Merritt’s book hits a midpoint between Broadchurch and Anne Brontë’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall ... despite the many gothic tropes, Merritt’s writing is at its most enjoyable when rooted in the everyday. Her biting wit comes across in exquisitely uncomfortable scenes ... While the book spends far too long on 'what was that noise? It must have been … the wind?' moments, Merritt’s background as a historical novelist is well suited to the parallel narrative of the Victorian heroine Ailsa McBride, who appears in diary entries and scholarly works by the fusty prof essor. This story of a rich 19th-century widow living a secret life with her mute son begins to supersede Zoe’s modern day moping, and you wonder which character the author would rather spend time with. Ailsa’s rapturous sex scenes with the incubus summoned by her spiritualist late husband, a kind of otherworldly Story of O, could be read as an investigation of rape culture tropes through a gothic lens. If you’re willing to embrace Merritt’s use of classic gothic tropes, this is a compelling novel.
It may be the case that Zoe represents that other horror trope: the hysterical woman ... may not hold much that is fully original in terms of themes or plot twists. But it is a fun, at times sexy, read with some real creepiness and a few good surprises. Merritt chose the Scottish cliffs well; the landscape contributes to the atmosphere and gives Zoe additional challenges to face. Her writing is interesting and evocative, with lovely phrasing and description. Overall, this is an enjoyable, if a bit contrived, scary story.
As Merritt reveals the truth about both Zoe and Ailsa, she raises as many questions as she answers, resulting in a deliciously gothic, haunting story that balances a page-turning pace with lush descriptions of the wild coastal scenery.