Book: “Mirrorland” by Carole Johnstone
Publishing Info: Scribner, April 2021
Where Did I Get This Book: I received an ARC from the publisher.
Book Description: With the startling twists of Gone Girl and the haunting emotional power of Room, Mirrorland is a thrilling work of psychological suspense about twin sisters, the man they both love, and the dark childhood they can’t leave behind.
Cat lives in Los Angeles, far away from 36 Westeryk Road, the imposing gothic house in Edinburgh where she and her estranged twin sister, El, grew up. As girls, they invented Mirrorland, a dark, imaginary place under the pantry stairs full of pirates, witches, and clowns. These days Cat rarely thinks about their childhood home, or the fact that El now lives there with her husband Ross.
But when El mysteriously disappears after going out on her sailboat, Cat is forced to return to 36 Westeryk Road, which has scarcely changed in twenty years. The grand old house is still full of shadowy corners, and at every turn Cat finds herself stumbling on long-held secrets and terrifying ghosts from the past. Because someone—El?—has left Cat clues in almost every room: a treasure hunt that leads right back to Mirrorland, where she knows the truth lies crouched and waiting…
A twisty, dark, and brilliantly crafted thriller about love and betrayal, redemption and revenge, Mirrorland is a propulsive, page-turning debut about the power of imagination and the price of freedom.
Review: Thank you to Scribner for sending me an ARC of this novel!
Right before I picked up “Mirrorland” by Carole Johnstone, I gave up on a thriller novel involving twin women, one of whom goes missing off a boat, and the other who finds herself getting closer to her twin’s husband after her sister’s supposed death. I actually ended up giving up on it, and it just wasn’t gelling with me. So imagine my double take when I picked up “Mirrorland”, and found a story about twin women, one of who goes missing off a boat, and the other getting closer to the MIA twin’s husband. Coincidence like whoa! Very “Dante’s Peak” and “Volcano”! All that aside, I did find myself more interested in “Mirrorland”, and didn’t find it hard to finish. But that only gets one so far.
“Mirrorland” has a lot of promise and potential that made me interested to read it, but the execution was a little lackluster. In terms of the good, I loved seeing Cat try to hunt through her old home, finding out piece by piece what someone (could it be El?) has left for her to find. As she slowly peels back the clues and starts to piece together what could have happened to her sister, we get a really fun narrative device that feels like it could also be unreliable. I also liked slowly learning about what Mirrorland’s purpose was for Cat and El, and the slow reveal as to what their home life was like that necessitated a place like Mirrorland. There were genuine surprises to go with it, and some of the big reveals totally caught me off guard.
But that is part of the problem with this book. For a few of the twists and reveals, one in particular that I don’t want to go into too much detail about, we have to really, REALLY do some suspension of disbelief and plot gymnastics for it to work. By the time we got to that big reveal, it was so out of left field that we had to have a character actively sit down and explain it, in the ultimate telling versus showing strategy. It feels a lot like the end of “Psycho”, where we get a stilted monologue about what the heck was going on with Norman Bates kind of offsets the entire film. It doesn’t work very well there, and it doesn’t work very well here either. And really, it’s so farfetched and unbelievable, and the story before it isn’t strong enough to make up for it (unlike “Psycho”). I was kind of flabbergasted that we got all of the wrap up in a monologue, as that feels like a big no no to me.
And to add insult to injury, I really didn’t connect with any of the characters. The only one that we really got to know was Cat, and she didn’t feel like she was reinventing the wheel when it comes to unreliable and tortured protagonists in stories like this one. And everyone else fit into very familiar and well worn tropes we see in the genre without really exploring beyond. Overall, it just felt like more of the same. While I definitely don’t doubt that this book and the book I had given up on previously were complete coincidences when it came to plot details and ideas, the fact remains that there just didn’t feel like there was a lot of originality going on in this book, nor were the characters people I was invested in.
“Mirrorland” was a bit of a letdown. Books don’t always have to reinvent the wheel, but if you’re going to lean into familiar themes and ideas, I want a seamless execution.
Rating 5: Lots of twists and turns, but some real plot gymnastics to make some of them work and not terribly interesting characters makes “Mirrorland” a bit of a letdown.
“Mirrorland” is included on the Goodreads list “Mystery & Thriller 2021”.