Book Review: Immortelle
Immortelle is a haunting, woeful, beautifully written novella that resides in the nexus of two of my favorite sub-genres: grief horror and quiet horror. Though it’s a story involving ghosts, it’s much more on the slow-burn side of things, taking its time to build its characters, deepen its dread, and finally bring it all to heel in a shocking, decisive act of violent revenge.
SUMMARY: When Elinor’s daughter, Rowena, is found poisoned and dead in an animal trough, Elinor is sure the local parish priest is to blame. A ceramic artist by trade and influenced by her late grandmother’s interest in supernatural magic, Elinor crafts an immortelle for Rowena’s grave and attempts to capture the girl’s spirit in the clay model of a starling. Soon she is inundated with requests for immortelles and the more immersed in the craft she becomes, the greater her powers grow. As the dead share their secrets with grieving Elinor, she learns the sordid truth of what happened to her beloved daughter and plots a revenge so hideous, it must be kept a secret forever.
McCarthy weaves an interesting story of strained relationships, loss, taboo delights, and hidden wickedness, but what really had me flying through the pages are the wonderfully realized characters and the author’s strong writing style. I was concerned with Rowena, wondering what was bothering her and if she’d ever be able to talk to her mother about it. I felt for Elinor, who was balancing a desperate line of trying to help her daughter without pushing her further away, and I was intrigued at the lengths she would go to set things right after Rowena’s death. Elinor’s pain and grief is palpable, and there are numerous literary gut punches that hurt my heart (especially being a parent myself).
The book is written in an easygoing style that immediately draws you in and keeps you captivated. McCarthy writes with a quiet assurance and grace that I found compelling, and she knows just when to dip the story into darker waters to build the tension. I also really enjoyed the many uses of personification, and I felt like her gendering of the various natural elements – moon, sun, sea, wind, etc – really helped connect the role of Mother Nature with the overall topic of motherhood in the story.
I really appreciate that the author didn’t feel the need to be explicit with the horror elements here. It’s a testament to the power of quiet horror and it feels like a throwback to an older style of horror from the likes of Poe, Blackwood, Wharton, and James (both M.R. and Henry). Definitely recommend this book if you’re in the mood for realistic, engaging characters and a more mournful sort of ghost story.
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About the Author
From her old Welsh farmhouse, Catherine McCarthy spins tales with macabre melodies. Her previously work includes the collection Mists and Megaliths and the novella Immortelle (Off Limits Press), as well as short fiction in various anthologies and magazines. There is more to come from her in 2023: a Gothic novel, A Moonlit Path of Madness (Nosetouch Press), a novella, Mosaic (Dark Hart Books), and a YA novel, The Wolf and the Favour (Brigids Gate Press).
If you want to learn more about Catherine McCarthy and her work then check out her website (https://www.catherine-mccarthy-author.com/) and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.