Review: Looking Glass Sound - Catriona Ward
Published: Viper Press/Serpents Tail, April 2023 My Rating: 5/5 stars
“I don’t think people should live by the ocean. It’s too big to understand.”
I have really enjoyed Catriona Wards brand of horror in the past, but Looking Glass Sound hit me on an even deeper and more existential level than any of her previous works did. What seemingly starts off as a traditional King-esque thriller about a trio of teens confronted with the threat of a serial killer in a small town quickly opens up to reveal a layered masterpiece of metaphysical horror on memory, storytelling and more.
Our story begins in the late 1980’s, with 16-year old Wilder, vacationing with his parents in a cottage in rural Maine’s Whistler Bay. Over the course of the summer, Wilder develops a close friendship with Nat and Harper, exploring the beaches and scaring each other with local legends of oceanic ghosts and the infamous serial killer known as the Dagger Man of Whistler Bay. The three make a seemingly naive vow to return to this place every year to meet up, and relive these glorious days. When a gruesome discovery is made, involving the legend of the Dagger Man, it reframes the magical events of this summer forever.
Wilder, unable to shake the trauma of what happened that fateful summer, returns years later to Whistler Bay to face his ghosts and to finish his book: the autobiographical tale of the summer that changed his life. Before long, the lines between facts and fiction begin to blur for Wilder ánd for us as the reader.
A layered masterpiece
Ward weaves a tale of layer upon layer, twist upon turn, and, fiction upon truth. The result had my had reeling in the best way possible, and makes for a novel that I couldn’t stop thinking about even after putting it down. I read it compulsively and even caught it doing circles in my head when I was doing something else entirely.
The setting and atmosphere are vivid, characters are memorable, but the true strength of the book is in its unpacking of the nature of storytelling and memory. Wilders novel is an exorcism of his own childhood trauma: revisiting it, examining it through the eyes of different “characters” involved, and ultimately twisting and warping it into a cohesive narrative. For both the character ánd the reader, it’s a trip through the looking glass; a desperate hunt for answers in a tale that seems to spiral its way down into the dark.
These meta-layers make Looking Glass Sound a that novel requires the readers full attention. It also made it one of my favourite reads of the year so far, as a mindboggling piece of psychological horror, but also a heart wrenching and strangely relatable tale of a man haunted by childhood trauma he cannot shake.
Full disclosure: I read this book as I’m in the middle of writing my own novel. A lot of these themes of storytelling were already taking up free real-estate in my mind, so that may have helped to deepen the impact this book had on me personally. It does not take away from the depth of my recommendation that you read this book. If you are a fan of psychological horror, do yourself a favour and set apart a chunk of time to commit to this book. Catriona Ward has created a masterpiece that I hope will be enjoyed by many.
Many thanks to Viper Press for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
You can find this book here on Goodreads