The Witch House, by Ann Rawson – review
I was lucky enough to snag a signed copy from the author, which is a treasure I will keep. As I understand it, this is Ann Rawson’s second published novel. I read her debut “A Savage Art” some years ago and was thoroughly impressed, so I had high hopes for this book, and it did not disappoint.
The story is written from the perspective of Alice Hunter, an intelligent and scholarly young woman whose plans to study archaeology at Oxford University were put on hold when she was committed to a mental institution. Our protagonist has a generous soul and a kind nature. She claims to have trust issues, but the main issue is that she trusts most people too readily, except herself who she trusts hardly at all. There are good reasons for this; Alice is prone to paranoia and has gaping holes in her memory. In addition her childhood was spent with two women who struggled to trust anyone with their secrets – including poor Alice herself. The hints of ritual magic throughout the story serve to complicate everything further.
It starts with a murder. Alice is the prime suspect and spends the story both hoping she didn’t kill Harry and subsequently forget, and trying to investigate the crime when it seems she is not simply the detective’s prime suspect, but also the only suspect.
Rawson’s descriptions are spare yet highly effective. The narrative wades through the depths of the protagonist’s emotional fragility and self-doubt. Alice definitely brought out my maternal instincts, and that perhaps is the greatest strength of this novel – it makes you care. I desperately wanted Alice to get out of this terrifying situation intact. It also makes it a hard book to put down.
It’s a book about family and secrets that should have been revealed long before and now poison the air around them. It’s a book full of villains, but also heroes: people worthy of Alice’s trust. I don’t want to give away the plot as this is essentially a crime thriller, and I think I’ve managed to avoid any spoilers. I urge you to pick up a copy for yourself and find out what all the fuss is about.
A solid 5 stars.