Book review: Mirrorland by Carole Johnstone
Mirrorland - Carole Johnstone
As you might have expect, there's a nice balance and symmetry of all the elements of Carole Johnstone's thriller Mirrorland, a balance between real life and fantasy, a balance between love and loss, and it's intriguing that this whole balance is maintained in the relationship between two twin sisters, Ellice and Catriona Morgan Nonetheless something has happened to knock all those elements out of balance, an event that took place 20 years ago, separating the sisters El and Cat on either side of the Atlantic. Even more serious, it's been reported that El has disappeared on a boat at sea, and putting aside their difficulties Cat goes back to Scotland to look for her sister, certain that despite the evidence, she is not dead.
As a twin, she's sure she would have felt something, but it's not just that. Someone is sending Cat emails and messages, clues that reveal things that only the twins would know about that set her on a kind of bizarre treasure hunt. El's distraught husband, Ross MacAuley however was also their childhood friend who shared their adventures in an imaginary world that they created for themselves, Mirrorland, but he couldn't know the things only Cat and El shared as twins. Could El's disappearance be tied into the fact that she and Ross are now living in El and Cat's old childhood home where those adventures played out. Cat finds this very strange indeed.
But it's no more strange than the conflicted messages she gets from Ross and from other friends who knew El suggesting that things were not well in the days leading up to her disappearance. Even more worrying however is the nature of the anonymous messages and clues she is receiving that can't be from anyone else but El. But why would her twin sister resort to obscure messages if she wants to communicate in secret with Cat, particularly as them seem to carry warnings? Could Cat's life also be under threat as the messages seem to suggest?
There are a lot of questions, or perhaps hurdles to credibility, that you have to get over in Carole Johnstone's novel. If El was in danger, why didn't she act on it in a more rational manner rather than apparently disappear at sea and set a treasure hunt with obscure clues? Cat’s response to her sister's disappearance is also baffling and makes little sense. Why does Cat ignore the warnings about Ross and share them with no-one else? Well, she still has feelings for Ross herself and finds herself drawn to him again against her better judgement (not that there's any sign anywhere of her acting on any good judgement). Perhaps it's being back in Mirrorland that makes her act the way she does but the romantic complications lack any credibility or sympathy you might have for Cat, Ross or El.
Since it's called Mirrorland however you can be sure that everything is not as it seems, and indeed there turns out to be a reason for some of Cat’s more irritating and baffling behaviour. It takes a long first half of a book before things pick up and we get some rationale for the mysteries of the MIrrorland fantasy worlds of the two girls. There probably aren’t too many surprises however, and you’ll find you might guess where it’s leading. Little of it is credible and worse, it feels like you've been cheated by a rather contrived situation and weak one-dimensional characterisation - particularly of men who all behave in the most unlikely manner - which rather spoils any sympathies or deeper attachment you might have for the characters and their predicament.