Verity Holloway, Pseudotooth, Unsung Stories, 2017.
Weird... Very weird... Weirder... Weirdest... Those words very much defined my reading of Pseudotooth, a fantasy novel that isn't easy to categorise. Nonetheless, it was a very engrossing read and a very satisfying one.
Aisling is a teenager who suffers from seizures that aren't caused by any obvious medical condition, pseudo seizures the doctors called them. Her mother decides to reunite with an ex boyfriend of hers who had raped Aisling and to drop her daughter at her aunt Edythe, in a house in the country. Aisling arrives and finds herself in a house where she isn't welcome.
Pseudotooth starts like a Gothic novel: Edythe's house is very much the creepy mansion of old. It has its secret nooks, it has the frightening guardian in the form of Edythe, it has mysterious apparitions and the bookshelves filled with diaries full of repulsive ideas. Most of the first part felt slightly nauseating because of the perfectly horrible characters the beginning is filled with.
But by mid-novel, it turns into something else altogether: as Aisling suffers from her seizures, she reaches a village that seems to be in the thrall of some sort of cult initiated by a mysterious man called Our Friend and that hasn't got contemporary technology. New characters appear, this time much more likeable characters, but the mystery has increased ten folds. Not to mention that it is very uncertain whether it's a dreamscape development while Aisling is in the middle of a seizure, a multiverse development, or if Aisling has gone mad and it's some sort of 'Normal Again' (a Buffy episode) story.
The mystery is very well maintained and Holloway provides answers though they aren't detailed and you'll just have to take them for granted. But they felt to me as quite satisfying... Except for the last line which I found slightly disappointing and awkward. It was a pity because the rest of the story is very well written, with a tense style when it has to be, poetic when needed to, and a great worldbuilding.
The characters are very much a strong point of the story: from the downright repulsive human beings to the very endearing and a lot of nuances in between, Holloway weaves an intricate narrative that lightens them by touches, whether she brings us back in the past or uses some sudden reveals. In the end, it is a journey of self discovery and acceptance for Aisling, but also for most of the secondary characters who accompany her. Holloway tries to head to an optimistic ending where young people try to forgive adults and stop carrying their mistakes on their shoulders to find their own place in the world. Whether her characters will manage to or not is for the reader to find out.
Pseudotooth will require a bit of an adventurous reader, who isn't afraid of horrible characters nor of a story that doesn't provide neatly every answer instantly. But it will prove an engrossing read with some fascinating settings and mysteries and very endearing characters.
The writer's website.
A free copy was received in exchange for an honest review on Amazon but with no obligation attached to review it on The Middle Shelf.
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I only review stories I have liked even if my opinion may be nuanced. It doesn't apply for the "Novels published before 1978" series of blog posts.
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