I am pretty sure that in the few short months that I have been blogging I have managed to mention my innate love of ghost stories, at least once or twice!
So when The Wayward Girls by Amanda Mason, due for release on 5th September hit my radar I suspected I was in for a treat.
Set in the long hot summer of 1976 this is the story of a family living in a remote farmhouse whose world is turned upside down by strange and quite frankly terrifying happenings. Excited yet ?
Well you should be. Because if like me you like to be just a little bit scared by your reading matter this is one not to be missed…
When the Corvino family move to Iron Sike Farm it is in search of an alternative and simpler life. Cathy, a rather harassed Earth mother and Joe a struggling artist arrive with their five children Dante, Lucia, Bianca, Florian and Antonella in the spring. But by early summer the cracks are starting to show.
Dan and Bee, the elder children resent being ripped away from the city and their friends. Loo is struggling with the new regime of home education and home cooking. Cathy is drowning in housework and child care and Joe’s creative muse has left him.
When Joe disappears, allegedly ‘working away’ the frustration and boredom on all sides of the family reaches fever pitch, suddenly to be replaced by something much darker.
The haunting began quietly once the Corvino family had settled into their new home; the girls heard it first, the knocking inside the walls.
Extract from A Haunting at Iron Sike Farm by Simon Leigh(Chapter 1 – Now)
Beginning with unexplained noises, missing property and uneasy feelings, events at the farm rapidly lead Cathy to seek outside help. When local press photographer Isobel gets wind of things it isn’t long before the farm becomes the focus of a team of paranormal investigators. Experienced Professor Michael Warren and rookie Simon Leigh are fascinated and excited by the unexplained events, all of which seem to be centred around the two girls Bee and Loo.
As the summer heat intensifies events soon spiral out of control, changing the lives of those involved forever.
The telling of the story divided across two time frames. As well as concentrating on the summer of 1976 we join the grown up Loo. Now Lucy, she has spent the intervening years trying to put the events at the farm behind her. But as her Cathy begins to decline the past returns to haunt both of them. And when Simon’s daughter Nina makes contact, determined to pick up her late father’s investigation, Lucy finds herself back at the farm and is forced to confront a past she hoped was firmly behind her. Will the new teams findings shed further light on what resides at the farm? It are somethings just best left alone?
All the hallmarks of a great ghost story are firmly stamped on this novel. From the moment I picked it up I was drawn in and held in it’s grasp. Right from the start there is an an air of inevitability and urgency, an uneasiness with past events not yet settled.
The structure of alternating time frames is used to create the palpable feeling of tension within the novel. As we move from the past to present and back again, the story seems to builds with a life of it’s own. Each event and revelation slowly adds another layer of anticipation and pulling the reader further in.
The girls Loo and Bee are undoubtedly the focus of the seemingly paranormal activity. They are girls, on the edge of womenhood, who suddenly find themselves the centre of all kinds of attention. Michael is convinced that the girls have attracted a poltergeist, their teenage energy acting a a conduit.
Yet continually the author allows doubt to creep into the narrative. The girls are clearly unhappy. Bee especially is seeking adult attention, and both girls are drawn to the young and attractive Simon, possibly seeking a father figure after Joe’s departure. Simon becomes a source of tension between the two, revealing the strength of feelings of Bee in particular.
And if Bee is at times reckless in her behaviour, she isn’t the only . Caught up in the unreality of the situation there is a feeling that all normal rules and conventions have been forgotten or at least disregarded. It is as if a spell has been cast over the farm, a place where adults are pushing the boundaries as they seek answers, playing a dangerous game and overlooking the risks.
A long unbroken summer is not the traditional weather to accompany an ghost story. There are none of the swirling fogs or crashing storms of other gothic tales. And yet the juxtaposition between light and dark works. The unrelenting almost mythical heat reflects the air of unreality created by events on the farm. It is as if real life is suspended and people have lost touch with reality.
And who is in control? Who can be trusted in this place? Indeed who can we the reader trust in this tale?
Right to the last page the sense of unease continues. As a reader we swing between time frames and view points continually questioning and reassessing. This may sound like a cliche but this one really will keep you on your toes until the very last page.
The Wayward Girls is an accomplished and complex novel, and as a debut it is a stunner. Look out for this one when it is published on 5th September by Zaffre Books.
I can’t wait to see what Amanda Mason does next…