Book review: Mirrorland by Carole Johnstone

Friday, April 9, 2021 Permalink

One of the biggest problems with a book getting rave reviews or media attention is that readers’ expectations are heightened. That was certainly the case for me going into Mirrorland by Carole Johnstone. In fact there’s a glowing quote by Stephen King on the front cover and I’ve seen him praise it elsewhere.

Of course one of his novellas, Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, features prominently in this book, but I don’t think he’d be that easily cajoled.

Book review: Mirrorland by Carole JohnstoneMirrorland
by Carole Johnstone
Published by HarperCollins UK
on 01/04/2021
Source: Harper Collins
Genres: Psychological Thriller
ISBN: 9780008361402, 9780008361396
Pages: 416

No. 36 Westeryk Road, an imposing flat-stone house on the outskirts of Edinburgh. A house of curving shadows and crumbling grandeur. But it’s what lies under the house that is extraordinary – Mirrorland. A vivid make-believe world that twin sisters Cat and El created as children. A place of escape, but from what?

Now in her thirties, Cat receives the shocking news that her sister has disappeared. Forced to return to Edinburgh, Cat finds herself irresistibly drawn back into Mirrorland. Because El has a plan. She’s left behind a treasure hunt that will unearth long-buried secrets…

This book opens following an incident in 1998. Twins El and Cat are fleeing something though we’re not sure what, we’re told however it’s then they start their second life.

We don’t learn much about that life and when it’s finally referenced its importance in their life appears to be minimal and is glossed-over. In fact, the way the foster home is referenced at one point made it sound like jail and it occurred to me that would have been an excellent twist – that we learned they’d done something nefarious (on the aforementioned night in 1998) and had been imprisoned in a juvenile detention centre.

We do belatedly learn what took place on that night they fled as children but that reveal felt rushed and I wasn’t entirely sure I was processing what happened. Perhaps Johnstone purposely kept clarity at a distance because we learn there are several versions of the events.

I liked Cat – initially anyway – and felt we got to know her fairly well as the book is written in first person from her point-of-view. We eventually learn why she and El are estranged and why it’s 12 years since Cat has been back to the UK. In her narration Cat offers herself as the ‘good’ twin, suggesting that El is (or was) prone to attention-seeking behaviour and manipulation. In some ways however Cat also overplays the victim card and her behaviour here is probably an indication that she’s (quite understandably) biased in her views.

This is another book in which we’re offered an obvious suspect. We expect more red herrings. We don’t believe it can be that simple. But it is and it isn’t and Johnstone throws some twists in at the very last minute.

I found myself really intrigued by the events of the past. There’s a sense of menace although – in many ways – Cat romanticises their childhood and the games they played. I wasn’t entirely convinced that her memories could be so misleading however as she wasn’t that young by the time she and El left. I know our mind protects us in all sorts of ways, but some of her erroneous memories and perceptions seemed a little too outrageous. And the fact that Johnstone left so much of the action until the end meant my anticipation had grown enormously and I expected something (mind blowing) that wasn’t quite delivered.

Mirrorland by Carole Johnstone was published in Australia by Harper Collins and is now available.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.


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