Mistletoe by Alison Littlewood
DISCLAIMER – I received an advanced reading copy of this book from the publishers and NetGalley in return for an honest, unbiased review. My thanks to Quercus for allowing me to read and review this book.
Following the tragic death of her son and husband, Leah Hamilton buys and moves into a dilapidated Yorkshire farmhouse, her plan being to renovate and sell on the property as a way to work through her grief. Unfortunately, the ghosts of Maitland Farm seem to have other ideas, and soon she finds herself getting drawn into a tragic mystery of the past.
As you might expect, pretty much the entire narrative is told through the eyes of Leah herself, and the author has really done an excellent job of bringing the character to life. Leah’s underpinning grief leads her down paths that would normally seem irrational, but which in context make absolutely perfect sense. At first, she wonders if the ghostly goings-on are somehow connected to the ghosts of her son or husband. Even after it becomes clear there’s more sinister behind her mysterious visitors, she still clings desperately to the hope that she might somehow be able to call forth her son’s ghost. However, this same fixation also gives her strength to push through the fear that might otherwise cause her to abandon the haunted farmhouse once and for all.
The isolated setting of a run-down old farm gives the narrative something of a claustrophobic feel. Even though the protagonist is only a short walk from her nearest neighbours, and only a slightly longer walk from the nearby village, the reader is definitely left with the feeling that Leah is on her own, a helpless observer of the story unfolding around her despite her best efforts. Indeed, as the narrative enters its final act she even goes as far as pushing away those same welcoming neighbours, very much against their objections.
This is a remarkably well written modern ghost story, eschewing jump scares and slasher tropes in favour of the gentler, more traditional elements of a classic English ghost story. It’s the sort of story best read while snuggled into a big, comfy chair, wrapped in the fluffiest of blankets and enjoying the warmth of a roaring log fire on a cold winter night. Just remember to close the curtains tight before you settle in.