Wednesday, 18 June 2014
THE DEVIL IN THE CORNER by Patricia Elliott. Reviewed by Adèle Geras
Over the years, at both Arvon and Ty Newydd, I've taught courses where I met writers who were very talented. There were a few who, I could see, would be published sooner or later. I'm very happy to be part of the beginning of their writing lives, and every time one of them brings out a new book, I feel pleased all over again. I'm talking about writers like Lynda Waterhouse, Gill Vickery, Caroline Pitcher and in this review, most particularly, Patricia Elliott. I often review books by novelists I know and I've stopped explaining and sort of apologising... You'll have to take it on trust that I wouldn't review a book I didn't genuinely think was worth drawing to people's attention.
Patricia has written historical novels, and fantasies and whatever she publishes is always both stylish and interesting. She's good at slightly fantastical tales set in the past, like one of my favourites, Murkmere. In The Devil in the Corner, she's produced a book that will be enjoyed by all lovers of Victorian Gothic. It's a YA novel, and perfectly suited to that age group, but I don't think an adult reading it would feel in any way short-changed. There's enough plot to keep everyone who picks it up turning the pages, anxious to see what will happen next.
Maud, an orphan, is summoned to Windward House in Suffolk by her cousin Juliana. It's an old house, with all the appropriate shivery elements in place: slightly sinister servants, a very disabled young man called Sly who might or might not be the Devil of the title. Then there's Edie, a fourteen year old girl whose cunning and mischief is driven by thwarted passion and whose actions and feelings constantly surprise both Maud and the reader. Then there's a painter called John, who's been commissioned by Juliana to restore the Doom Painting in the local village church. (The painting is based, we are told by the author, on the Doom in St Peter's at Wenhaston in Suffolk. I am keen to see it.) John and Maud meet on a train and the scene is set for a story of whispers, glances, poison, guilt, sexual assaults, drug addiction and murder.
Many themes run through the novel, but it is mainly a love story and love wins through in the end. There is no slapdash element in Elliott's style. It is the very opposite of casual and colloquial. Every word is both carefully chosen and appropriate. Nothing, anywhere, jars. Elliott can also set a scene and take us into someone's emotional turmoil better than many more well-known writers.
If you're an adult and enjoy novels like those by Essie Fox, for instance, this book is one you'd like. And any young person who relishes a spooky and emotionally charged story will love it. Hodder Children's are to be congratulated for producing a very attractive paperback original with a cover that has more significance for the novel than you might realise at first.
THE DEVIL IN THE CORNER: a paperback original.
published by Hodder Children's £6.99
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