26 October 2020

#Blogtour #Review - Greyfriars Reformatory by Frazer Lee

Greyfriars Reformatory
Frazer Lee
Flame Tree Press, October 2020
Available as: HB, 231pp, PB, e
Source: Advance review copy
ISBN: 9781787584754

I'm grateful to the publisher for an advance copy of Greyfriars Reformatory to consider for review, and to Anne Cater for inviting me too take part in the blogtour.

'You will learn...'

Six young women, in handcuffs and leg irons, on a prisoner transport bus, heading for the isolated Greyfriars Reformatory

Our (self-confessedly unreliable) narrator, Emily, admits it's not her first time there, but she doesn't 't recall the specifics. She has acute dissociative disorder and tells us she's been institutionalised all her adult life (but then, she is only 19).

The others - Saffy, Jessica, Lena, Annie, Victoria - well, we will learn what they did, but we don't know it yet and it's not wise to ask.

For now, here they are, in a bleak, remote institution.  Locks are scarcely necessary, there's nowhere to run to and the climate isn't kind. The only member of staff appears to be Principal Quick, who quickly imposes her will on the girls, demanding obedience, inflicting punishments, doling out the pitiful meals, organising exercise classes. The whole setup is shifty somehow, odd, troubling. 

Especially troubling is the situation Emily finds herself in when mean girl Saffy proclaims she's the real authority at Greyfriars, the real Principal. If Emily's useful, she'll be OK. If not, she'll suffer (even more than she already is doing). So a watchful, tense period commences, a period where every verbal exchange, every little snub, is directed at establishing or challenging status. Lee depicts the nuances of the relationships, the changing alliances, spiteful outbursts and secrets, convincingly and this part of the book is strung as tight as a bow: one expects catastrophe at any moment. The story mainly follows Emily, as I have said, so she's the reader's most immediate concern but Lee also gives us chapters from the viewpoints of the other girls, revealing the sadness of their lives, their desperation, guilt and self-delusion. 

I found myself sympathising with them all, often the apparently most vicious. One could see, in the little stories, how things were going to go. It's hard to see even those who have done awful things as the truly guilty ones. Misogyny, abuse and exploitation abound. These young women shouldn't be in a place like Greyfriars, an experimental institution whose methods seem flaky - to be polite - and one where other dangers lurk, beyond the pack hierarchy, the cold, and the appalling food. 

As those dangers do emerge - with plenty of glimpses and warnings that all is not well, this is a horror novel! - the girls have to decide whether to trust one another or to continue to try and use one another. Ill-fitted by their histories to trust, it doesn't look hopeful for them at all, unless somebody can work out what the secret of Greyfriars is.

I loved this book - it has lashings of bleak Gothic horror, strongly drawn characters and a claustrophobic atmosphere, but the story is grounded in acts of injustice and betrayal which see disturbingly realistic and which have a terrible impact on all here. It's the kind of book that, once started, you have to finish and one with a keen  tang of modern horror. Perfect for these darkening evenings.

For more information about Greyfriars Reformatory, see the publisher's website here.

To buy the book, try your local bookshop, or if you want to go online, Hive Books, who support local bookshops. It's also available from Blackwell's, Foyles, WH Smith, Waterstones or Amazon.

The tour goes on! See the poster below for some splendid bloggers who will be giving Greyfriars some attention in the coming days.

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