A spooky story set in the nineteenth century on a remote Scottish island. A young nanny takes a job looking after a disturbed girl who lost her twin brother and previous nanny and nobody seems keen to explain exactly what happened. These events rendered her mute and distant and the new nanny tries to break through to her.
The location of the story lends itself to the atmosphere of ghost stories, with the crashing sea and many shadows. It is full of gothic symbols such as the huge lonely house, strange noises, faceless dolls, premonitions and hints of a doomed romance. Not forgetting the weird silent child and moody staff with their unspeakable secrets .
Written in the first person perspective of the nanny, there is a feel of Victorian language and superstition. Some of the phrases, like someone 'passed' instead of 'passed away' for example, and a few other modern attitudes jar a little, but not enough to spoil the narrative. Indeed, the seed is planted that there are no such things ghosts or anything supernatural. The story is slow in places without building tension with some repetition and maybe would benefit if a few pages were edited out.
Nevertheless, The Whistling is a haunting novel and the descriptions make the story alive. I can visualise this very well. Should be a film...
WINNER OF THE EXETER NOVEL PRIZE
Published by Penguin on 14 October 2021.
Advanced review copy supplied by the publisher.