“A horror story about being bound by the blood knot of family”
- Book: Where I End
- Location: Ireland
- Author: Sophie White
In my younger days, I was an avid reader of horror stories, and indeed, a viewer of any film with that discernible Yuk! factor. However, age appears to have drastically altered my perspectives and changed my tastes, so today it is a genre I tend to read or watch, sparingly. Likewise, I read novellas only on a very occasional basis, so when Where I End, a horror novella, appeared in my email, the decision to include it in my review schedule was not taken lightly. However, if this is an example of the excellent standard of literary prose, which can be crammed into so few pages, with such amazing results, I might well be persuaded to include more from the genre in my regular reading.
As part of my review, I generally like to offer a short resume of the storyline as I see it, just to whet the appetite for what’s to come. However, to feature even a potted overview of this book, runs the risk of giving away too many spoilers, so I am going to keep this short piece deliberately vague, but believe me when I say that my words barely scratch the surface of this gripping story…
On a remote and forbidding island off the coast of Ireland, a small community of fisher folk, most of whom have never learned to swim, live the same hand to mouth existence as they have for countless decades. Visiting tourists stay but a short time and are actively discouraged from doing so, by insular, inbred locals, who communicate in a dialect all their own and have a physical appearance which is unique and very disturbing to behold.
However, even as they are shown prejudice by the mainlanders, they themselves have shown nothing but open distrust and hatred for the mainlander who was brought into their midst as a bride almost twenty years ago, ostracising the entire island family she had joined and particularly the offspring the marriage had produced. The family live apart and remote from their fellow citizens, who neither know nor care what goes on in the back to front house on the edge of the cliff.
In fact, three generations of women eke out an existence in this lonely outpost, visited once a month by a guilt-ridden son, husband and father, who himself now chooses to live on the mainland. His motives for relocating are known only to the two older women, however his daughter Aoileann, is keen to discover his secret, although she may wish she had let sleeping dogs lie when the horrific truth is revealed.
Aoileann’s mother and grandmother exist as emotionally empty human shells, whilst her father is so consumed by self-loathing, having convinced himself that he is the sole victim of this terrible tragedy, that Aoileann has grown up with only the company of the treacherous thoughts which race around in her own mind.
As part of the mainland authority’s decision to try and boost tourism to the island with the addition of a new museum, a visiting artist, Rachel and her new-born baby Seamus, are allocated housing for a few weeks, so that she can prepare an opening exhibition of her work. Immediately Aoileann is smitten with the new mother, although she develops a very unhealthy obsession with her breastfeeding habits and begins to resent Seamus in a disturbing way. Rachel is so consumed by the tiredness of new motherhood and the need to produce her artwork apace, that she completely misses the signs of Aoileann’s conniving, lies and duplicity, which become life threatening as they grow in magnitude.
Once Aoileann has worked out a plan, she decides that she is going to manipulate the situation so that she is able to leave the island with Rachel when she goes – Will she be able to adapt to mainland living, or is her mental health too badly damaged? And will Rachel live (or die) to regret her decision?
For me personally, this unconventional, unique, intriguing and oh! so dark storyline, takes edge-of-the-seat thriller writing to a whole new level, especially when I arrived at the section in my reading which I recognised as being the source of inspiration for the book’s eerie cover art.
The actual footprint this story occupies is quite finely focussed, however the narrative surrounding the physical appearance and ‘feeling’ of specific locations is wonderfully descriptive, creating excellent enhanced visual awareness, for any confirmed ‘armchair travellers’ who are brave enough to visit.
There are many layers to this intriguing, wonderfully textured and immersive storyline, with some unexpectedly intense and highly emotional twists only adding to the deeply insightful, evocative, and utterly unforgettable relationships between Aoileann and her family, and Aoileann and Rachel. The tense and claustrophobic atmosphere, together with some fantastic lugubrious narrative and dialogue, engendered feelings of dread, fear, loathing and yes! even pity, as I was reading. Despite having so few pages, author Sophie White, also managed to explore so many emotionally controversial subjects, from traumatic birth and post-natal depression, to infant mortality and extreme mental health paralysis.
A small and well-defined central cast of characters held sway over this story, with their dour and brooding persona and aura of impending doom. They were all pretty uncompelling, disturbing, loathsome individuals, and not one of them did I have any real empathy with, or sympathy for. Yes! They were definitely given a strong voice with which to tell their story, however it got to the stage where I simply couldn’t trust a single word which came out of any of their mouths! At best they were complex, volatile and unreliable, at their worst they were manipulative, duplicitous and malevolent. Every time I had the slightest urge to feel even slightly sorry for any one of them, within seconds they had said or done something else to have me seething and truly angry with them, all over again. A cast of ‘extras’ were alluded to, but thankfully didn’t appear in any important capacity, as I don’t think I could have stood the strain.
Aoileann’s every word, thought and deed, oozed hatred and malignant, malevolent intent. However, this was beautifully balanced and nuanced against some barely discernible and well disguised moments of loss and longing, as she searched for that illusive something she knew she had lost, or maybe never had, knowing it had left her damaged and somehow incomplete, whilst at the same time her awakening femininity saw her trying to disseminate and come to terms with her own sexuality.
They do say that ‘revenge is a dish best served cold’, however Aoileann turned that saying on its head, as for her, revenge was sweet and definitely to be savoured, no matter what the temperature. I definitely never saw that final sting in the tail coming, which knocked me sideways right towards the end of my reading.
What always makes reading such a wonderful experience for me, is that with each and every new book, I am taken on a unique and individual journey, by authors who fire my imagination, stir my emotions and stimulate my senses. This story was definitely one of a kind, having the power to evoke so many feelings, that I’m sure I won’t have felt the same way about it as the last reader, nor the next. Therefore, I can only recommend that you read Where I End for yourself, to see where your journey leads you!