Book Review: Return of the Morrigan
Something wicked this way comes
I read Corinna Edwards-Colledge’s RETURN OF THE MORRIGAN in one sitting, unable to tear myself away from this fast-paced gem of magical realism in which contemporary life is craftily fused with ancient lore to create a tale which left me spellbound.
In one short first chapter Edwards-Colledge manages to convey the tedium of contemporary village life where everyone knows just about everyone and the days blend into one another in predictable banality, in short, a mundane suburban nightmare. The inevitability of being trapped in routines is emphasised by the introduction of a failing long-term relationship which can no longer hide the wear and the tear of the years. Although this is contrasted by youthful optimistic hopes for a new relationship that too, the reader quickly discovers, seems doomed to fail because of very different expectations. Young Niall sees it as a bit of fun before he finally manages to escape the village of Burdon forever and longer, while his girlfriend Margot is torn between accepting this reality and the fervent hope that there might be more than just the cliché of a short-term dalliance. What a perfect moment then, to introduce a newcomer, in the form of a mysterious woman, Mary, who roars into Burdon on a motorbike, promising to bring excitement into lives of drab dreariness.
The staggered build-up of revelations concerning this newcomer work well, the reader experiences much of the dissent quickly sown by Mary so that by the time the first warnings are issued about the danger she might pose, the reader can nod knowledgably; Mary is bad news. Nonetheless, despite being forewarned we share Niall’s fascination with her beguiling appearance and seductive behaviour, understand how someone who feels suffocated by living in Burdon is drawn to the exotic excitement seemingly offered by Mary, much as a moth is drawn ever closer to an open flame.
Edwards-Colledge rather cleverly arranges expositions about Mary, letting different villagers glimpse bits and pieces meaning none have as much overview as the reader, although the author also keeps the reader guessing as to the exact nature of Mary’s real identity and background, luring the reader deeper and deeper into the story.
By the time the revelations begin to suggest an element of the supernatural the reader is willing to accept this without question, partially due to the skilled build-up and partially because the story is reminiscent of a method employed by Stephen King, namely grounding the fantastic elements so solidly in reality that this sense of realism is transferred to the weird and wondrous. Like King, Edwards-Colledge also ensures that ‘normal’ human horrors rival the imaginary ones. Some of King’s most harrowing passages concern every-day horrors such as car accidents, cancer and domestic violence, rather than dark beings with sharp, pointy teeth. Edwards-Colledge employs the seeds of destruction sown in a family after the loss of a child, as well as the fear brought on by the recognition that life has stalled in a rut, devoid of hope, development or passion.
This means that the various central characters not only have to gear up to battle the darkness which has come to Burdon, but also have to come to terms with their own lives, their interactions with others and personal demons which burden them.
It’s for this reason that the reader can identify with characters like Pam, Niall’s mother, and feel both Pam’s pain, doubts, newly found happiness and rekindled passion. Pam’s character development is mirrored by Niall’s fascination with Mary and even Margot’s hopes which are fuelled by cruel pretences engineered by Mary. I much admire Edwards-Colledge for presenting us with a number of key characters all of whom she manages to invest with character development with a minimum of fuss and certainly without long internal soliloquys which would have slowed the narrative pace the author sets and maintains throughout the story.
If you have read any of my other reviews, or my own books for that matter, you’ll understand that I was delighted by Edwards-Colledge’s fusion of the nitty-gritty of realtime life and the extra-ordinary lurking beneath its surface. Even more so because the uncanny menace in the story is firmly grounded in the history of Burdon and its immediate environment. The Battle of Winnett, especially, left me with haunting archetypal images to contemplate. Equally touching was the examination of old black & white photographs of village life from the days of yore. Although they have a clear primary function they also serve to contrast the past, when life seemed far more simple, and the present in which the sense of the coherent community suggested in the photographs is something beyond the grasp of modern society – although that latter notion is belied by later events when some characters do draw together to present a united front.
One more aspect which drew my attention was the article concerning John and Sydney Winnett, uncovered by one of the characters searching old editions of The Burdon Herald. Perhaps I am overly optimistic but I sincerely hope the author will consider a Victorian prequel to RETURN OF THE MORRIGAN as I for one, would be scrambling to lay my hands on it. To conclude, I can certainly recommend that you add RETURN OF THE MORRIGAN to your To-Read list. I also hope you’ll keep an eye on my reviews because I cannot wait to read Corinna Edwards-Colledge’s other book, THE SOUL ROOM, and will, in due time, share my findings with you in another review.
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