This book was dark and creepy, full of folklore and atmosphere. I know this is not a book for everyone, as it definitely contains triggers for trauma, childhood abuse, unhealthy/coercive relationships, miscarriage/stillbirth, murder and suicide (I’m also sure I’ve forgotten something). It’s very unsettling but, it has to be said, it is so clever and I really, really enjoyed this. It’s magical realism, gothic, full of folklore but also is quite the mystery.
The book opens with some newspaper articles which describe the disappearance of our protagonist, Cassandra Tipp, and in it it tells us the life of Cassandra as the world saw her. Accused of murder of her husband, her brother and father lost in what appeared to be a murder/suicide several years later. She was the subject of a book written by her psychiatrist, but in her later years also an author of romance novels. From there the book is essentially a manuscript she has written for her heirs – her story, in her own words.
Her life, as she writes it, is a fairytale. But the dark, creepy, Brothers Grimm sort. She relays the stories of her life with the faerie community in the woods, and of her relationship with a strange spectre of a man – Pepperman – who has been the constant in her life since she was 5. Cassie is one of the most complex unreliable narrators I’ve ever read from the perspective of and ultimately it’s up to us as the reader to decide if her story is true, that she was part of the fae community, or if as her therapist determined it was an elaborate coping mechanism for extreme childhood trauma and abuse.
This book was very unsettling, but oh it was clever. While Cassandra as the narrator tried to romanticise things, it was very clear that her life was full of far-from-ideal relationships. She’s absolutely a victim, but the question at the end of the book is of what. I can’t actually get over the depths and complexities of Cassandra. I finished this book 2 weeks ago at the time of writing this, and I’m still unsure what ‘truth’ I believe. The use of magical realism in the form of a whole underground faerie community to make you question reality and the truth is so, so clever.
While this book is dark and unsettling, and sinister it was also oddly beautiful and atmospheric. The prose is lyrical, the descriptions of nature are vivid, the characters are all fleshed out and rich. I think it’s the sign of a very good writer to tell such a deeply unsettling narrative, and still manage to capture so much beauty around it. I really can’t wait to see what Camilla Bruce does next.