Sometimes I just want to smack myself across the face for not reading a certain book earlier. Last week was another one of those occasions as I found myself falling in love with Catriona Ward's Rawblood. This particular novel had been waiting for me on my Kindle SINCE 2015!! I know, this is not okay and I sincerely apologize to the literary gods. But now that I finally got around to it I can also finally tell you just how amazing I thought it was. Thanks to Orion Publishing Group and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Pub. Date: 24/09/2015
Publisher: Orion Publishing Group
She looks into your eyes.One by one, she has taken us all.
In 1910, eleven-year-old Iris Villarca lives with her father at Rawblood, a lonely house on Dartmoor. Iris and her father are the last of their name. The Villarcas always die young, bloodily. Iris believes it's because of a congenital disease which means she must isolate herself from the world. But one sunlit autumn day, beside her mother's grave, she forces the truth from her father: the disease is biologically impossible. A lie, to cover a darker secret.
The Villarcas are haunted, through the generations, by . She is white, skeletal, covered with scars. When a Villarca marries, when they love, when they have a child - she comes and death follows. When Iris is fifteen, she breaks her promise to remain alone all her life, and the consequences are immediate and horrific.
Where to begin? Some novels are easy to review. They stick to a single genre, have a relatively straightforward plot and don't veer too far from the expected. This doesn't mean they aren't great books, they are frequently brilliant, but they make my job a lot easier. And then there are novels like Rawblood which make it both difficult and challenging. Once I finished it I tried to tell my housemate about it but I didn't even know what to lead with. Rawblood is many things. It's a historical fiction novel and it's Gothic horror story. It's about a girl but it's also about a family. It's full of evil and guilt, but filled with love. Ward set herself up for a major challenge with this story but somehow manages to bring all these different themes together into one stunning narrative. It is not often that a novel can make you feel such a variety of different emotions, but with each different theme Ward interweaves into her tale, I found myself affected in a different way. I found myself yearning for love, burning with a desire for knowledge, horrified by the cruelty of people, filled with fear at ancient evil, and more.
At the heart of Rawblood is Iris and her relationship with her family mansion, the eponymous Rawblood. Living in the early 20th century, she lives a reclusive and sheltered existence with her father, believing she suffers from a congenital disease. However, something much more sinister is at work in Rawblood. Ward tells the story of Iris' family in a non-chronological order, hopping back and forth to different family members and different times. There is a 19th century doctor fascinated with the qualities of blood, a quiet heiress who knows she is always on the verge of death, a soldier witnessing the horrors of World War I, a young woman with powers close to the supernatural... there are so many characters whose lives come together to form the story of Rawblood, both the mansion and the novel. Each character is fascinating and allows Ward to explore different moments in time. She can address war, gender, medicine, love, class, all the topics that make for great stories. A lesser author would have eventually lost the thread of their own novel, but Ward masterfully binds all these characters together and makes their stories crucial to that of Iris. You will have to pay attention to follow all the different things Ward throws at you, but she rewards that attention and dedication at every turn.
At the end of Rawblood I sat in silence for a good hour, thinking. The curse of Rawblood is she, a strange malevolent woman who has haunted the bloodlines coming together in Iris for generations. The moment the Villarcas love, death finds them. Rawblood could have been a straightforward horror story that terrifies but doesn't chill you down to the bone. It does, however, chill you. I found myself thinking a lot about humanity and love after finishing this novel. What is it about love that also brings out the worst in us? We do terrible things in the name of love and especially when we are disappointed in love. Family is the perfect vehicle through which to explore this and Ward consistently manages to make (almost) everyone's actions seem understandable. At the end, Rawblood had me in tears with the emotions Ward was bringing to the table. This mix of love and hate, life and death, is incredibly potent and allows Rawblood to pack an incredible punch.
It's not very difficult to blow me away with amazing writing, but I always find myself extra stunned when I realise a novel is a debut novel. Rawblood is Catriona Ward's first novel, but her writing is incredibly confident and commands attention. She captures the voices of each of her characters, whether it's 11-year old Iris or a WWI soldier. Ward also manages to capture the way an inner voice speaks. Now, stay with me here for a second. There is a way in which your thoughts work, how your mind jumps around, how it speaks to you in phrases rather than complete sentences. Ward captures that, the fractured nature of the mind, not just in the fractured way she tells her story but also in how she relates her characters' stories to us. I can't entirely explain it, but once I got used to it I found it utterly breathtaking. As said above, I kept fearing she would lose the plot, that the novel would derail somehow, and yet it never did. There are so many twists and turns, moments that make you go 'No way!', and yet it all clicks into place perfectly. I can't wait to read Rawblood again because I know I'll get something different and new from how it all comes together.
I give this novel...
Yup, I love Rawblood! From the first chapter, Ward completely captivated me and even when I wasn't reading I was thinking about her novel. Rawblood was an emotional roller coaster, giving you everything and then making you sit there while it all gets taken away again. Rawblood is much more than a horror story and I can't recommend it enough!