Such Pretty Things by Lisa Heathfield

My Five Word TL:DR Review : Dark Depiction of Overwhelming Grief

suchprettythingsSuch Pretty Things is a slowly unfolding horror story that speaks more of dealing with grief and the dark thoughts that haunt a person after suffering loss than the actual physical manifestation of ghosts.  As the story begins, two children, Clara and Stephen, are being taken to their aunt and uncle’s house to be cared for.  Their mother has suffered a terrible accident and their father is unable to cope with work and all the other responsibilities and so has asked the family to step in for a short while.

The children are dropped off and, after their father almost breaks his neck rushing to get out of the place, the strangeness of the situation really starts to set in.  The children have never met their aunt and uncle before.  They live in a large remote house, the family home in fact, kept in absolutely pristine condition by their aunt who seems a little obsessive about rules and cleanliness.  The two share a bedroom that has been set up like something from a fairytale with ribbons on the curtains and freshly sewn clothes hanging in the wardrobes.  It’s a little too perfect and the children are unsure how to behave.  Their aunt has many rules and although they don’t meet their uncle it’s clear that he is unhappy with the arrangement and his disapproval seems to hang over them all causing a feeling of dread.

Slowly but surely things begin to unravel.  Their aunt may long to hear the patter of tiny feet but her daydreams bear little resemblance to the reality of actual looking after children.  Particularly two children who are themselves coming to terms with the fact their mother may not survive.  The two misbehave, they break things and cause a mess, they don’t eat properly, their manners leave something to be desired and they can be unintentionally cruel.  The strain between the three is quite intense in the first few chapters.  The children frequently sneak out, unsupervised, to explore the grounds and their aunt’s dwindling grip on control is stretched to breaking point.  Then things begin to shift.  Clara is a teenager and openly rebels against her aunt, refusing to wear plaits in her hair and pretty dresses with frills, as the two embark on a strange contest of wills Stephen’s loyalty begins to shift towards his aunt.  He’s much younger than Clara and wants to feel the familiar embrace of adult care.  His gradual shift only adds to the tension, Clara is jealous of his affection and their aunt feels empowered by the turn of events, inflicting more punishments on Clara until eventually the two siblings are split up on an almost continuous basis.

There really is a lot to like about this book.  The writing and descriptions are fantastic.  Heathfield’s ability to create a densely oppressive atmosphere and ever growing sense of dread is simply superb.  I thought all the characters came across well and the setting with the large house and gardens really played into the sense of isolation lending credibility to the way of life depicted.

However, in spite of their being so much to love here, the large house and estate with plenty of secrets waiting to be discovered, the superb atmosphere that is almost suffocatingly tense and the clear unravelling of the aunt’s mental stability I found myself not as enamoured with the latter half of the book as the first and I’d love to pin down why that is.

I think in a nutshell there’s a slight over ambition taking place here or perhaps a cluttering of too many ideas.  The start is just brilliant.  It’s really well set up.  You can feel the aunt slowly becoming more and more unstable and there are also a few indicators here and there about one of the children (though I won’t point out which one).  But then, I felt like the plot became too convoluted.  One of the aspects I’d already guessed at but for the final few chapters it felt like there was a bombardment of ideas taking place and, although I was still absolutely gripped, some of the reveals felt unnecessary, like the set up and the mental health issues that were clearly escalating out of control, were enough by themselves. I have to confess, although I didn’t particularly like the ending, I think it veered into too much horror for my liking, I admit that I couldn’t drag my eyes away.  It was perfectly horrible.

I certainly didn’t dislike Such Pretty Things but I think it reminded me less of Shirley Jackson’s Haunting of Hill House and more of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline.  The aunt undoubtedly put me in mind of ‘the other mother’ and gave off a sinister vibe, at first sugar coated with perfection but slowly revealing a dreadful instability that pushed her to dark extremes.  I certainly wouldn’t discourage others from reading this, it’s very easy to read and I will undoubtedly look out for more work by this author.  I think it was maybe a little too much ‘horror’ for me and I didn’t love all the eventual reveals but that could very easily be an ‘it’s me not you’ type of occurence.

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

My rating 3 out of 5

7 Responses to “Such Pretty Things by Lisa Heathfield”

  1. nverjudgeabook

    There’s a new Lisa Heathfield! How have a I missed this!

  2. Tammy

    I’m really curious about this. I don’t mind horror at all so it might work for me:-)

  3. Ola G

    Interesting! But I think I’ll pass, I’m not much of a horror fan 😉

  4. Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

    Man I think this sounds amazing, but maybe the oppressive mood is just a tad overwhelming? That’s what it kind of sounds like!

  5. sjhigbee

    Another brilliant review, Lynn. Though I’m far too much of a wuss to pick this one up:)).

  6. Booking Ahead/Weekly Wrap Up | Books and travelling with Lynn

    […] Such Pretty Things by Lisa Heathfield […]

  7. Top Ten Tuesday : My Ten Most Recent Reads | Books and travelling with Lynn

    […] Such Pretty Things by Lisa Heathfield – psychological horror whereby overwhelming grief drives strong emotions and even stronger actions.  I didn’t love this one as much as I’d hoped, maybe it was a touch too horror filled for my taste.  3 of 5 stars […]

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