The minute I read the blurb on this book I knew it would be right up my street. Dubbed as ‘Dark, disturbing and enthralling’, I just knew it would be a book I would love. I wasn’t wrong. (I’m going to swiftly gloss over the fact that I ordered the wrong edition from Waterstones and ended up with the cover you see in the image and NOT the beautiful, old, creepy, embossed wallpaper version, which damn near broke my heart *weeps*).
This book tells the story of brother and sister, John and Marion Zetland who still live together in their childhood family home despite being well into their fifties. Neither of them have ever married and both are somewhat reclusive.
Marion is a shy, meek and mild woman who defers to everything her brother John says. She is very much subservient to him and helps to keep his dark secret. You see John has ‘Visitors’ kept hidden in the cellar which Marion turns a blind eye to. She is lonely and desperate for her brothers love and attention, so she will do anything to make him happy. Including keeping her mouth shut about ‘The Visitors’ and Johns interaction with them, until that is, John has a heart attack and Marion has no option but to face what has been going on down in the cellar.
The narrative flits between Marion and John’s childhood experiences with their slightly domineering father and emotionally detached mother and the present day. Some of the experiences are quite hard to read, as a reader you really feel for Marion and the desperately isolated, lonely childhood she had, living in the shadow of her older, more intellectually talented brother John. She was emotionally starved and shown very little affection from her parents who seem to worship John and allow him to get away with appalling behaviour. A chubby, introspective child, Marion didn’t have any friends aside from her stuffed toys, which she still loves and collects in the present day.
The way the house was described really helped to add to the creepy nature of this story. Neglected, dirty, untidy, hallways full of old newspapers, just grim. I love that! The characters of Marion and John were so well written and I loved that with each flashback to their childhood more of the story and their odd relationship unfolded.
There is so much darkness and evil running through this story that at times some of the events were just truly shocking and hard to read. There are hints of who may be in the cellar and why but you never quite trust your own assumptions on who they may be. I was racing through this book, anxious to discover just what the blazes was going on down there! (at the same time as never wanting the book to end!).
The writing style kept me hooked and I loved that Marion at times came across as an unreliable narrator despite me wanting to believe everything she said. The other thing I loved about this story was the fact that it was not beyond the realms of possibility, scary but true! things like this can actually happen and that thought just added to the insidious nature of the story.
I was shocked to discover that this is actually Catherine Burns’ debut novel. It certainly does not feel like a debut. I am eagerly anticipating further work from this very talented writer (and not just because she’s a Manchester girl like myself).
I will be waxing lyrical about this book in the future. I will be urging anyone and everyone to read it. Including you……what are you waiting for?….