A terrifying story of ghosts and grief, perfect for fans of Shirley Jackon’s The Haunting of Hill House and Henry James The Turn of the Screw, in award-winning author Lisa Heathfield’s first adult novel.
Clara and her younger brother Stephen are taken by their father to stay with their aunt and uncle in a remote house in the hills as their mother recovers from an accident. At first, they see it as a summer to explore. There’s the train set in the basement, the walled garden with its secret graves and beyond it all the silent loch, steady and waiting.
Auntie has wanted them for so long – real children with hair to brush and arms to slip into the clothes made just for them. All those hours washing, polishing, preparing beds and pickling fruit and now Clara and Stephen are here, like a miracle, on her doorstep.
But the reality of two children their noise, their mess, their casual cruelties begins to overwhelm Auntie. The children begin to uncover things Auntie had thought left buried, and Clara can feel her brother slipping away from her. This hastily created new family finds itself falling apart, with terrifying consequences for them all.
Such Pretty Things is a deeply chilling and haunting story about the slow shattering nature of grief, displacement, jealousy and an overwhelming desire to love and be loved.
Hi and welcome to my review of Such Pretty Things!
As soon as I saw this cover I knew I had to read this book! Creepy dolls, a creepy Gothic house? Yes please! Did the content live up to the expectations the cover had created? Well, uhm, sort of?
Fourteen-year-old Clara and her little brother Stephen are going to live with their Auntie and Uncle for a little while, as their mum is in hospital, and will remain there for the foreseeable future, and their dad can’t cope on his own. Auntie is thrilled at their arrival, but the kids, especially Clara, less so. The house is huge, it smells funny, there are weird dolls and a somewhat lifelike boy made out of leather, and their uncle is nowhere to be seen, although his presence is palpable.
Such Pretty Things kicks off with a deliciously Gothic vibe and I felt myself drawn in. The writing is vivid and allowed me to picture the dark house perfectly, its smell, Auntie’s fragile balance, overeager and easily disappointed and just a tad off. Such Pretty Things is very atmospheric, but the atmosphere is a bit weird, a bit off, and really rather unsettling. It’s very hard to explain but it really did a number on me and my mood, I actually felt a bit off and quite unsettled myself. In that way, reading Such Pretty Things was quite an experience.
The story is bloody hard to define, and honestly? It’s a bit weird. But it did work for me. I was settling in for a horror story, I did not expect a drama. I expected ghosts, and, come to think of it, I think that’s what I got, just not in the way I thought they would present themselves. Vague, huh? All I can say is that this is not your average horror story, for me it read more like drama with hints of domestic thriller laced with horror.
If you’re in the market for in-your-face horror, gory or explicit or five ghosts or monsters a minute jumping up at you from the shadows, I’d advise you to look elsewhere cos you sure won’t find that here. However, if creepy houses, unsettling atmospheres and aunts that might be a little mad are your bag, this is the one for you. If you go in with that mindset, open-minded and open-hearted, Such Pretty Things may very well crawl under your skin, like it did mine, and be very, very tough to get rid of. Recommended, if you dare.
Such Pretty Things is out now in digital formats, audio and paperback.
Huge thanks to Titan Books and NetGalley for the eARC. All opinions are still my own.