Little Eve by Catriona Ward

Posted On 29 July 2018

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little eveI hardly know how to begin to review Little Eve, especially without giving away elements that could potentially spoil the read for others.  This is a gothic story set upon a remote Scottish island that can only be reached at low tide via causeway.  Ultimately it’s an unravelling of the events that took place at Castle Altnaharra one stormy night that resulted in the apparent ritual sacrifice of four of the inhabitants.

This was a gripping story and the writing was beautifully hypnotic, almost poetic.  I haven’t read Catriona Ward before but on the strength of the writing here would definitely like to read her debut novel.  She has a way with words that is breathtakingly evocative.  Anyway,  I’m getting ahead of myself.

The story kicks off with a mysterious and quite chilling opening.  The discovery of four dead bodies by a local man delivering goods to the Isle.  From there the author takes us back over previous events using alternating chapters narrated by Dinah and Eve to gradually build a story of manipulation and cruelty.

The story is roughly set over a four year period from 1917 to 1921.  Times were harsh for many people during that period and this caused a more introspective ‘charity begins at home’ type of feeling amongst many people that resulted in otherwise unusual or unacceptable behaviours remaining unchallenged.

The inhabitants of the castle are predominantly orphan children who have been brought to the seclusion of the isle by a man they know as ‘uncle’.  Together they all take part in strange rituals involving visions of a large sea serpent.  They all believe Uncle to be the conduit of the God they worship and ultimately their saviour.   Basically this is a story of cult worship.  The children love uncle and vie for his attention and favour, quite jealously, even to the point of tattle-tailing on each other.  Whilst he remains well fed and clothed they are almost starved, small for their age, permanently tired and cold and desperate for affection.  And yet Uncle is the only family they’ve known and they believe in him with a desperate fervour that refuses to waiver.

As time creeps on however the Isle and it’s inhabitants come to the attention of a wily police officer who makes it is business to check on what really goes on in the castle.  Persistent and like a dog with a bone he is determined to find out more about ‘uncle’ and his persistent worrying eventually provokes events to spiral out of control.

This is a little bit of an unsettling read to be honest and yet at the same time it’s a story that propels you forward relentlessly.  I wouldn’t particularly say that I liked any of the characters whilst I was reading.  Eve is a bit unnerving, Uncle is bloody awful and manipulative, and Dinah, well, actually, I suppose I quite liked Dinah and just wished she could break free, especially since she had the barest sliver of a chance at happiness.

This is a story that is narrated by an unreliable character – you just need to figure out who is telling the truth and it’s this need to know what actually happened that drives you onwards.

I can’t really say too much about the rest of the plot because it would definitely involve spoilers.  I would however like to highlight that there are some unsavoury elements to this story – which, whilst they’re not overly dwelled upon, there’s no gratuity here and in fact with some events you’re given a hint of things and left to come up with your own conclusions and yet in spite of that these events and the way the children are treated is undeniably cruel and shocking.

Like I said, this is a somewhat unsettling read.  It’s a book that is creepy and yet at the same time unnervingly addictive.  A perfect read for a stormy night when you can hear the wind buffeting the house and the rain lashing the windows whilst feeling safe and secure within your own little castle.

A murder mystery with a difference, a twist that I simply didn’t envisage and a period setting that is bleak with war.  Definitely an author that I would like to read again – this might not have been a ‘fun’ read, there’s no witty banter and I think you definitely need to be in the right frame of mind, but, the writing is very impressive and it’s undoubtedly the type of read that once you’ve started you’re in it until the end – bitter or not.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

14 Responses to “Little Eve by Catriona Ward”

  1. Tammy

    This sounds very atmospheric. I love the idea of a story set on a secluded island!

    • @lynnsbooks

      Yeah, puts me in mind of The Woman in Black in terms of the setting. And its very dark and gothic too.
      Lynn 😀

  2. Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

    Did you say “Gothic story”? *runs to add this to my TBR* And I happen to love unreliable narrators too!

    • @lynnsbooks

      This is really quite dark but at the same time I just couldn’t put it down. And, yes, gothic – works like a charm for me every time.
      Lynn 😀

  3. waytoofantasy

    Oh, I do enjoy a good gothic! Thanks for the review!

  4. maddalena@spaceandsorcery

    The words “hypnotic writing” keep sounding in my mind like a very powerful siren song… 🙂
    Thanks for sharing!

    • @lynnsbooks

      This is a bit chilling and very bleak but I just couldn’t stop reading.
      Lynn 😀

  5. sjhigbee

    Gothic story with unreliable narrators about characters trapped on an atmospheric isolated island… Sounds a fabulous premise:) Thank you for a great review.

    • @lynnsbooks

      It’s not a jolly or fun read to be honest, really quite darkly foreboding – but addictive.
      Lynn 😀

  6. July : My Month in Review | Books and travelling with Lynn

    […] Little Eve by Catriona Ward […]

  7. bkfrgr

    Wow, this sounds brill! And I’ve a feeling I’ve seen it somewhere (bookshop? library? … I’m hoping library …) Awesome review! 😀

    • @lynnsbooks

      Thanks – the cover is very unusual – and also quite appropriate. An unusual gothic tale, I like the fact that you can’t completely rely on the narrators. It is a bleak read though.
      Lynn 😀

      • bkfrgr

        I am braced and ready for some more bleak … I’ll have something light on hand for afterwards though, just in case. 😀 😀

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