The most dangerous stories are the ones we tell ourselves…
No. 36 Westeryk Road: an imposing flat-stone house on the outskirts of Edinburgh. A place of curving shadows and crumbling grandeur. But it’s what lies under the house that is extraordinary – Mirrorland. A vivid make-believe world that twin sisters Cat and El created as children. A place of escape, but from what?
Now in her thirties, Cat has turned her back on her past. But when she receives news that one sunny morning, El left harbour in her sailboat and never came back, she is forced to return to Westeryk Road; to re-enter a forgotten world of lies, betrayal and danger.
Because El had a plan. She’s left behind a treasure hunt that will unearth long-buried secrets. And to discover the truth, Cat must first confront the reality of her childhood – a childhood that wasn’t nearly as idyllic as she remembers…
I’m delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Carole Johnstone’s debut novel, Mirrorland, today. I was immediately intrigued by the rather unusual premise and I love the idea of the fantasy land created by the twins at the heart of the story, wanting to understand the deeper meaning behind it.
Catriona – Cat – returns to Edinburgh after twelve years in LA when her twin sister, Ellice – El – goes missing. The two are estranged for reasons that aren’t immediately apparent, and they haven’t spoken since Cat’s departure all those years ago. This immediately raises questions for the reader, and I was eager to understand more about their relationship and what had caused the estrangement. We’re given flashbacks to their childhood – which was unusual to say the least – and the two are inseparable into their late teens. One wonders what could have happened to drive such a wedge between them.
The flashbacks to their childhood also reveal more about Mirrorland – a make-believe world that the two created and that occupied much of their time as children. There are several elements to this, but perhaps what stood out the most is that Mirrorland seems to be a truly terrifying place to be at times. Of course, children often have a fascination with the macabre, but Mirrorland is inhabited by many strange and not always well-intentioned individuals that both Cat and El seem to be afraid of. It’s dark but brought to life incredibly well, and while the prominence of their childhood imaginary land may seem puzzling for such a novel, the relevance of it becomes clearer as the story progresses. It’s so very cleverly done, and if you’re thinking that an element of fantasy isn’t your thing, please don’t be put off by this – it’s worth understanding the whys and wherefores behind it.
Cat is an intriguing character, albeit one who isn’t entirely likeable. Her unwillingness to believe in El’s disappearance and the lack of concern for her wellbeing raise questions, as does her conviction that El has gone missing purely for the attention it will bring. She’s dismissive of anyone with an alternative view including El’s husband and friends who say that she was troubled prior to her disappearance. This leaves the reader with a quandary as to who to believe. Cat is so very convincing, and as her twin sister she knows her better than anyone, but her conviction seems strange as the days turn to weeks with no trace of El whatsoever. And twelve years with no contact whatsoever is a long time, and people do change. Whoever has the right of it, some things just don’t add up, and Johnstone has created a wonderful mystery with many twists and turns to keep the reader guessing.
Mirrorland is a particularly creative and original novel about the tales we tell ourselves and the way in which we paper over the worst memories out of an instinct for survival. But sometimes, that paper needs to be ripped away to expose the ugly truth before we can move on with our lives.
Mirrorland is published by Borough Press and is available to purchase now in hardback, eBook, and audio formats. Huge thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours and the publisher for providing a copy for review.
About the Author
Scottish writer Carole Johnstone’s debut novel, Mirrorland, will be published in spring 2021 by Borough Press/HarperCollins in the UK and Commonwealth and by Scribner/Simon & Schuster in North America.
Her award-winning short fiction has been reprinted in many annual ‘Best Of’ anthologies in the UK and the US. She has been published by Titan Books, Tor Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, and PS Publishing, and has written Sherlock Holmes stories for Constable & Robinson and Running Press.
Carole is represented by Hellie Ogden at Janklow & Nesbit UK and Allison Hunter at Janklow & Nesbit (US). More information on the author can be found at carolejohnstone.com.
Make sure you check out the other wonderful bloggers taking part in the tour: