Okay wow, I read this in a day and honestly, I’m in love. This was such a gorgeously written, deliciously creepy, in-depth novel.
She thought she would never go back…
Ailsa Calder has inherited half of a house. The other half belongs to a man who disappeared without a trace twenty-seven years ago. Her father.
Leaving London behind to settle her mother’s estate, Ailsa returns to her childhood home nestled amongst the craggy peaks of the Scottish Highlands, accompanied by the half-sister she’s never taken the time to get to know.
With the past threatening to swallow her whole, she can’t escape the claustrophobic feeling that the house itself is watching her. And when Ailsa confronts the first nighttime intruder, she sees that the manor’s careless rugged beauty could cost her everything…
I loved this. A beautiful, haunting and unpredictable novel, both the characters and story hooked me right from the beginning. Ailsa was the type of character I felt both connected and disconnected to – her fear, panic and self-doubt in the face of seemingly unreal events were so relatable, but her closed nature, abrupt phrasing and general disconnect from those around her also isolated her from the reader. This is exactly why she was such a brilliant main character, as she wasn’t perfect, but there was so much to her, she had so many layers. I also really liked seeing her character development, even over the seemingly small things, such as why she always corrected those around her as to her sister being her half-sister. It was little details like these that really cemented Ailsa as a wonderful central character.
Apart from Ailsa, all the characters in this were written simply beautifully. The extra details that Elliott puts in, the time she takes to describe a character, it’s all worth it. The minute descriptions of Ben’s facial movements and expressions were so easy to visualise, and the way she writes Ali speaking was just as clear to imagine. I loved Ailsa’s sister Carrie – she was a stubborn, strong and stunning counterpart to Ailsa herself, especially in moments where she understandably didn’t recognise Ailsa’s fears about the house, otherwise known as The Manse. Fiona is another wonderfully ethereal and yet grounded character, and so was her son Callum – the way that Elliott uses the concept of time with these two characters, and the certainty in which they seem to understand time, was honestly one of the most beautiful things I’ve read in a while. I loved the description of time as ‘folded’, it just completely makes sense within the novel, and these are the kind of details that complete the novel. All the other characters, Jamie, Bryn, Glen etc. are all brilliantly written, but where Elliott’s writing truly shines is in the relationships between all these characters. Ailsa and Fiona’s rocky friendship (if we can call it that) is one of the weirdest friendships, and yet by the end the way they communicate makes total sense. I was hooked by the adorable friendship between Ailsa and Callum, and Callum’s wisdom and factual way of discussing the strangest of topics was brilliant to read. I liked how Elliott uses hints of romance to enhance some of the friendships, and she also includes some lovely LGBT+ representation.
One thing I have to touch on is the disappearance of Ailsa’s father twenty-seven years previously. It offers a sort of indirect look into Ailsa’s reaction to it, all these years on, after returning to her childhood home. Between each chapter is a theory, presumably from Ailsa herself, as to what may have happened to her father, or where he may have gone. It’s genuinely quite heartbreaking at times, as there’s almost a childish sense of pain and confusion as to why he left throughout all these sections. The change in tone as the truth about her father eventually comes to light works really well alongside what’s happening in the story, and it just helped build up the suspense and fear even further.
The Manse deserves it’s own section in my review, because it’s such an interesting character. Despite being a house, it’s definitely got a creepy sense of personality about it (hence why I’ve called it a character…). The way Elliott links The Manse with the theme of time is a deeply unsettling yet interesting thread throughout, but her descriptions of this are really gorgeous. The reason why The Manse is so creepy, and effectively so, is because it’s not something that’s outright stated – instead Elliott weaves descriptions of the sounds and shapes within the house to build up an unsettling sense of the unknown. It definitely works, and I started to feel quite spooked by it all, but I loved it at the same time. This is where the real story lies – what exactly is going on in The Manse. Why don’t animals go near the house? Who is leaving the threatening and creepy signs that Ailsa should leave…? Despite all the other details and plot lines throughout, such as the character relationships and her father’s disappearance, the real gem in this novel lies in the puzzle of The Manse itself.
This book is pure brilliance. I would get shivers up my spine, but I couldn’t possibly stop myself from reading. It’s creepy and unsettling, but it’s also beautiful, ethereal and heart-wrenching. Somehow, Elliott weaves all these emotions together perfectly, in a story examining family, love, time and the home. It’s a must-read book for sure.
Thanks so much to Anne at Random Things Through My Letterbox for organising this tour! I loved being a part of it.
The Missing Years
Corvus, 6th June 2019