The Girl from Rawblood

Written by Catriona Ward

This is a novel dominated by the figure of She – who She is and whether She really exists or is part of the fevered imagination of the characters is open to the reader. Beginning in 1910, the story follows the eleven-year-old Iris, who is kept alone and isolated by her father, allegedly due to a hereditary disease. However, the real reason is more to do with She who haunts the house, Rawblood. Any of the Villarca family to whom Iris belongs, who get too close to others, suffer a peculiar and painful death. Parts of this are reminiscent of The Observations by Jane Harris in which mysterious unexplained events are left for the reader to ponder for some time. The reader can happily go along with this for a while, although in the second half of the novel, it becomes more of an effort, as the story seems to spiral off into a laudanum dream filled with Gothic nightmares.

The way it moves around from narrator to narrator doesn’t help orient the reader. There are diary entries, vivisection, addictions, madness, lobotomies, and people clawing their own eyes out. In essence, this is a love-it-or-hate-it read; the reader will either enjoy the weirdness and revel in the strange or spend most of their time wondering what on earth is going on. The writing is powerful and atmospheric, and it is certainly an unusual novel, not for the faint-hearted.