Looking Glass Sound by Catriona Ward A Horror Book Review by Jim Mcleod
Catriona Ward first exploded on the scene 8 years ago with her fantastic novel Rawblood. With each new release, Ward has pushed the boundaries with the reader’s expectations, forcing the reader to look not just between the lines but also to look inside themselves so that they can fully digest and understand what they have just read. These complex, multilayered stories challenge the reader in a way that very few other horror novels can; they are deeply rewarding on first reading, but if they shine after you have read the final page and everything clicks into place, these are the sort of stories that leave an imprint on your heart, soul and mind.
Looking Glass Sound is another such book; initially, it feels like one of the most straightforward novels from Ward in terms of narrative structure and plot devices; however, don’t be fooled, as it won’t be long before you realise that this is anything, but a straightforward novel. You will be tempted to go back and reread certain sections just to ensure that you haven’t missed a critical point that at first seemed like an innocuous plot point. And this is no criticism about the story. The richness and sense of incorporeal dread that percolates throughout this novel are made all the better with this teasing, the trail of breadcrumbs approach to revealing the true nature of the story.
Set during the summer months of 1989, there is a beautiful sense of nostalgia running through the book for those of us who were teenagers during these years. The sense of wonder that Ward invokes with her descriptions of spending a summer at the beach with your “friends” is a glorious addition to the book. Never heavy-handed in its approach, it thankfully never takes The Stranger Things approach to this by laying on cultural reference after cultural reference to get a feel for the era. Rather than this approach.
Ward channels what it was like to be a teenager in a period where life was just that little bit simpler with no mobile phones or the internet. The sense of freedom and carelessness that we all had way back then is tempered by a subtle and dark sense of impending doom. With her threat of the summer boogie man and the realisation that the friendships are hiding a dark and deadly secret and a joy to read, love, live, a hope to belong are laid bare with a raw and honest approach to storytelling. Ward perfectly captures how we were all feeling during those long-gone summer days.
You will notice that I am being as vague as possible about the plot. There is a good reason for this, novels like Looking Glass Sound are best approached from a total point of ignorance with regards to it. The partially meta-narrative, filled with or without unreliable narrators, will be lessened if you know what is going on before you embrace this novel with both hands. Ward refuses to hold the reader’s hand while they make their way through this complex novel. And why should she, when the writing is this exquisite, we should return the favour by giving her our full attention.
And as for Looking Glass Sound‘s resolution, many authors stumble on the final ten yards. However, Ward nails it entirely with a powerful, chaotic and thought-provoking final act. That will leave you with that warm glow you only get from consuming a perfect piece of art.
Filled with wonderfully complex characters, who take their time to reveal their true nature, this is as much an essay on the frailties of friendships and the past catching up with you as it is a gothic horror novel. The characters are so well realised that you feel as though you are one of the gang; whether or not you want to be one of the gang that’s up to you.
Looking Glass Sound by Catriona Ward
‘A beautifully sinister tale of perception and identity’ – JOANNE HARRIS
‘Enthralling and heartbreaking’ – M.R. CAREY
‘So beautiful, so dark and so vivid’ – JENNIFER SAINT
Writers are monsters. We eat everything we see…
In a windswept cottage overlooking the sea, Wilder Harlow begins the last book he will ever write. It is the story of his childhood companions and the shadowy figure of the Daggerman, who stalked the New England town where they spent their summers. Of a horror that has followed Wilder through the decades. And of Sky, Wilder’s one-time friend, who stole his unfinished memoir and turned it into a lurid bestselling novel, The Sound and the Dagger.
This book will be Wilder’s revenge on Sky, who betrayed his trust and died without ever telling him why. But as he writes, Wilder begins to find notes written in Sky’s signature green ink, and events in his manuscript start to chime eerily with the present. Is Sky haunting him? And who is the dark-haired woman drowning in the cove, whom no one else can see?
No longer able to trust his own eyes, Wilder feels his grip on reality slipping. And he begins to fear that this will not only be his last book, but the last thing he ever does.
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