THE DEAD SUMMER: A NOVEL BY HELEN MOORHOUSE. PUBLISHED BY POOLBEG IN 2012.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
‘If you’re a fan of Susan Hill’s THE WOMAN IN BLACK, you’ll love this…!’
This book, written by an Irish woman and set in the English countryside, is a really unusual blend of chick-lit mixed with a top-notch ghost story. I write in both genres myself, mixing ’em both up together big-time, and I love it when other writers do it too. I especially love it when they do it well, as happens here.
Martha Armstrong is a young woman with a baby girl called Ruby. She’s split up from her husband Dan because he’s a big cheating bastard, and now she’s planning to leave her London home and, by extension, the rat-race, to go and live with Rubes in a ramshackle cottage somewhere in the English countryside. She wants to write the children’s story, about a unicorn, that she thinks has been fermenting inside her for years. Eeuw, it sounds right nasty, does that. Surely ‘t doctor can give her summat for ‘t…?
Hawthorn Cottage, or, to give it its other name, Eyrie Farm, seems lovely at first. Martha moves in in the summertime and gets into a routine fairly quickly. In the mornings, she drops Rubes off at the local crèche, run by a woman named Mary Stockwell, then she goes home and faffs about for several hours pretending to write.
Lady, I can tell you this for nothing. Ain’t nobody gon’ want to read y’all’s daft story about unicorns. The children’s book market is saturated with so many wanna-bees that there’s barely any room for even one more sad hopeful to squish in there.
If I were Martha, I’d find a nice little day-job, on a make-up counter maybe, or behind the till at Tesco, and spend any free time riding Rob, the local landlord, rich property developer and Man Mountain. PS, why am I discouraging another writer, even a fictional one, from writing when I’m clearly a writer myself?
Well, there’s too much bleedin’ competition out there, that’s why. As a writer who’s hoping to bring out her first traditionally published novel next year (the first part of a trilogy, I might add), I know this all too well. I like to commit a little, shall we say, sabotage, every now and then…! Remember, every scribe you can discourage from writing is one less annoying, pushy bastard grabbing for your brass ring, lol. Ah, I’m only joking. Or am I…?
Anyway, up at Hawthorn Cottage, things are starting to get a little hairy for Martha. On her very first night in the cottage, she hears a growling sound on the baby monitor that would have had me reaching for the suitcases there and then. Lights switch themselves on and off too and the temperature in a room can dip to freezing at the drop of a pair of knickers with dodgy elastic.
There’s a terrible scratching and scrabbling sound coming from behind the chimney breast in Ruby’s room, and the sound occasionally also of a baby crying, but when Martha runs in to comfort Ruby, the child is fast asleep.
A black shape is seen lurking by the bathroom door and a spoon is slapped right out of Martha’s hand when she’s playing ‘here comes the aeroplane, and will you please eat your bloody dinner, you aggravating child!’ with an unimpressed Ruby.
Martha’s experiences at Eyrie Farm (Hawthorn Cottage my arse, she thinks; this place is as haunted as all-get-out!) are told alongside our reading of a number of letters penned by a woman who actually lived in Eyrie Farm in the 1950s.
Poor Lily Flynn’s life is ruined forever when her sister Marion gets pregnant out of wedlock in 1950s Ireland, a mortal sin in those terrible, not-so-far-off days. Marion gets shunted off to England to have her baby away from the prying eyes of the neighbours, and Lily is forced to accompany her as her maid, her minder, her cook, her cleaner and her whipping boy. Marion has the temper of a devil and she gives poor Lily a dog’s life that includes terrible physical violence, to the point where Lily begins to think that Marion is actually insane.
It won’t take you too long to figure out who the ghosts are and why they’re haunting Hawthorn Cottage, of all places, but the execution of the ghost story is really well done. If this book were filmed, it would have all the jump-scares and black-mouthed screaming demons in it of THE WOMAN IN BLACK or James Wan’s more recent THE NUN.
It’s clear from the book that this author likes her horror books or films, as I spotted references in it to THE WICKER MAN, THE SHINING, and Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO, THE BIRDS and STRANGERS ON A TRAIN. It’s always gratifying when that happens to a horror reader. It makes us feel like we’re not alone, lol.
And the romance isn’t neglected either, readers, never fear. It’s where Will, the handsome young parapsychologist from Scotland, comes in, with his scruffier, bolshier mate Gabriel in tow.
Gabriel has a hotline direct to the spirit world; will he be able to cleanse Hawthorn Cottage of the evil that stalks it, and even more importantly, can he save Baby Ruby from the clutches of another Woman In Black (who may not love her but it would give her great satisfaction to be able to kill the child and take it away from its mother)…?
THE DEAD SUMMER is a cracking little horror story anyway, but it also does a terrific job of recounting the culture of shame that surrounded unmarried sex and pregnancy in mid-twentieth century Ireland. I like the way that the bit of very important social commentary goes hand-in-hand with the ghost story, and I’m really looking forward to reading more from this smashing debut author, Helen Moorhouse.
(PS, that was back in 2012 and Helen Moorhouse has written several other books since then, go check them out!)
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
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