The arrival of a young man in a small town sparks, hoping to leave his past behind him, but everything changes when he takes a job in a peculiar old shop, and meets a lonely single mother… A hypnotic gothic thriller and a mesmerising study of identity and obsession.
When Teddy Colne arrives in the small town of Rye, he believes he will be able to settle down and leave his past behind him. Little does he know that fear blisters through the streets like a fever. The locals tell him to stay away from an establishment known only as Berry & Vincent, that those who rub too closely to its proprietor risk a bad end.
Despite their warnings, Teddy is desperate to understand why Rye has come to fear this one man, and to see what really hides behind the doors of his shop.
Ada moved to Rye with her young son to escape a damaged childhood and years of never fitting in, but she’s lonely, and ostracised by the community. Ada is ripe for affection and friendship, and everyone knows it.
As old secrets bleed out into this town, so too will a mystery about a family who vanished fifty years earlier, and a community living on a knife edge.
Teddy looks for answers, thinking he is safe, but some truths are better left undisturbed, and his past will find him here, just as it has always found him before. And before long, it will find Ada too.
Hi and welcome to my review of So Pretty!
As if that tagline and the cover weren’t enough, the blurb had me at “small town” and the description sealed the deal: a hypnotic gothic thriller and a mesmerising study of identity and obsession. Uhm, yes please! Could a bookish premise be more up my street? I don’t think so! And I was thrilled when I felt pretty much straight off the bat that the execution would more than live up to the expectations all of the above had created.
So Pretty is told from the perspectives of Ada and Teddy. They have both come to live in the small quaint town of Rye but they remain somewhat on the fringes of the tight-knit town society. In each other they might recognise themselves, they are both lonely people with dark family histories, looking for a fresh start, a kindred spirit, love. And then it all goes to hell in a handbasket.
While this story is clearly set in the modern age, with mentions of phones, Twitter and online searches, the vibe is positively Victorian. I kept picturing the characters in old-fashioned dress, only to be reminded of the correct era when I came across modern-day references. It was unsettling, it was unnerving, it was… bloody brilliant and exactly what I look for in a gothic thriller!
Aside from a secluded Victorion mansion, what could be more gothic than a curiosity shop filled to the brim with things in jars and dead things and lots and lots of creepiness?
Bears and dull-eyed dolls and glass jars of buttons and birds and rings and plastic cars and leathery faces and waxy bodies and things I cannot name. So many eyes all on us.
Not to mention its creepy owner who has been spurned by the townsfolk for decades now:
He listens more than other people do. Picks up details they drop. He’s a collector, isn’t he? Stores up secrets, spins them into knives.
I would love to describe this book as Things in Jars and The Doll Factory meets [a contemporary thriller] and [a contemporary drama] but #sorrynotsorry, I will have to keep you hanging there cos that would be spoiling a very important bit of the plot. Tell you what, read So Pretty and let me know what titles you think I had in mind!
So Pretty is the first book by Ronnie Turner I read, but in the meantime I’ve caught up with her debut Lies Between Us (loved it, but So Pretty is even better!) and I’ll be waiting with bated breath to read whatever she writes next. I adore this story, I love her writing style, everything from the chapter titles to the descriptions to the characterisations is spot on and I savoured every moment I spent in Rye. It’s a total vibe and it was 100% my vibe.
I speak of birds and of wings, of movement, a storm of it; I speak of music, so loud and chaotic, it is like a fever; I speak of the freedom of water, rivers, able to drift you to a new place. I speak of so many things to quieten the scream wobbling in his throat and to bring fresh dreams. Tonight, if I sleep, I will dream of children in the earth.
I mean… ‘nough said, right?!
If gothic thrillers are your bag, do not hesitate: add So Pretty to your wishlist right now, or better still, get your pre-order in now cos let me tell you: this is one you won’t want to miss.
So Pretty is out on 19 January 2023 in digital formats and paperback. Pre-order it directly from Orenda Books here.
Massive thanks to Orenda Books for the eARC. All opinions are my own.