Author: Catriona Ward
Finished on: 19 April 2017
Where did I get this book: Bought from Salt’s Mill as a present for my beloved Auntie Marian (and yes I admit, bought with the possibility of borrowing it back in mind – the book buying ban has turned me into a horrible, selfish present buyer).
I need that claxon again. I haven’t been this excited about a new (to me) writer since Helen Oyeyemi.
This is a book that makes me want to jump up and down shouting, “It’s brilliant. Read it!” rather than write any sort of sensible review. But we’ll give it a go.
I was expecting to enjoy the subject matter of Rawblood. This is a gothic ghost story about a cursed family. So far, so massively my cup of tea. But I wasn’t necessarily expecting it to be so beautifully written, so clever, or so impressively varied in setting and viewpoint. (Impressive in that there is complete coherence throughout the story, through multiple narrators and techniques).
Rawblood looks like a horror story. But there is so much more to it than that. I say this with no denigration to horror as a genre; it’s one I have a huge appreciation for. But while Rawblood is definitely horrible, it is not terrifying. I am a good test of these things, because I am freakishly easily scared (ask my husband, who has been woken up in the middle of the night to come with me to the loo in case there is a zombie in there on more than one occasion).
Ward tells us the tale of Iris Villarca, a young girl who is the last of her cursed family line, growing up alone with her secretive father. The grand Villarca house Rawblood (the name is actually a corruption of the Old English Sraw Bont, for a house by the bridge, rather than anything more sinister), as well as the family itself, is haunted by a malevolent white figure. We follow family members from Iris’s parents, to her grandmother Mary, to her Uncle Charles, exploring their relationships with both the ghost and the house. It is difficult to pick a stand-out section. Each is a superb piece of writing with a distinctive and engrossing voice. I loved them all. But the section told through Charles Danforth’s diary account of his bizarre scientific experiments alongside Iris’s father Alonso, is extraordinary. Shocking, moving and thought-provoking in almost equal measure.
I was left feeling that Rawblood could be missing out on potentially enormous audiences, because people may be put off by its scary appearance. When the truth is that there is as much of EM Forster and Jane Austen in here as there is Arthur Conan Doyle, Ann Radcliffe and Mary Shelley.
Don’t get me wrong, this is not a book for the squeamish. But it is an accomplished feat of literary craftsmanship. And a stunningly good read. Maybe if we add a nice horse on the cover. Or even an Italian landscape…
Basically, if you enjoy good writing, and you’re not a complete wuss, then read this book. Just don’t wake me up if you need a wee in the night and want someone to hold your hand.