Pseudotooth by Verity Holloway
Aisling Selkirk is a young woman beset by unexplained blackouts, pseudo-seizures that have baffled both the doctors and her family. Sent to recuperate in the Suffolk countryside with ageing relatives, she seeks solace in the work of William Blake and writing her journal, filling its pages with her visions of Feodor, a fiery East Londoner haunted by his family’s history back in Russia.
But her blackouts persist as she discovers a Tudor priest hole and papers from its disturbed former inhabitant Soon after she meets the enigmatic Chase, and is drawn to an unfamiliar town where the rule of Our Friend is absolute and those deemed unfit and undesirable disappear into The Quiet…
When Aisling is initially introduced she appears to be quite delicate. Her mother, Beverley, is at her wits end. She has tried to be understanding but can’t connect with Aisling in any meaningful way. Aisling’s mother thinks the best thing for her daughter is to spend some time in the peace and quiet of the countryside allowing Beverley to settle down with her new beau. Aisling is left to her own devices, living in her great aunt’s crumbling estate. She grows determined to move on with her own life and an unexpected encounter might just provide the opportunity she has been looking for.
Chase is a mysterious soul. Aisling is immediately taken with his easy manner, but is also perplexed by him and his friends. Leaving the dark imposing house of her great aunt behind, Aisling flees with Chase into the unknown countryside. Joining him and his surrogate family in their strange home feels like it was meant to be. This is the tranquil existence she has always dreamed of. She should be able to relax, but she still feels uneasy. There is still that nagging sense of doubt.
When it comes to characters, there are layers upon layers in Pseudotooth. If Chase is mysterious, then Fedor is enigmatic to the nth degree. Aisling dreams of this strange man a various points throughout his life but is there more to him than just her insubstantial thoughts. How does this strange being, and his troublesome past, relate to Aisling’s current situation?
The plot of this novel has an almost ephemeral quality as it ebbs and flows around Aisling. In some scenes there is a stillness that feels almost palpable and mesmerising, while other times there is a frenetic chaos. The most interesting thing is the additional layer to the narrative that isn’t immediately obvious. It’s there, hiding just beneath the surface of the main plot. On an entirely personal level this resonated deeply with me. Let me try to explain, I’m epileptic, I have been diagnosed for a while now. One of the things that fascinates, and horrifies me in equal measure, is whenever I’ve had a seizure I am entirely absent. Sure, I’m physically in the room but the core of me, my character, soul, personality, call it whatever you want, is gone. Verity Holloway’s novel explores this phenomena in a subtle but affecting way. There is almost a fantastical, dream-like quality to this narrative. Has Aisling been drawn into a different reality or is she suffering some sort of hallucinatory breakdown? Do the strange people that she meets really exist, or are they merely different facets of her own character brought on by her condition?
Now I’ll admit I’ve taken a very personal interpretation of this particular novel, but I rather suspect that is exactly the response you should expect from the best fiction. Ultimately any conclusions that can be drawn from the questions Aisling tries to answer are left up to the reader to interpret themselves. It’s likely that some readers may find this level of ambiguity frustrating, but I thought it was perfect. I love novels that force me to think beyond the confines of the story.
I’d urge you to give Pseudotooth a try. Not only is there a well-delivered, well-paced story, there is also some interesting ideas peppered throughout the text that are guaranteed to make you think. If you are looking for something a bit more cerebral than your normal fantasy fiction, then you need look no further.
Pseudotooth is published by Unsung Stories and is available now.