Welcome to the sixteenth day of the Mirrorland blog tour. Below you will find my book review for this adult thriller novel by author Carole Johnstone. I will not be revealing any spoilers in my review.
Many thanks go to The Write Reads and Scribner for putting together this Ultimate Blog Tour and for letting me join in alongside so many other great bloggers. You can find out where to get a copy of the book and information on the author at the bottom of this post. For more thoughts and reviews for Mirrorland, click here.
Content Warning: adultery, suicide, incest, sexual and physical assault of adults and children, parent and sibling death, psychological trauma, drug abuse and drugging
Twelve years ago my life began again.
But it was a lie.
With the startling twists of Gone Girl and the haunting emotional power of Room, Mirrorland is the story of twin sisters, the man they both love, and the dark childhood they can’t leave behind.
Cat lives in Los Angeles, about as far away as she can get from her estranged twin sister El and No. 36 Westeryk Road, the imposing gothic house in Edinburgh where they grew up. As girls, they invented Mirrorland, a dark, imaginary place under the pantry stairs full of pirates, witches, and clowns. These days Cat rarely thinks about their childhood home, or the fact that El now lives there with her husband Ross.
But when El mysteriously disappears after going out on her sailboat, Cat is forced to return to the grand old house, which has scarcely changed in twenty years. No. 36 Westeryk Road is still full of shadowy, hidden corners, and at every turn Cat finds herself stumbling on long-held secrets and terrifying ghosts from the past. Because someone—El?—has left Cat clues all over the house: a treasure hunt that leads right back to Mirrorland, where she knows the truth lies crouched and waiting…
A sharply crafted mystery about love and betrayal, redemption and revenge, Mirrorland is a propulsive, page-turning debut about the power of imagination and the price of freedom. Perfect for fans of Gillian Flynn, Ruth Ware, and Daphne du Maurier.
Dark and foreboding from the beginning, Mirrorland is a book wrought with the content warnings listed above, and yet it is nearly impossible to look away from the pages. Estranged sisters, a possible death (or murder) at sea, and traumatic childhood memories form a twisting thriller grounded by the setting(s).
Carole Johnstone took a risk by setting up the story with a dark fairy tale of sorts: the dark fairy tale imaginings of Cat and El’s childhood, which we know at least Cat has kept with her through adulthood. A Witch, a Mouse, pirates, and sailing adventures are described vividly; as a book directed at an adult audience, the author almost demands that the reader believe in the narration as one would have to believe the details of a fairy tale – no matter how childish or whimsical those details may be. But this risk pays off as Cat struggles to find out the truth behind her sister’s disappearance, as well as the truth of what really happened during their childhood.
And as Cat and the reader get closer to reality – to the truth – the more nightmarish the story gets. The layers of the childhood tales and imaginings are peeled back as the case for El develops, and through Cat’s eyes the reader learns that her memory of those days is quite warped. She is not necessarily an unreliable narrator in the sense that she is purposely trying to lead the other characters (and the reader) astray; her obvious struggle with both past and present circumstances calls for sympathy from the reader, and a hope that the final pages of the book will bring some sort of relief for the things she has lived through.
Relief does come in a few forms – no spoilers! – as well as with a final shock to Cat and the reader (at least to this reader). The ending features quite a sentimental moment, and the sort of release that was needed after all the pain and shock from the previous 300 pages.
With that said, Carole Johnstone’s timing is impeccable when it comes to dropping bombshells, hints, or explanations for certain behaviors or memories; they all fit right into place and propel the story forward so the reader barely has time to gasp before the next chapter begins. As different sides of each character are exposed and facing reality becomes more necessary, Mirrorland not only allows the reader to reflect on the characters’ choices and trauma, but also on how even our coping mechanisms for personal trauma can sometimes lead us to rely a little too much on fiction. In short, this is not your standard thriller – it’s better.
I used to think that people whose lives were stuck in limbo carried on only because it was easier. Easier than giving up. Easier than stopping. But now I know it’s because there’s no alternative, no escape. That the tide will come, and all you can do is stay afloat. And wait for it to turn.
About the Author
Carole Johnstone is an award-winning writer from Scotland, whose short stories have been published all over the world. Mirrorland, a psychological suspense with a gothic twist, is her debut novel.
Having grown up in Lanarkshire, she now lives in the beautiful Argyll & Bute, and is currently working on her second novel: a very unusual murder-mystery, set in the equally beautiful Outer Hebrides.