Monday, March 30, 2020

You Let Me In - Camilla Bruce

Because I mostly read older books I forget how difficult it is to write about brand new books without giving spoilers, so bear with me here. 'You Let Me In' is Camilla Bruce's debut novel, and it marks her out as an author to watch. 

The blurb describes two stories and asks which one might be true. The dark fairy story of children lost to the woods and magic, or one of an emotionally and physically abused child. It seems to me that these are only two of the stories hinted at, and that both, or neither might be true. Which is appropriate for any novel narrated by a character called Casandra. 

As with her namesake this Cassandra is destined not to be believed either, her narration not so much unreliable as it is a set of stories or possibilities in which nothing is certain. Not even the basic premise that is the elderly author Cassandra Tipp has disappeared, or that this is the last in a string of family scandals that start with her being a difficult, possibly disturbed child, go through the gruesome death of her husband, and the later murder of her father and suicide of her brother. 

Part of the narrative is Cassie's assumptions about how her niece and nephew will react to the manuscript they're reading, but they're assumptions so the reader has no sense of meeting Janus and Penelope (names further freighted with meaning). That uncertainty is part of the charm of the book, not least because it helps distance the reader from what Cassie is telling us happened to her.

There's a lot here to admire and enjoy in Bruce's handling of the themes she's chosen. I enjoyed her representation of fairies, here they have a vampiric quality, they're dead things that choose a live thing to feed from - everything from trees to little girls. It's a clever mixing of folklore elements that works really well as the book unfolds. I also appreciate the way she alludes to violence and abuse without much detail.

Hints are enough, more than enough to build a picture, and when details do come they're macabre to the point of fantastic, which again helps keep them at a distance - like something out of a fairytale. This uncertainty also allows Bruce to explore the reactions and behaviour of Cassie and her family without having to explicitly judge or explain them, although there are enough implications for the reader to do so.

In this instance the claim on the back of my proof copy that this is about the elusive nature of truth, and offers "an unnerving glimpse of the dark place that might exist between reality and somewhere else entirely" feels entirely justified. Truth is a slippery thing, an interpretation of facts rather than a fact in itself and I thoroughly enjoyed reading Bruce explore that.

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