Opening sentence: “I am floating between two worlds, the living and the dead.”
In Cuckoo, our narrator, Caroline is a bit of a lost soul. Just out of an abusive relationship, her confidence is at rock-bottom, she has nowhere to live and her finances are in dire need of a cash injection. As a children’s book illustrator, she doesn’t make much money. So, it’s a pretty good time to inherit her childhood home then. Caroline has always had a strained relationship with her stepmother, Elizabeth so doesn’t exactly feel sad attending her stepmother’s funeral. It is also there that she is reacquainted with her older sister, Steph, who she hasn’t seen in 20 years.
Living once again in her childhood home – an isolated house in a small Derbyshire village – Caroline finds that she is haunted by memories of how Elizabeth treated her growing up. Couple this with the realisation that Elizabeth actually died in the house, the mysterious things that keep happening and the discoveries about her past, all these factors merge to create a tantalising story.
I really liked the way that fairy-tales are woven through the book in the guise of stories Caroline is commissioned to illustrate. You forget that so many fairy tales do have such grim and creepy plots and Cuckoo uses the inclusion of these stories very well to build the uncomfortable, chilling atmosphere, specifically focusing on The Pear Drum – not a tale I’d heard of before (read it here) – that genuinely made a chill run down my spine.
The second half of Cuckoo was far better than the first, due mainly to the fact that a lot of early chapters were dedicated to setting the scene and felt a little slow and repetitive. When I found my attention waning a little though, the tension and chilling intrigue was turned up again, so I kept reading, ‘The women had lanterns on sticks, the men brightly coloured rag capes draped across their shoulders, all of them armed with drums and pots and pans, for the moment silent. It could have been a scene from The Wicker Man.’
Due to the slow pace at the beginning I wasn’t actually expecting the several twists that popped up towards the end. This was a good thing – it meant this psychological thriller finished on a high.