What would a gothic thriller be without a large, dilapidated building, an unreliable narrator (or two), pagan rituals, and hallucinations? After reading Little Eve, I’m sure I don’t know. Catriona Ward’s latest novel follows close to the traditions that precede her in the genre. Ward weaves painful history and unforgiving landscapes through the narrative, in a tale that coils around both the impossible and inevitable.
The novel follows the lives of a so-called family who have isolated themselves in an old castle on their own private isle. The head of the family, Uncle, is uncompromising and controlling. He dictates every detail, from what they learn to how many mouthfuls of food each shall eat.
Among the strays on the isle are Dinah and Eve. Both young women attempt to navigate their treacherous situation as best they can, but their path is not one they will complete unscathed. With multiple murders and no ready explanations, readers and characters alike must sort fact from fiction in this thriller.
Little Eve is a tale of emotional and mental manipulation. Perhaps what is most frightening is that it could very easily be real. I could easily believe a character like Uncle could exist. While the novel is set long ago, the violations feel as possible (and probable) now as they would have back then. This is one step further than gaslighting. But worst of all, I found myself asking: if this was happening now, how many of us could really stop it? How many of us would?
The flow of narrative intricacies and weaving of red herrings are delivered through deceptively simple prose. Little Eve is so eminently readable, while keeping the gothic feel, that you don’t notice the sleight of hand until it is too late. There are red herrings for the red herrings, clues hidden within clues. And at the end of it all, you realise it was never really a mystery at all – the ending (and the ‘reveal’) are the only logical consequence of events.
While overall the novel is thoroughly enjoyable to read, it does feel a little slow towards the two-thirds mark. I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why it began to feel bloated, but I did begin to lose interest sometime before the narrative threads came together. Memorable, often devious, characters make up for any sluggish pacing issues, however, making for a solid, creepy read.
Verdict: Ward is a master of disturbing, twisting tales that not only comment on our past but shed light on the present.