Thanks to NetGalley and Scribner for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
Release Date: April 20th, 2021
Synopsis: With the startling twists of “Gone Girl” and the haunting emotional power of “Room,” “Mirrorland” is a thrilling work of psychological suspense about twin sisters, the man they both love, and the dark childhood they can’t leave behind.
Cat lives in Los Angeles, far away from 36 Westeryk Road, the imposing gothic house in Edinburgh were she and her estranged twin sister, El, grew up. As girls, they invented Mirrorland, a dark, imaginary place under the pantry stairs, full of pirates, witches, and clowns. These days Cat rarely thinks about their childhood home, or the fact that El now lives there with her husband Ross.
But when El mysteriously disappears after going out on her sailboat, Cat is forced to return to 36 Westeryk Road, which has scarcely changed in twenty years. The grand old house is still full of shadowy corners, and at every turn Cat finds herself stumbling on long-held secrets and terrifying ghosts from the past. Because someone—El?— has left Cat clues in almost every room: a treasure hunt that leads right back to Mirrorland where she knows the truth lies crouched and waiting…
A twisty, dark, and brilliantly crafted thriller about love and betrayal, redemption and revenge, Mirrorland is a propulsive page-turning debut about the power of imagination and the price of freedom. (Goodreads)
I need to begin by saying that Mirrorland is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. It’s extremely dark, deals with domestic and child abuse, and at times is mind-numbingly complex. More than once I felt as though I had gone so far down the rabbit hole that I’d never find my way back. But given all that, this debut is pretty impressive and deserving of the kudos it’s receiving including a rave from Stephen King.
At the heart of this twisty tale are twin sisters Cat and El. Despite having a close bond as children, something has driven them apart as adults and while I had more than one theory, in the end it wasn’t what I expected. The book starts out a little slow, as Johnstone teasingly lays out a trail of breadcrumbs for the reader to follow. Bit by bit snippets of the girls childhood is revealed as well as the creation of Mirrorland. I was constantly trying to figure out what was real and what wasn’t. The story is told from Cat’s POV and she’s an unreliable narrator so that adds to the uncertainty. The more I discovered about Cat, and the horrors that were hidden behind the doors of 36 Westeryk Road, the more I related to her because of my own unhappy childhood. One coping mechanism she unknowingly uses, I unwillingly use myself even to this day.
El, I had more of a difficult time with, but that was because until the last third of the book, I was seeing her through Cat’s eyes, and she wasn’t a very sympathetic figure. The last several chapters, while somewhat overwrought, clears up all the murkiness and while I still questioned some of El’s actions, I understood them.
The third person that needs mentioning is Ross, the childhood friend of the twins and now grieving husband of El. His past and present role in their lives I continually guessed at, and although some of the mystery began to clear by the halfway point of the story, there were still plenty of shocking revelations to come.
The ending was relayed in multiple parts, and each time I thought the surprises were done, another one was thrown in. When the finale came though, I thought it perfect. Overall, this dark, psychological suspense/mystery is a memorable debut from Carole Johnstone, and it has me eagerly looking forward to what she comes out with next.