“The yearning was back, that thing that lived inside her like a ravenous, puling child. How was she supposed to be happy while she had this feeling? This queasy, bored feeling, which attached itself to the weirdest objects as though they had the answer to all life’s problems: every morning for as long as she could remember she had woken up hoping that today she’d feel satisfied, contented, fulfilled. But then the feeling would start to seek her out. It hid in her favourite songs, or it lazed in the eyebrows of exotic boys, or, like now, it rolled in with the grey waves as she watched them.”
– The Resurrectionists, Kim Wilkins
I wasn’t sure about this book – was it horror or fantasy? I do not read horror books. Yet, I tried to have a little faith in one of my favourite authors, and I’m glad I did. Maisie is in her early 20s, daughter to famous musicians, girlfriend to an up and coming opera star. She is a cellist but feels no passion for it and feels trapped in the life her parents and boyfriend want for her, desperate for something else, something that can fulfil her, but not sure what it is. So she decides to take a trip to England to clear out her recently deceased grandmothers cottage there, as well as sort out her mind. She arrives in England to the tiny and very hostile village of Solgreve with its unusually large cemetry, a small, cluttered cottage filled with secrets and soon discovers many suspicious details surrounding her grandmothers death, as well as as the gorgeous, charming former gardener to her grandmother, Sacha and a gift of hers that promises her the fulfilment she seeks – but what can she do with it? Mirroring Maisie’s story is the dairies she finds of Georgette, a French aristocrat in the 18th century who falls in love with and elopes with a poet to Solgreve, both young and full of romantic notions, that are soon pulled to pieces.
I admit, at first the book is a little hard to get into – Maisie comes across as spoilt, selfish and bitchy. Her loneliness, whining, judgements and ridiculous pining over Sacha is annoying. The setting felt ridiculous – I live in a village in Northern England, so seeing Maisie’s romantic notions about England, and seeing the way the village was presented felt very much made for a book. But I stuck with it, again trusting in Kim Wilkins, and soon the layers were being peeled back, and I was hooked. The atmosphere of the village becomes very sinister once the supernatural bits start coming into force. The isolation and the cold weather starts to become very atmospheric once there is that edge to it. The reverend is a very well layered villain – you can see his underlying misgivings – which probably makes his crimes worse, but also gave them more impact. Maisie can come across as spoilt and selfish but she’s also a very sympathetic character. I loved that the author didn’t create some tragic back story for her- unhappiness doesn’t need a cause after all. She’s ordinary in every way, with a privileged upbringing and a lovely if not slightly controlling boyfriend and yet she feels trapped and dissatisfied. Its remarkably relatable and refreshingly low key. I felt for Maisie and her longing for something different, something more, something better. She wants so much for the perfect life, for passion and excitement that she’s setting herself up for failure- “but already her desperation to hold it and possess it was eroding the pleasure.”
At for Maisie and Sacha – it soon becomes clear that he’s another element in the fantasy she wants to build herself. I felt for Sacha who couldn’t help be drawn to Maisie, even though he knows their relationship is hopeless. Their conversation where Sacha tells her that he could never be enough for her, and that eventually she’d grow bored of him too, was so painful. What is lovely though it that Sacha is willing to be there for here but he doesn’t put up with her – he doesn’t change himself, and talks honestly to her even when she doesn’t want to hear it (he also calls her out for exoticizing his gypsy background, thankfully)
Georgette’s dairy entries were wonderful. I was confused as to how or why they were hidden all round the house, and the italics were difficult on the eyes, but oh the content. At first I wasn’t sure about Goergette- she seemed so young, naive and spoilt (like Maisie really, the parallels between them were quite well done) But although Georgette may have been spoilt and thought some fairly nasty things, it became obvious that her actions were anything but- she was trying incredibly hard to adjust to her new life, even when things began to go wrong. Her diary entries were tragic – how they started so optimistic, and how slowly but certainly her optimism became more and more forced, until everything fell apart. You really felt for her and her husband. They tried so hard and did not deserve any of what they got for it.
Eventually Maisie and Sacha decided to work together to stop what is happening in the village, and the resolution to this problem was a little neat – I was surprised at how easily their plan worked out and felt a bit deflated, but then a sudden twist drew me back in and finally, the ending broke my heart – it was expected, realistic and yet still devastating. Oh, I cried. This is another powerful, dark book from Kim Wilkins. I don’t know why its marketed as horror though nor fantasy – there are definitely parts which are paranormal and its certainly unsettling but there also spiritual elements* and overall the focus seemed for me to be very much on Maisie’s emotional journey. It’s a hard book to define. And those looking for something thrilling would probably be put off by the unhurried pace and the introspectiveness of the book.
(By spiritual: there is a small exploration of the spiritual beliefs to do with death and souls, and the psychic arts feature heavily which aren’t technically magic; they are very real beliefs, so they can’t really count as fantasy?)