Book review

You Let Me In, by Camilla Bruce

You can read the opening here (‘look inside’).

This is a deeply disturbing novel. The protagonist, novelist Cassandra Tipp, has vanished, leaving behind what is essentially a memoir, a document containing two competing narratives about her life. In one story, Cassie tells of a vampiric 1,000-year old faerie who abused her in childhood, then married her, and destroyed her family; in the other story, that of her therapist, but related by Cassie, it was not a supernatural being that abused her, but a human one, and she has constructed this elaborate fantasy to cope with the trauma. But which story is true?

The thing is, if a friend told me they’d married a faerie, I’d think they were crazy, but this is a novel, so it could actually be true – it depends on whether the novel uses realism or magical realism. In this instance, the reader doesn’t know if they’re reading realism or not, because only one character witnesses the magical elements, so the reader has to ask themselves Is this narrator reliable? The effect of this is fascinating. Because first-person narration is used, I couldn’t help but believe the narrator about her faerie world; but then, there are also lots of clues that it’s her therapist who should be believed (plus, logically, I want to believe the therapist). The competition between the two narratives drew me in, and involved me in the story, because the reader is being asked to choose between the two versions.

Metafiction and intertextuality are used. The novel opens with a newspaper article, then instructions relating to Cassie’s last will and testament. The opening of the memoir uses the second-person, and direct address, to talk about/to her niece and nephew. The author is Norwegian, and I think the folk horror elements may come from her culture. The character names are interesting; I wonder if they’re intertextual links to Greek mythology: Cassandra (cursed; not believed), her niece Penelope (traditional; perfect wife), and nephew Janus (two-faced; signifies beginnings and endings).

If you hate ambiguity, you’ll probably hate this novel – I love ambiguity, so I loved it – but at the end of the day, both stories Cassie tells are two versions of the same thing; regardless of which version is ‘true’, she has been abused, disbelieved, and abandoned by the people who should have protected her, and been blamed for the actions of others and events out of her control.

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