MISTLETOE / AUTHOR: ALISON LITTLEWOOD / PUBLISHER: QUERCUS / RELEASE DATE: OCTOBER 10TH
After the tragic deaths of her son and husband, Leah finds herself drawn to an old farm in Yorkshire, a place where she believes the hard work of restoration will help her come to terms with her grief and make a fresh start with her life. Maitland farm, however, is less than the idyll that was originally sold to her; the escape to the country turns sour and, as the December snow starts to fall, Leah finds herself confronted with the ghosts of a different past, visions of the farm’s former occupants and the dark deeds committed there over a century ago.
Despite its modern day settings, there’s a Gothic feel throughout Alison Littlewood’s novel. Leah’s sense of isolation is evident from the first page and, as strange things happen, she questions the reality of them, considering herself absent-minded rather than accept the truth. There’s no doubt to the reader that these ghosts are real - Mistletoe is called a ghost story on its title page - and it’s refreshing that there is ultimately no ambiguity to their existence as far as Leah is concerned. The author’s use of folklore adds an extra dimension to the story, raising it from standard haunted house fare, while her characters and situations - however supernatural - are compelling and believable, making the book all the more sinister.
Mistletoe is an excellent continuation of the Christmas ghost story tradition upheld by the likes of Dickens and M.R. James, with some genuinely unnerving moments. It’s a book that gently insists on being read (it took this reviewer only two sittings), a story that provides the chills that are promised while never falling into cliché; there are some cunning plot twists as events unfold and - as always - Littlewood has created a realistic and fascinating protagonist with whom readers can sympathise. Add to this some exemplary uses of landscape that would make a Bronte proud, and readers will find that Mistletoe is horror as it should be, a classic ghost story for our modern times.