Grade : A-

Mirrorland is a beautiful, complex and dizzying tale of sisterhood and coming to grips with the past via a rather horrifying trip through the present.

El and Cat – Ellice MacAuley and Catriona Morgan – were twins who lived in their own wild world when they were children.  The girls do not know who their father is – they are told that their mother destroyed her marriage, taking the twins with her to Edinburgh.

Alone, with only each other for company, the girls find themselves living in a sprawling, remote gothic estate with their mother and grandfather. The zone under the pantry stairs becomes ground zero for their wild pre-adolescent imaginations; they call it Mirrorland, a place where they can meet pirates, witches, and other fantastical characters. The intensely-bonded twins also bond intensely to the seeming fantasy of Mirrorland, and their inability to distinguish dreams from reality results in a fuzzily-drawn disaster when they are adolescents.

When they grow up, they grow apart, their estrangement solidifying them when El manipulates Cat’s boyfriend, Ross, a neighborhood boy and occasional part of their Mirrorland trips, away from Cat and into marriage with her.

The separation lasts for twelve years.  Cat escapes from the moldering world of Number 36 Westeryk Road and becomes an actress, now living far from Scotland in glitzy Los Angeles.  El never leaves, moving to the house with Ross.  But one day El disappears while sailing, and the investigation into what happened draws Cat home.  El’s medicated depression is blamed for her disappearance and she is presumed dead, but Cat knows something else is going on – and she assumes that El is seeking attention rather than intentionally trying to take her own life.  She starts finding notes – threats, really – from her sister scattered all over the estate, as well as her somewhat twisted diary.  They’re leading Cat back to the truth – back to Ross’ arms, which begins to reveal unsavory things about him – and back to the horror and wonder of Mirrorland.

Johnstone’s storytelling is an enrapturing, gorgeous thing, and she weaves such a transcendent adult fantasy that it’s easy to sink a full day into this book.  It’s an ugly, upside-down Alice in Wonderland cum We Have Always Lived in the Castle journey that’s suspenseful, repulsive and yet wonderfully alluring.  I could not put it down, even when the suspense had my stomach tied in knots. It’s a spooky story, and a unique one.

Cat is an interesting and slightly glamorous everywoman - haunted, tormented, creative, passionate, but very real and present in an unreal world.  El is more elusive - as well she should be – and their monstrous mother and jolly grandfather surprise at every turn; in several cases unpleasantly.  Ross seems the most devoted to Cat and El’s protection but – well, I will leave it to the reader to find out.

The reader will likely have difficulty untangling the fantastic from the mundane in Johnstone’s world, and fail to demarcate where dreams, delusions, fantasy and reality fork apart - which is just the way the author intends it. You will find yourself roaming the corridors of love, hatred and romance with her; you will see pirates, witches and clowns, and you will feel the awful, palpable fear that Cat goes through and suspect everyone – including her reliability as a narrator.  Mirrorland is an incredible place to visit – but you wouldn’t want to live there.  Thanks to Johnstone’s incredible sense of art, you won’t need to disappear into the cupboard under the stairs, however, to be transported.

Note: This book contains extreme violence and on-page rape and incest.

Buy it at: Amazon, Audible, or your local independent bookstore

Visit our Amazon Storefront


Reviewed by Lisa Fernandes
Grade : A-

Sensuality: Subtle

Review Date : April 20, 2021

Publication Date: 04/2021

Review Tags: 

Recent Comments …

Lisa Fernandes

Lisa Fernandes is a writer, reviewer and recapper who lives somewhere on the East Coast. Formerly employed by Firefox.org and Next Projection, she also currently contributes to Women Write About Comics. Read her blog at http://thatbouviergirl.blogspot.com/, follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/thatbouviergirl or contribute to her Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/MissyvsEvilDead or her Ko-Fi at ko-fi.com/missmelbouvier
Notify of

oldest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
What's your opinion?x