The Missing Years by Lexie Elliott – an atmospheric novel of a house with a disturbing past?
Can a house watch you? In this novel a young woman is wondering about that question as she moves into the Manse, an old house which seems to be full of secrets. Featuring things that literally go bump in the night, this terrifically atmospheric novel is full of swirling mystery and menace as Alisa discovers that her old family home seems invested with the actions of those who have gone before her. Despite the fact she shares the house with her half sister, she feels the presence of others with malign intent. The brooding threat of violence manifests itself in small ways, dead animals, strange noises and the conviction that everyone is aware of the house, all the elements of a thriller without a manifest threat. The locals which she encounters are a mixed bunch, each with their own beliefs about the house and those who have lived in it. This is a sophisticated thriller in some senses, full of small hints and suggestions rather than dramatic action, which in a way is far more effective. I found that the novel was a great achievement in terms of being unsettling and suggesting much by its atmosphere. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this intriguing book.
As the book opens the first paragraph appears concerning Ailsa’s father, a theory about where he is, what he is doing. This strange revelation appears just before Ailsa sees the house for the first time since she was a child, copes with fleeting memories and tries not to disagree with her half sister, who is also coping with the death of their mother. It soon emerges that at the time of the death, Ailsa was with a news team and could not get a flight home owing to the explosion of a volcano in Iceland. The eerie silence of empty skies was memorable, and adds to the atmosphere. From the start there seems to be the real threat of incursion despite locks and bolts, just enough to unsettle any sense of peace. Ailsa considers her relationship with an older star news reporter, how she has sought the unattainable. She meets some locals who are all more aware of the history of her house, and her father’s disappearance. While making efforts to socialise, she discovers that not everyone is pleased to see her, and indeed hold onto past grudges. There are various layers of tensions, of threat, and the author skillfully holds all the threads together as Ailsa begins to fight back. As time is discussed in all its complications, the reader is left to consider exactly who or what may be trying to drive Ailsa away.
I found this a complex and tense read, full of the subtle hints of threat which seek to unsettle the characters and indeed the reader. I found Ailsa a convincing character, full of doubts but with a core of strength. As revelations about her parents emerge, and her own past and choices are recalled, the combined effect is of characters with sufficient depth to seem real. Elliott is a clever and careful writer, using all the small details to create a setting and events that convince the reader of a reality. I would recommend this as a good read, well paced, cleverly written and raising a real sense of tension.