Riverhead. Aug. 2020. 224p. ISBN 9780593188958. $26. F
At first glance, this novel appears to be the simple story of two siblings visiting a house on the moors with their mother. Nothing could be further from the truth. First, the house, called the Settle House, is unsettling. Second, the teenage sisters play risky games, with the elder, September, controlling the younger, July. As the novel unfolds, readers are let in on secrets: the sisters left Oxford under a cloud, their father died years before in an accident, and his family owns Settle House. In her first novel, Everything Under, short-listed for the 2018 Man Booker Prize, Johnson brought the Oedipus myth into this century. Here, she’s constrained and more focused. The narrative moves back and forth in time, with each character taking turns to tell her story. The tension and dread that starts to build at the outset are sustained throughout, and Johnson skillfully deploys the unreliable narrator trope and an uncanny ability to get into the heads of teenage girls.
VERDICT A haunted house, troubled girls, and sinister events combine to create a tightly crafted story; highly recommended.
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