Seventeen-year-old Aisling Selkirk is an ethereal, clever, and damaged young woman who lives with her mother Beverley. Aisling struggles with seizures which the NHS eventually admits defeat in being unable to medically diagnose and writes them off as “pseudoseizures”. Aisling’s petit mal episodes lead her into different states from momentarily zoning out to moments where she steals, hitchhikes, or has otherworldly experiences. After the doctor’s proclamation, Beverley also admits defeat and sends Aisling to live with her Great Aunt Edythe in Suffolk. Edy is a woman obsessed by cleanliness; she takes a distinct dislike to Aisling and confiscates her beloved book of William Blake poetry in an effort to enact a “tough love” stance. Another inmate of Edy’s is her brother Robert, an odd old man who offers Aisling an ear and talks about people from his past.
Writing in her journal, away from her beloved Blake, Aisling channels violent visions from Feodor, a Londoner haunted by his Russian parents’ past whose presence becomes intertwined with Aisling’s psyche. While incarcerated, Aisling discovers a concealed nook in the house, a Tudor priest hole that acts as both a hiding place and as a portal to another dimension where Chase cartwheels into her life. However, this could be all in Aisling’s mind as there is a horrific, lurking menace from the past that keeps threatening to surface.
Aisling tries to keep grounded in reality through Blake’s work, verses of which are woven into the story. Verity Holloway’s poetic eye is superlative in conjuring up sharp images; it is as if you can feel the splinters in Aisling’s fingers and the sharp detritus under her bare feet. There is a sense of verisimilitude in Feodor’s urban London landscapes and in Aisling’s rural isolation. Some of the unspoken horrors of trauma and the myriad of ways of dealing with this are touched upon within the book, highlighting the realities of mental illness and abuse. Contemporary societal issues are similarly explored as if in a dream-like state. Holloway is a poet, writer and Victorianist, well-researched details seep through into the story as well as Romantic and Gothic elements.
New-ish indie publisher Unsung Stories are a press for sci-fi, fantasy, horror and intersections of these genres. It is a good home for this debut novel with its gorgeous Gothic cover and in the way the narrative evokes a sense of place while dancing along the line of dreams and reality. Verity Holloway is a writer to watch and Pseudotooth is an unusual, evocative, Pre-Raphaelite portrait of a book. Expect similar crossover books that are inspired by this novel to emerge!
PSEUDOTOOTH / AUTHOR: VERITY HOLLOWAY / PUBLISHER: UNSUNG STORIES / RELEASE DATE: 6TH MARCH