Standalone or series
First time reading this author?
Why I picked this
The description sounded really interesting, plus it had a quote from Stephen King which seemed to back up that it was an interesting premise.
Review copy or purchase
Thank you to the author, publishers The Borough Press, and online book club Pigeonhole for the chance to read this for free. This is an honest and voluntary review.
What it’s about
As children El and Cat lived a rich fantasy life within the walls of Mirror House. As adults they haven’t spoken in 12 years, but El’s gone missing and Cat has returned home. Discovering the truth about what has happened to El may need Cat to separate the fantasy from the reality of their childhoods.
I have rewritten this review half a dozen times, trying to figure out how I honestly feel about it. In the end I’ve decided to rate it four stars out of respect for the author’s right to decide on an ending they feel is true to the story they’ve written – although it’s an ending I vehemently disagree with.
That shouldn’t take away from the power of the writing and the story. I recognise that it’s because this book is so well written that I feel so passionately about the way it ended. I have not had this pervasive a book hangover for a long time. I was fully immersed in this world, and that is why it has taken me so long to write a review which I feel is fair.
However, I’ll be completely honest and say I couldn’t be that reasonable when I first finished it. I was absolutely heartbroken that a book I had so much enjoyed chose to end in a way that I felt was a betrayal of the story and the characters, but I’m trying to let that go (it’s still a work in progress).
Mirrorland is the story of identical twins Cat and El. They grew up in Mirror House in Edinburgh with Mum and Grandpa. They played in a magic fantasy land of their imagination as pirates, prisoners and clowns. They called this place Mirrorland and shared it with neighbour Ross.
One day, still children, they are found at the harbour together looking for a pirate ship with no explanation of where they have come from.
As teenagers they fall out and Cat moves to America, then 12 years later El’s husband Ross calls and tell Cat her sister is missing presumed dead.
Cat’s return to Edinburgh, and return to Mirror House where Ross and El now live, triggers the unravelling of long locked away memories. Grudges, secrets, and the truth hidden by the fantasy world all begin to emerge.
I truly adored 90% of this book. The gradual reveal of Cat and El’s childhood and later argument. The mystery of what happened in Mirror House and why Cat has so effectively suppressed her memories. The conflicting and confusing feelings Cat has about her sister, Ross and her childhood. It was all handled really well.
The writing is powerful, the descriptions and plotting enthralling. There’s a fantastic point at the end of chapter 32 where I would have been happy to end and would have raved about this book to anyone who would listen without hesitation. There was just one tiny, almost inconsequential plot point which hadn’t been wrapped up. A character whose appearances in Cat and El’s childhood memories had not quite been fully explained.
Unfortunately, for me the tying up of that loose end undid much of the emotion and heart of the story. I feel that for the true ending to have worked for me I would have needed to be invested in the decisions of a character we didn’t really get a chance to know.
I would love to read more from Carole Johnstone in future, but it will take me a long time to get over how this one ended.