The Unravelling by Polly Crosby
Polly Crosby’s The Unravelling is a gripping gothic story, written in rich and descriptive – but effortless – language. A young woman (Tartelin Brown) gets a job as a personal assistant to an elderly lepidopterist (Marianne Stourbridge), who lives on the mysterious fictional island of Dohhalund in England. Tartelin immediately realises that her employer, like the island itself, hides many dark, frightening secrets.
Dohhalund could be called a fully fledged character in itself – the author skilfully creates the image of an isolated miniverse, existing according to its own sophisticated laws: “There’s something sinister about the island’s beauty, as if nature is trying to fight back but doesn’t know how.” A mystifying place with no electricity and no mobile communications, it is inhabited by strange animals and people, who give the novel a surreal twist, leaving the reader doubting the reality of what is happening.
An escalating atmosphere of doom and impending disaster envelops the narrative from the very beginning, perhaps creating an impression of slightly forced tension from the author. One sees events through the prism of the protagonist’s perception, and sometimes her feelings and reactions do not seem absolutely reasonable – for example, variations on the question “is it safe?” appear in the text very frequently.
The character is constantly exploring the island, and the text is rich with description, but Crosby’s style is so light that even the abundance of detail fits perfectly into the flow, completely immersing the reader in the world of the novel. Together with that, The Unravelling creates atmosphere by using storytelling techniques that recall folklore and mythology.
The retrospective structure allows the author to combine the events of the present with the past, crafting complex interweaving of the characters’ storylines. The idea of metamorphosis penetrates throughout: the characters try to overcome the pain of resentment and loss to arrive to an inevitable rebirth, which is also reflected in the theme of lepidopterology (the study of butterflies and moths).
Overall, The Unravelling is a wonderful read that combines depth of storytelling and symbolism, only perhaps let down by its plot structure, whose slightly stretched outset is burdened with multiple climactic twists towards the end.
The Unravelling is published by HarperCollins at the hardback price of £14.99, and is available in the UK on 30th September 2021. For further information visit here.