Book Review: Lullaby

Lullaby, published in 2016, is a short but chilling thriller by the French author Leïla Slimani.

The baby is dead. It only took a few seconds.

Lullaby begins by revealing the ending. These first sentences – advertised on the front cover – tell all. The intrigue to Lullaby is not what happened but why it happened. This engrossed me and raised the tension dramatically because I was constantly aware that danger could be lurking around every corner.

The book is about Louise, a polite and charming nanny with glowing references, who comes to work for Paul and Myriam and look after their two children. Myriam is delighted by Louise’s work ethic and the bond she has with the children. However, Myriam soon finds she is jealous and resentful, becoming increasingly suspicious of Louise and overly-protective of her children. Are Myriam’s suspicions well-founded, or just paranoid fears?

Lullaby is focused on the two maternal figures, Louise and Myriam, and addresses a contested issue: should mothers stay at home, or should they work? Myriam feels drawn to her law career, yet wonders if she is missing out on key quality time with her young children. As an interesting contrast, Louise becomes part of the family and adopts the role of the children’s “mother”. Yet, whilst Louise may look like a stay-at-home mum, this is just her job – she isn’t really their mother.

The book ends when I wasn’t ready for it to end. I wanted to know more about the attack and the police investigation afterwards. I wanted to know more about Louise and Myriam’s emotional and mental states. I suppose, however, that’s why Lullaby is a suspense novel and not a crime novel – it leaves you wanting more.

I found Lullaby to be a creepy and engrossing novel. It may not be my favourite thriller ever, but it was nonetheless enjoyable.

– Judith

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Book Review: Owl Manor – The Dawning by Zita Harrison

Owl Manor – The Dawning is the first in Zita Harrison’s new series of Gothic suspense novels set in 19th century America.

Owl Manor – The Dawning focuses on the protagonist, Eva, a strong-willed woman dissatisfied with her life because she is trapped in a loveless marriage and regularly downtrodden by men. 19th century society is not merely oppressive though; it is dangerous – women mysteriously vanish and are found dead in the streets. In search of financial security and safety, Eva seeks employment at Owl Manor in the Rocky Mountains, a dark place said to harbour dark secrets. However, Eva’s actions may have placed herself and her daughter in even greater danger.

The book begins with some beautifully vivid descriptions in order to set the scene, and these descriptions were a pleasure to read.

At first, I thought the characters’ sightings of owls was a just a coincidental and tenuous link to the title but, as the story developed, the supernatural and sinister reason behind the presence of owls became clear, which I liked.

I also liked the Victorian setting and style of the book, which reminded me of classic Gothic novels such as Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. Whilst the dialogue was occasionally anachronistic for the 1850s, I didn’t find this to be a major problem because I enjoyed the story and the characters so much that these anachronisms didn’t “spoil” the book.

Eva is a rational and sympathetic character who is mostly well-described. However, some of her actions and thoughts didn’t seem consistent with what I’d been to lead to understand about her. For example, Eva sees and accepts ghosts and apparitions without a second glance. We are not told Eva anywhere is a particularly spiritual or superstitious person, so the fact she accepts the presence of ghosts without the slightest hesitation or disbelief seems unrealistic. Furthermore, much like Jane Eyre, Eve becomes a servant in Owl Manor, where the master takes an interest in her and demands she stay with him as his companion. When this happens, Eva suddenly becomes subservient and submissive. I found this to be an inconsistency because, until this point, Eva actively complained about, and challenged, any man who attempted to oppress or abuse women. Consequently, Eva’s behavioural change just doesn’t seem right – especially when the book foregrounds so emphatically what society was like for women in this period.

Despite my (hopefully) constructive criticism however, I still greatly enjoyed reading Owl Manor – The Dawning and finished it in just a few days. The ending was unexpected and, as Harrison is planning to write more books in this series, I am intrigued because I do not know what will happen next.

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Owl Manor – The Dawning is available to buy as a paperback or an e-book from Amazon UK or Amazon.com.

– Judith

Book Review: The Curse of Sara Douroux by C.A. Wittman

I acquired this book for free in exchange for a review via NetGalley and the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA).

In a remote island community, Sara lives with her deeply religious elderly parents. Discouraged from building friendships in school, she leads a quiet, secluded life, but when the family is forced to take in four mysterious young cousins, Sara’s life soon turns tumultuous.

C.A. Wittman has lived in Hawaii since 1993, explaining her decision to set The Curse of Sara Douroux in Hawaii. This choice of setting was multi-cultural, interesting, well-described, and original, as most Gothic novels I have read are set in either suburban American towns or Victorian England. However, a book full of multicultural characters was at times confusing because some characters regularly switched between grammatically-correct English, broken English, and regional language, which was hard to read and understand.

The arrival of Sarah’s mysterious, vampire-like “cousins” is Wittman’s attempt to create a new kind of Gothic monster. This is an admirable effort, but it could have been improved by providing much clearer information about these creatures much earlier in the book. For most of the time, I was left confused at who Sara’s “cousins” really were, who Sara really was, and the significance of any of this. When I finally began to understand the legend and the horror of Sara’s “cousins” – or rather, when I thought I understood – I was at least ¾ of the way through the book, if not more. Consequently, I thought  The Curse of Sara Douroux was a rather long read with little progression, which made it difficult to persevere and keep reading.

This was exacerbated by the many, many characters in this book which, in my opinion, “clogged” up the development of the plot. I struggled to remember their names, who they were, and what (if anything) they contributed to the story, and I think quite a few characters could have been removed entirely and the story would have remain unchanged.

The best part of The Curse of Sara Douroux is probably the ending, as it offers a more detailed, historical explanation behind Sara’s life and her supernatural “cousins”. However, I just wish we’d learnt these things sooner, as this would have provided clarity and suspense for the reader throughout the rest of the book.

Unfortunately, I was left disappointed by this book.

The Curse of Sara Douroux was published in December 2018. It is available to buy as an e-book from Amazon.

Star Rating: 2/5

– Judith