Saturday, March 9, 2024

Briefly: Little Eve by Catriona Ward (2018)

Ward, Catriona. Little Eve. UK: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, July 2018

Rating:     8/10

Little Eve at the ISFsb
Little Eve at Goodreads

Tor Nightfire edition, 2022

Catriona Ward's gothic novel Little Eve is difficult to describe. Not because it is surreal or unclear or overly complex, but because revealing its plot is a disservice to the reader. The novel begins in 1921 with the discovery of a brutal scene, then falls back to 1917, the latter stages of the Great War, to tell its story. The story reveals itself to the reader in mostly episodic sequences, as characters living on an isolated Scottish island go about their daily activities, picking mushrooms and mending clothes and taking part in a snake ritual. As we read, the story becomes increasingly complex, with characters from the outside world seeping in, and the occasional time jump. Yet as it is complicated it also begins to piece itself together.

This is as vague as I dare describe the plot, since I would urge readers of darker, psychological fiction to pick this one up. I enjoyed it immensely. The novel revolves primarily around two teenaged girls at the isolated island, where they live with their Uncle, two women and two other children. They attend school at the nearby village, and have various encounters with outsiders, most of whom see them as odd. Tensions rise among the island members, through their outside interactions, their individual desires, and their often strained relationships between one another, all under the watchful eyes and strict leadership of their Uncle. The situation is fascinating, the characters intriguing, and Ward manages to consistently maintain both the suspense and the tension, along with its powerful atmosphere in that stormy environment, as the story builds to its reveal.

Despite selling poorly and being available at the time of publication only in the UK, the book received the 2018 Shirley Jackson Award for best novel, which is awarded for dark psychological fiction. Following the international success of The House on Needless Street, which I also enjoyed immensely, Little Eve was reprinted with an introduction by Ward, and made available in North America.

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