Orenda Books, 19 January 2023
Available as: PB, 320pp, audio, e
Source: Advance copy
I'm grateful to Karen at Orenda Books and to Anne at Random Things Tours for sending me a copy of So Pretty to consider for review, and for inviting me to join the book's blogtour.
Welcome to my first blogtour of 2023! I always find it a bit tricky facing these bleak early January days so what better than to imbibe a dark, powerful tale of obsession and mistrust?
So Pretty, the new novel by Ronnie Turner, takes us to the streets of Rye where the townspeople gossip behind newcomers' backs and families can vanish overnight...
Teddy attracts that by visiting the strange establishment Berry and Vincent - a junk shop that fairly exudes dark Gothicness - and then by taking a job there, working alongside the silent Mr Vincent (Berry is nowhere to be seen). Nothing good ever came out of Berry and Vincent - or went in there - seems to be the assumption.
Ada is disapproved of for other reasons - a young single mum, she doesn't really fit in, does she? And young Albie has a deformed ear - that must be her fault, surely? What did she do to cause it?
To be clear, both Ada and Teddy do have dark secrets.
Teddy has drifted, moving from place to place as his family background catches up with him. Why, at his mother's funeral, did ill-wishers gather to hurl eggs and rotten fruit fruit? Why, when he's located, do grown women turn up on his doorstep, dressed as schoolgirls? Who is Johnny Appletree?
Why did Ada's mum push her away, practically throwing her out of the house when she became pregnant?
In these chapters, told in the distinct voices of both Ada and Teddy, we learn the answers to those questions - on one level. In both cases it's a tale of twisted love, of abuse and control. Both have suffered from the actions of parents, whose motivations in turn raise questions about their own backgrounds. The book is imbued with an almost aromatic sense of taint, coming at the reader from all sides - from the creepy merchandise of that damnable shop, from hints of defect and sin carried in the blood, from bad examples and the sad, unwitting attempts of children to please their parents.
I lost count of the numbers of times that characters here pick at themselves, pinching off bits of skin or hair, scratching until lips, arms or neck bleed. It's a behaviour that almost seems catching, as do other mannerisms and tics, most sinisterly when children imitate parents or other adults, innocently recycling gestures and attitudes across the generations.
Through all this, that triangular relationship between Teddy, Ada and Mr Vincent is central, the power dymanics and intentions of each jarring with each other. Teddy senses a mystery to the vanished Berry family, and focusses on Vincent as a malign factor. Ada wants to know more about Teddy than the hints he drops. And Mr Vincent? Ah, Mr Vincent seems to know all the secrets - but he isn't talking, although Teddy can hear his old-fashioned typewriter tap, tap, tapping away upstairs.
Powerfully Gothic, the cramped and soiled location of the shop constrains all. As events there take a most threatening turn the town's gossip and obsession build, innocence is defiled, and history seems bound to repeat itself.
This is - and I mean this in a good way! - a book with a truly grotesque sense of evil. Not of a grand and majestic evil, but a bitty, quotidian evil, worked at and worked in and ingrained in the warp and weft of life, unable to be scrubbed away, understood or opposed. Even the dramatic conclusion of the book leaves concerns, little nuggets of doubt and worry that the story is not truly over.
A disturbing and powerful read.
For more information about So Pretty, see the publisher's website here - and of course the other stops on the blogtour which you can see listed on the poster below.