Mistletoe by Alison Littlewood (book review).

October 18, 2019 | By | Reply More

Strong emotions can leave their mark. One of the theories behind hauntings is that powerful events are recorded by the fabric of the place they happen in and are replayed when the right trigger is tripped. Other ghostly sightings are attributed to unfinished business on the part of the deceased. This might be benign or, in some cases, a desire for revenge. Whether ghosts can actually influence the actions of the living or are merely apparitions depends on the kind of ghost story being told.

If strong emotions didn’t generate the ghost, the actual haunting can provoke them. Ghost stories belong to a popular genre and, while readers enjoy them, the reality is open to speculation. But it is not only the strong emotions of the ghost that should be taken into consideration, there are also those of the one who perceive the haunting.Leah has had a tough few months. Her son and husband are dead (we learn later the circumstances) and her grief is raw.

Before the tragedy, she and Josh were considering buying a house in the countryside with space for Finn to play. One of the places Josh had thought had possibilities had been Maitland Farm. Leah had considered it with disquiet as her maiden name was Maitland and she suspected that she was descended from the original owners but, in the aftermath of Finn and Josh’s deaths, she bought it.

Now she has arrived and it is just before Christmas and snowing. The house is very rundown and has barely any furniture. Conditions are fairly primitive as there have been no recent improvements and it has been empty for a number of years. It is not surprising that she hears noises outside during the night. She thinks she has an explanation when she disturbs Charlie, the son of a neighbour, lurking in the barn. Initially, she thinks that the very ugly doll he has dropped is his. When she is holding it, she has a vision of another boy dressed in similar clothes to the doll.

Charlie’s mother, Cath, brings the boy over to apologise for trespassing and invites Leah for Christmas dinner. It looks as if Leah has begun to be accepted and she discovers a little about the previous owners of the farm. Discoveries of mistletoe leaves in a cupboard as she begins the mammoth task of cleaning seem to trigger more visions and the tragedies that led to the Maitland’s deserting the farm are played out for her.

This is the kind of ghost story that can be taken in different ways. All the events could be because Leah is in an emotionally vulnerable place. It is her first Christmas on her own, in a house that is isolated, neglected and external sounds can be exaggerated. All these factors coming together are likely to excite the imagination and disturb sleep causing hallucinations.

Mistletoe, which plays a significant part in the story, is prevalent on the trees in the orchard behind the farm, can be mildly hallucinogenic and could be the cause of what Leah is experiencing. Alternatively, her connection with the house through her heritage and the unresolved events of the past could equally be a haunting to which she is susceptible. After all, someone had to have chopped the wood for the fire and brought the tree into the house, and she doesn’t remember doing it.

Whatever the explanation is and only the reader can decide, this is an excellent piece of storytelling. The characters and situation draw the reader in and if there are some aspects that seem familiar, they are dealt with in a very competent way. A good, enjoyable read.

Pauline Morgan

October 2019

(pub: Jo Fletcher Books/Quercus Publishing Plc, 2019. 293 page enlarged paperback. Price: £14.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-78475-588-5)

check out websites: www.quercusbooks.co.uk, www.jofletcherbooks.com and www.alisonlittlewood.co.uk

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Category: Books, Horror

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