Along with my tour buddy, Novels and NonFiction, I’m delighted to be hosting today’s stop on the blog tour for Call of the Curlew by Elizabeth Brooks. Many thanks to Anne at Random Things Tours for inviting me to join the tour and for Hannah Bright at Doubleday for my review copy. You can read my review of this haunting and atmospheric book below.
Do check out the tour banner at the bottom of this post to see the other great book bloggers taking part in the tour.
About the Book
Virginia Wrathmell has always known she will meet her death on the marsh.
It’s New Year’s Eve 2015 and eighty-six year old Virginia Wrathmell feels like the end is upon her. As she looks out on the dark and desolate marshes that surround the house she’s lived in since she was young, Virginia is overcome with the memories of one winter that have stayed with her since childhood.
It’s New Year’s Eve 1939 and Virginia is eleven, an orphan arriving to meet her new parents at their mysterious house, Salt Winds, on the edge of a vast marsh. War feels far away out here amongst the birds and shifting sands – until the day a German fighter plane crashes into the marsh. The people at Salt Winds are the only ones to see it.
When her adopted father goes missing, and a mysterious stranger arrives in his place, Salt Winds becomes a very dangerous place to be. Virginia’s failure to protect the house’s secrets will leave her spending a lifetime dealing with the aftermath.
“The wind has dropped, but every now and then a gust will shiver in from the sea, carrying some fragment – a feather, a straw, a grain of sand, the scent of snow, the dainty bone of a bird – by way of an offering to the house.”
From the author:
“The location, Tollbury Marsh, came to me first, the story second. The marsh is a place on the edge of normal life, which seems flat and accessible to the uninitiated, but is actually full of dangers. I wanted to capture the strong and pervasive sense of place that I felt when reading The Woman in Black and Great Expectations.”
Format: Hardcover, ebook (320 pp.) Publisher: Doubleday
Published: 28th June 2018 Genre: Historical Fiction
Find Call of the Curlew on Goodreads
Somehow it doesn’t seem quite right that I’ve been reading Call of the Curlew sitting in my garden in the bright sunshine. The atmosphere of the book is such that it seems more suited to misty autumn nights, with the rain lashing down outside and the wind rattling the window panes. Throw in some creaking floorboards, some footsteps in the attic and your reading experience would be complete.
Told in chapters that alternate between 2015 and the early years of the Second World War, Call of the Curlew has a haunting, mysterious quality. Salt Winds, the old house at which orphan Virginia arrives in 1939 to join her adoptive parents, Lorna and Clem, occupies an isolated position on the marshes at the end of a long lane.
The author really gets inside the mind of ten-year old Virginia. Initially, she’s concerned that she might be a disappointment to Lorna and Clem and be sent back to the orphanage (although she doesn’t think they do sale and return). Virginia doesn’t understand everything she sees and hears in the house but she’s sensitive to the tension she detects between Lorna and Clem. ‘Virginia liked it when they discussed everyday things: pots of tea and food prices and what needed doing in the garden. It made them sound peaceful and close. Anything bigger or more personal and they were on edge, like a couple of cats.’ Underlying everything, there’s an air of mystery, of secrets and things that can’t be spoken about.
Virginia also has a child’s literal interpretation of Clem’s warnings about the perils of setting foot on the marsh and the dangers that wait because of the shifting tides. Virginia forms a touching relationship with Clem who seems better able to communicate with a child than Lorna. Virginia’s relationship with Lorna is strained; Lorna always remains slightly distant and less openly affectionate. Virginia has also acquired an acute sense of how to deal with certain situations: ‘Shutting up was almost always a clever move, she’d discovered, not just with Clem but with everyone. People rarely object to a quiet child.’
From the very first time, Max Deering, a childhood friend of Clem, visits Salt Winds, ten-year old Virginia takes an instinctive dislike to him, sensing something unsettling about him she can’t put into words. Her view of Max can’t help but affect the reader’s view of him, especially as the manner of his arrivals at the house conjured up thoughts for me of Mrs Danvers gliding in and out of shot in Hitchcock’s film version of Rebecca. Virginia muses: ‘It was difficult to explain the car’s pull on her imagination – not without sounding silly – but there was something about its predatory grace that made it seem like a living thing. The lane from Tollbury Point to Salt Winds was pitted with holes and bumps, but Mr Deering’s Austin 12 never seemed to mind. It just glided forwards, silent and slow, the way a shark glides over the ocean floor.’
I loved the author’s evocative, imaginative descriptions and eye for the smallest details when depicting a scene. For example, as Virginia makes meticulous plans in response to what she believes is the sign she’s been waiting for, ‘She pictures the house, room by room, and plots the route of her farewell tour, mentally circling certain parts and crossing others out.’ Don’t you just love the idea of the ‘farewell tour’. Or this description of the kitchen table: ‘The old tabletop rolled between them like a parchment map, grainy with longitude lines and knotty islands and uncharted territories.’ I can almost feel that under my fingers.
As the book progresses, it becomes apparent that some sort of tragedy occurred at Salt Winds which has haunted Virginia for the rest of her life and for which she feels, justifiably or not, responsible and for which she is convinced she will someday be called to make amends. The enjoyment for the reader is finding out exactly the nature of the tragic event and the consequences that follow.
I thought the book was fabulous. To my mind, in Call of the Curlew, Elizabeth Brooks gives Susan Hill (think The Woman in Black) and Sarah Waters (think The Little Stranger) a run for their money when it comes to creating a creepy, unsettling atmosphere. I was also reminded at times of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, and there is no higher praise in my book (pardon the pun).
I received a review copy courtesy of publishers, Doubleday, and Random Things Tours, in return for an honest and unbiased review. Call of the Curlew is one of my 20 Books of Summer.
In three words: Spooky, atmospheric, haunting
Try something similar…The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde by Eve Chase (read my review here)
About the Author
ELIZABETH BROOKS grew up in Chester, and read Classics at Cambridge. She lives on the Isle of Man with her husband and children.
Elizabeth describes herself as a “Brontë nerd”. Call of the Curlew is her homage to the immersive and evocative writing of Charlotte Brontë.
Connect with Elizabeth