“The most dangerous stories are the ones we tell ourselves…
No. 36 Westeryk Road: an imposing flat-stone house on the outskirts of Edinburgh. A place of curving shadows and crumbling grandeur. But it’s what lies under the house that is extraordinary – Mirrorland. A vivid make-believe world that twin sisters Cat and El created as children. A place of escape, but from what?
Now in her thirties, Cat has turned her back on her past. But when she receives news that one sunny morning, El left harbour in her sailboat and never came back, she is forced to return to Westeryk Road; to re-enter a forgotten world of lies, betrayal and danger.
Because El had a plan. She’s left behind a treasure hunt that will unearth long-buried secrets. And to discover the truth, Cat must first confront the reality of her childhood – a childhood that wasn’t nearly as idyllic as she remembers…”
Hello and welcome to damppebbles. Today I am delighted to share my review of Mirrorland by Carole Johnstone. Mirrorland was published last week (on Thursday 1st April 2021) by The Borough Press and is available in audio and digital formats with the hardcover to follow later this month and the paperback in October. I chose to read a free eARC of Mirrorland but that has in no way influenced my review.
This book has so much appeal. I couldn’t resist that gorgeous cover and the intriguing blurb. However, once I made a start on Mirrorland, I began to question whether I was the right reader for this book. It’s incredibly rare that I DNF a book once I’ve started, and I really wanted to like Mirrorland, so I persevered. And oh my gosh, I’m so glad I did. Otherwise I would have missed out on one heck of a twisted story!
Identical mirror twins, Ellice and Catriona, have lost touch with each other as the years pass. Catriona lives in the US and doesn’t speak to Ellice, who lives in the family home on the outskirts of Edinburgh. But then Ellice goes missing. She sailed her boat from the harbour on the Firth of Forth and hasn’t been seen since. Which prompts Catriona’s immediate return to her home town. The search for Ellice is in vain. She’s disappeared without trace. That is until Catriona starts to receive strange, anonymous messages. A treasure hunt no less! It’s time for Catriona to confront her past, to recall memories which she had long since buried and find out what has happened to her sister…
So what was it about Mirrorland that made me question whether I was the right reader? A lack of imagination on my part is the most honest answer I think. The book is written in the past – when the twins were young children – and the present. It was the ‘past’ sections I struggled with as the girls have created a magical world within 36 Westeryk Road which, to a child’s mind, makes perfect sense. These scenes are fantastical, abstract, full of the things that add to the wonderment of childhood (pirates, the tooth fairy, witches, clowns *shudder at the clowns*). But I couldn’t understand their placement, to an extent, and why the author was spending so much time building a picture of the twins playing together, as children do. As you progress through the book it all makes perfect sense but at the time, I just wanted to get to the juicy stuff; the lies, betrayal and danger!
There is a good reason for these scenes and I can see that now with hindsight. It’s all part of the author building her characters and their story. I wish I had appreciated it more at the time.
Catriona is a fascinating character who I can’t claim to have liked – she does some pretty awful things – but I could empathise with her to a degree. Other characters in the book are well-written. My favourite character was DI Kate Rafiq who is tasked with discovering what happened to Ellice, alongside DS Logan. What a formidable team they made! I loved that Rafiq was there for Catriona when she was needed the most.
The plot has plenty of twists and turns, many of which I didn’t see coming and was left reeling after their reveal. The more you dig, the darker things become and I adored that. It’s a complex story which you need to dedicate time to – to savour what the author is sharing with the reader. It’s a beautiful piece of fiction and it needs to be appreciated.
Would I recommend this book? I would, yes. Mirrorland is a deliciously dark debut. Its gothic tones are done to perfection with the creepy old house on Westeryk Road. I became completely invested in finding out the truth and my heart went out to Catriona as she made shocking discovery after shocking discovery. It’s a devilishly twisted tale and I’m so glad I read it. Recommended.
I chose to read and review a free eARC of Mirrorland. The above review is my own unbiased opinion.
Mirrorland by Carole Johnstone was published in the UK by The Borough Press on 1st April 2021 and is available in digital and audio formats (please note, the following links are affiliate links which means I receive a small percentage of the purchase price at no extra cost to you): | amazon.co.uk | Waterstones | Foyles | Book Depository | bookshop.org | Goodreads | damppebbles bookshop.org shop |
Scottish writer Carole Johnstone’s debut novel, Mirrorland, will be published in spring 2021 by Borough Press/HarperCollins in the UK and Commonwealth and by Scribner/Simon & Schuster in North America.
Her award-winning short fiction has been reprinted in many annual ‘Best Of’ anthologies in the UK and the US. She has been published by Titan Books, Tor Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, and PS Publishing, and has written Sherlock Holmes stories for Constable & Robinson and Running Press.
Carole is represented by Hellie Ogden at Janklow & Nesbit UK and Allison Hunter at Janklow & Nesbit (US).
More information on the author can be found at carolejohnstone.com