One of the pleasures of art is experiencing someone else’s perspective. That idea often gets used in reference to encountering a socially devalued perspective from the inside-out, and that’s a necessary exercise in empathy. But novels like The Girl from Rawblood remind us that experiencing someone else’s perspective can also mean encountering–even submerging yourself in–an individual and very distinct sensibility. You’re seeing, in detail, how someone else’s mind works. And with the artists most likely to develop cult followings, there’s often something rare, even alien, about that mind. Its obsessions, influences, logical inferences, tenets–they all stand out.
Catriona Ward feels that way to me. Even when she starts with a recognizable framework–the Gothic (Rawblood and Little Eve) or the domestic suspense thriller (Sundial)–the story either hares off in odd directions or, if it stays comparatively still, becomes supersaturated and baroque, as if it’s soaked up everything around it. You may not like The Girl from Rawblood–and since it can be fairly grueling, including everything from animal harm to medical abuse to rape, I would understand choosing not to read it at all–but you can absolutely say this for it: it doesn’t read like the author has spent a lot of time on Twitter. This is not a book that has marinated in other people’s opinions, nor is it one that’s been hampered by a lot of second-guessing. It’s a dispatch from the dark plain of someone else’s mind.
It’s a first novel, and it feels like it could easily have been Ward’s only novel: there’s the real sense that everything is here, with no idea or passion or literary skill cautiously held in reserve for later. This is a dark, ambitious Gothic about a family that, for generations, has been troubled by … well, the answer to that is framed differently at different times, by different people. A disease? A ghost? A curse? It often goes in unexpected directions on both a micro- and macro-level, so it’s hard to provide any more of the premise than that. I’m looking forward to our discussion on it–to our own sensibilities and perspectives meeting and getting entangled.