May is a brilliant time to be reading books about folklore, isn’t it? All the weird May Day traditions we have in these funny islands mean that it’s probably the time of year (apart from Hallowe’en) that we talk about it. I’m fascinated by the stories and as a kid was desperate to know about my Irish and Welsh heritage stories- after all, the Celts were pretty good storytellers.
Anna Mazzola (who just won an Edgar Award for her brilliant debut, The Unseeing) is back with a deliciously dark and somewhat strange novel that wends its way through the folklore of the Scottish Isle of Skye, an area full of stories. Her Victorian heroine, Audrey, flees London in aftermath of a scandal that feels very modern in search of employment with a reclusive collector of folk tales and winds up in an area beloved by her dead mother. The problem is that the crofters are being turned out of their homes by the landowner brother of Audrey’s employer and being told at the same time that the Church considers their stories to be A Very Bad Thing.
Audrey, it seems, has a bit of a job on.
And that’s before she even starts to get to grips with the weird events happening- birds casting what seem to be omens; girls going missing (and, in one case, being found tragically by Audrey.) Skye, it seems, is not to be the haven that bluestocking Audrey had hoped, but a whirl of evil-doing, superstition and low-level panic.
The novel has an oppressive atmosphere that creates a sense of unease; we’re never quite sure, as readers, what is going to happen and whether what Audrey is seeing is magic, madness or malevolence- and this meant that I stayed up a couple of nights in a row in order to finish this. If I could have skived work/parental duties in order to finish this book, I probably would’ve.
(Also, I need to add that Audrey is probably one of my favourite characters in recent novels. She’s a badass and I would definitely read her detective series.)
There’s so much in this novel that I wish I could tell you about, but I don’t want to spoil it for you. All I can say is that this is a book you’ll need quiet and a good cup of tea/wee dram of whisky/Pro Plus. You’ll be gripped.