The Girl from Rawblood
Okay. So where to start? I’m not sure which is most prevalent, but in The Girl from Rawblood, Catriona Ward has written a combination of horror, gothic, mystery and a hint of tragic romance that could be utterly fascinating, but just did not work for me. I’m really not sure why – it should hit every fangirl button I have between the gothic aspects, the horror elements and the author’s beautiful turn of phrase. But it just didn’t.
When we first meet her, Iris Villarca is an eleven-year-old girl living alone with her father at their Devon estate, Rawblood. Almost completely secluded, Iris has made friends with a neighbor, Tom, in complete defiance of her father. After Tom’s father dies, Iris and Tom begin to get closer, until Iris falls ill, and believes it to be an illness of her family line, as told to her by her father. The Villarcas have a curse in their veins, haunted in their own home, but unable to leave.
However, we don’t get to read Iris’s story for long, as we are sent back in time to 1881, when Dr. Charles Danforth arrives at Rawblood at the behest of his friend, Alonso Villarca. Together, they begin a series of experiments that would be at home in Frankenstein, with poor bunnies as their subjects. Alonso is convinced that somehow they can find a cure for the curse of the Villarcas, and that the answer lies in blood and genetics, a new field for the time. Charles, however, is haunted, by his past relationship with Alonso, by the experiments he is now a part of, and by a figure in white. And later we go even further back, to 1839 and Mary Hopewell, the woman who brought the Villarca name to Rawblood, as she journeys to Italy and meets a wealthy, and somehow snake-like, Spaniard. And then, back to the future, with Meg, Iris’s mother, and Iris’s birth. There is so much back and forth in time and switching between narrators that it was pretty confusing.
As I said earlier, the language really is quite lovely. There’s a haunting quality to everything, and it’s beautifully lyrical. The gothic horror element is well done, with an almost existential dread overhanging the cast of characters we meet.
But all the beautiful language and flow notwithstanding, I spent so much time completely confused by the story that I just could not enjoy it. The story is frequently told from the sidelines – the daughter instead of the father, the friend instead of the cursed – and the distance that affords from the terror experienced by the main characters serves to further distance the reader as well. In the end, the plot remains too disjointed, spread across the generations without enough to tie it all together. To be perfectly frank, if I hadn’t been reviewing the book, I would have stopped reading within the first fifty pages.
There are some moments that are really well done, especially if you want chills up your spine, such as the journal entries of Dr. Danforth, as he starts to see the ghostly figure. Meg’s story, and the mist, and the overall atmosphere dread work pretty well. But here is just so much else to get through that doesn’t make sense.
I would definitely try the author again, though, since I’m a bit of a sucker for lyrical writing. I’d just be a bit more particular, and look for something that doesn’t jump around so much in terms of narrators and time period.