Arriving on 10 October in hardback and Kindle, the title and timing of Alison Littlewood’s latest novel makes clear that it is being pitched at the festive market, as well as being out just in time to capitalise upon Halloween and the interest in all things horror that this generally conjures up. That’s no bad thing, and I hope, judging by the engaging quality of her three previous novels which I’ve enjoyed, that this one does well. But, stepping beyond the rather prosaic realm of marketing, what might we expect in terms of content and subject matter?
As yet, all we have to go on is the blurb, as Amazon’s ‘Look inside’ function is not yet available for Mistletoe. What, however, this does reveal, is that after two forays into the Victorian gothic with The Hidden People and The Crow Garden, Littlewood is making a return to the present day. Although The Hidden People was well-received critically and did modestly well in terms of sales, The Crow Garden appears to have been less successful, despite garnering a rave review from Antonia Senior in The Times; perhaps the latter was less popular with readers because it stepped beyond the realm of the supernatural into a fantastical and delusional reality generated by the lunacy of the protagonist. Many readers may have been looking for spirits and phantoms rather than high Victorian gothic, and thus been disappointed. Personally, I found it a satisfying read, and could see how the author had developed her interest in this particular period from her previous book in which unorthodox beliefs, in the form of fairy lore, loomed to the fore.
Mistletoe’s protagonist is a grieving widow named Leah who has lost not only her husband, but also her son. It is when she purchases a dilapidated Yorkshire farmhouse following her bereavement in an effort to escape from the painful memories of her former life, that she finds she has unwittingly acquired something resembling a new family in the form of Maitland Farm’s former occupants. We may have left the Victorian era in terms of setting in this story, but we remain solidly rooted in Yorkshire as in Littlewood’s previous three novels. One of the things that I enjoy about the author’s writing is how well she adds local colour to her dialogue through the effective rendition of Yorkshire dialect and accent, which I anticipate will once again be strongly in evidence here.
The setting is not so different from that in The Unquiet House, in which a young woman, once again suffering from the consequences of recent bereavement, inherits a cold and dank property in the Yorkshire countryside that despite being technically uninhabited proves to be anything but. As to how Leah’s experience at Maitland Farm differs from that of Emma Dean’s at Mire House, we shall have to wait and see.
Mistletoe is available for pre-order on Amazon, and is released on 10 October 2019, and may be ordered here.