I don’t know if this says something about me but I’m really in the mood for darkness at the moment (like there’s not enough all around us already).
I’ve just purchased The Exorcist to enjoy in my down time, while I have James Ellroy’s The Black Dahlia to finish next. If I enjoy it, I’ll come back to it on here but so far I’m not sure if I’m enjoying the hard-boiled detective style of writing, which surprises me as I love Noir generally.
Anywho. Back to this book which is genuinely spooky in places, flits satisfyingly between past and present – and also reminds me strongly of the real life Enfield poltergeist case. Seriously it has borrowed an awful lot and as far as I can see, shown no receipts.
The Wayward Girls by Amanda Mason
1976. Loo and her sister Bee live in a run-down cottage in the middle of nowhere, with their artistic parents and wild siblings. Their mother, Cathy, had hoped to escape to a simpler life; instead the family find themselves isolated and shunned by their neighbours. At the height of the stifling summer, unexplained noises and occurrences in the house begin to disturb the family, until they intrude on every waking moment…
Their dangerous game became all too real
Loo and Bee are sisters nearly always found in each others company. In some ways this seems odd given the four year age gap between them but nobody questions it when they see them together. Home-schooled and growing up in a beaten up cottage in the country with their parents, Cathy and Joe – and three other siblings – life is what it is. Until Joe leaves for a job far away from home and weird things start occurring. Things like loud knocking, doors slamming on their own and occasionally, a hailstorm of glass marbles…
Cathy, struggling with five children on her own amid all this apparent activity, is forced to start taking it seriously when it escalates. Will paranormal investigators/scientists be able to help the family? Simon, Michael and local newspaper photographer Issy think so, although perhaps their interest is more self-serving than Cathy realises.
In present day, we meet Cathy again, now an elderly resident at nursing home Bluejacket House. One evening she has a nasty fall in the communal gardens which brings her daughter Lucia – Lucy – Loo – to her aid. What will Lucy make of Cathy’s insistence that she’s seen a ghostly young girl outside? And when she finds out her mother has been conversing with a new group of investigators about the farm, how’s she going to take that?
Well, Lucy has to decide whether she’s up to revisiting the long hot Summer of 1976 and the truth about what happened to the family in that crumbling haunted house.
There’s something really symmetrical about this story. Past and present mirror each other very nicely with a separate haunted house and paranormal team in each time zone, while the ghostly presence is a negative version of the girls – dark dress, fair hair Vs. pale dress, dark hair. Maybe that helps the book remain fluid and less annoying when it swings back and forth. Sometimes with this kind of structure, I’ll will it to go back to just one of the time periods but here I felt engaged in both.
I thought the characters were well rounded and well described given there are so many of them – and the relationship between sisters is captured very well too. The love/hate rivalry between them, especially when attentions starts to focus more on Loo, who finds herself at the heart of the haunting, is vivid and real. I remember feeling a similar way about my high school best friend, who was like a sister.
At times I found this book genuinely tense but ultimately it suffers in the final third when too much happens at one. I wish it had been stripped back just a little. There are a couple of reveals that I half-expected so it didn’t blow my mind completely but the work was put it to build momentum, make us care about the central family and certainly make Issy and Simon likable, if nobody else.
Not bad at all. And it’s also sent me down an Enfield haunting rabbit hole too so that’s even better.