Katherine May has a track record of ghost stories, but this tale of a woman whose life unravels after a chance encounter is more haunting than haunted, and for me that’s a good thing.
The premise is intriguing. On a visit to her home town, Violet catches sight of a girl whom she sees to be herself, ten years younger. She is sufficiently traumatised by this to question her subsequent lifestyle choices, and just as we see how bizarre these choices have been, she casts herself off from all of them and goes in search of the girl. This is a neat way of framing what is in essence a voyage of self-discovery, in which the only ghosts are those who spring from our own lives, past, present or future. The younger girl of the pair also has a voice, adding a layer to the mystery and providing a melancholy but satisfying conclusion.
Yes, I liked it! But it wasn’t the plot (which is only just enough to carry us to the end) that drew me in, so much as the writing, which is achingly precise, especially in the opening chapters. I loved the ‘hypnotic crunch of sleep’ and ‘she shuddered …; big hungry jolts seized her body’ and all the other things which made me feel part of Violet’s emotional meltdown. There are bigger issues in here too, with sharp digs at 21st century values and the emptiness of corporate life, so that it has something of the dystopian feel of Never Let Me Go.
I bought Burning Out to see what Snowbooks is publishing right now. I’ll be looking out for any more like this one.