Today, I finished reading Mistletoe by Alison Littlewood. Here is a review which delves a little into the mechanics of its writing. This review contains spoilers. Please read the book before reading my review!
I picked this book up in the local library as I was looking for something a little scary to read. Mistletoe started out a great book and I was gripped by the lead character, her situation, the location and the suspense. I hadn’t read any other books by Alison Littlewood so I really wasn’t sure what to expect, which I think added to this suspense initially. What was this writer going to bring the table? I wanted a good scare! The dark and mysterious front cover had hinted that it would be. Leah was a great protagonist and I liked the cast a lot, but I couldn’t help think that the characters could have shown a little bit more make-up, particularly in the way of action. At the outset I wasn’t convinced that Leah would ever have stayed in that house and that she would have run a mile! There just wasn’t enough reason to back up her staying in my opinion, and the scares far outweighed the staying. In most situations the lead character has a very good reason to stay. One that goes far beyond their own self interest – perhaps a mystery to solve on the behalf of another. This sort of came but it was long after her arrival and initial scares. I’m not sure her situation was enough to buy me into her staying. Cathy, who I thought was the most intriguing character of them all seemed to disappear entirely and I was looking forward to her turning and playing a bigger part in the story. Just a hint of how she acted toward Leah made me excited to think ‘this is all going to go pear-shaped’ and I was disappointed when nothing came of it. The same with the lady in the shop – a great character that appeared only once. I loved how Littlewood managed to weave together the past and present and I found that particularly spooky and engaging. I hadn’t read many books that did this, but its a great method to bring eras and different generations together into the same book. The past and present scenario builds up gradually during the course of the novel, so that they eventually merge into one, and I think this is the best part of the book. We get to glimpse the lives and scenes of Leah’s ancestors with her right there as spectator and eventually, player. I loved the mistletoe and the other Victorian symbols (leaves, dolls) that were in the book. I find this fascinating in art and writing and it can really colour a creative piece. These elements were great in the ancestoral scenes, particularly when Martha and Isobel were engaging at the dressing table. One thing that bugged me about the book was the overuse of description – the snowy location. It seemed to pop up quite frequently, until I was skimming over it by the end. I think in novel writing it is generally said that you should ‘set the scene, then hint on it through the rest of the novel, unless the location changes entirely.’ But it appeared in detail every time a chapter began, and midway in scenes. I became tiresome and I felt the descriptions became wasted words. It would have been more beneficial to have discovered more of Leah’s thoughts, her own past – bringing in more of a psychological edge which could have been built up quite nicely for the reader. I also thought that many aspects of the book were just too convenient – items written just because they fit into the story nicely. One obvious one is the snow disappearing at the end. This was very predictable – weather change to reflect the change in story. Yes it has to happen but this came across quite obviously. I feel like I have been fairly negative with my review on this book, but I want to give an honest review and document the elements for myself as I have an interest in the mechanics of writing and cannot help analyse as I read! I believe by calling out the good and the bad we learn more about words and stories. Overall this was a good ghostly read, even though some things felt like they were missing or overdone. I recommend this for a Winters night when you are feeling moody.