truly insane and horrifying incident.
If you’re a fan of Stranger Things and/or Twin Peaks, you should give American Elsewhere a try!
Mona, a former cop, inherits a house in New Mexico after the death of her father. Apparently the house belonged to Mona’s long-dead mother. It’s in a tiny town called Wink. Wink is a strange place that doesn’t appear on any map. The people there are strange, as well. The streets are all perfect and the houses are pretty, but no one goes out at night.
Lurking behind it all is a long-defunct laboratory and mysterious creatures that live in the canyons. As the story goes on and Mona uncovers more and more about this mysterious town and its secrets, the more she finds herself in danger. And more connected to Wink than she realizes.
The general creepiness of the atmosphere is great. There’s always this sense of mystery and danger, and the style is very cinematic and evocative–in many places it really feels like a lost episode of Twin Peaks. The tiny town with its secrets and seedy underbelly gets metaphysical in American Elsewhere, and the setting of the New Mexico desert adds an isolation and a strange beauty to the story. And for all the weird fiction creepiness, this story is also about motherhood, family, and belonging.
If you like claustrophobic small-town horror with entertaining characters and a dash of alien/monster invasion, you might enjoy this!