Book Review: Immortelle by Catherine McCarthy

Title: Immortelle

Author: Catherine McCarthy

Genre: Horror Novella

Number of Pages: 118

Rating: B-

Recommended?: Yes


Set in Wales in the 19th century, Immortelle is the story of a ceramicist named Elinor whose twelve-year-old daughter Rowena suddenly dies under suspicious circumstances. Rowena is found face-down in a water trough with traces of arsenic in her system and Elinor suspects the sketchy parish priest of foul play.

We find out through Rowena’s early viewpoint chapters that Father Kendrick is shady as fuck, using his spare time to dabble in black magic. Using the spells in the journals her late grandmother left behind, Elinor struggles to get through to Rowena’s spirit- and get revenge against the person who took her away.

This book was atmospheric and wrote engagingly about a time and place I don’t know much about. One of the biggest problems I had with was the way the child characters talked, which was much too sophisticated and adult for twelve-year-olds. It felt like the author forgot altogether that Rowena was a pre-teen when she wrote the chapters from her perspective.

Did Welsh children in the 19th century talk like refined little adults? I wouldn’t know, but it didn’t feel realistic to me. Even though the subject matter was sad (death of a child) I found it hard to emotionally connect to. Maybe I didn’t spend enough time with the characters to really care about them but I felt like I was firmly placed on the outside of Elinor’s grief and horror.

The antagonist was also under-developed and I still had a lot of questions about his motivations and how he actually operated at the end of the novella. Catherine McCarthy is a good writer and even though I didn’t love this by any means, I’m still interested in reading more of her work. Possibly if she wrote a full-length novel it would have more emotional resonance for me.

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