Not to be Overlooked
By Elfie Riverdell and Ria Kakkad
Not To Be Overlooked introduces a variety of wonderful but lesser-known books to assist readers in finding their next great reads. This week’s column covers a review of Spells for Forgetting by Adrienne Young and Mrs. Caliban by Rachel Ingalls.
Spells for Forgetting by Adrienne Young
Adrienne Young is the New York Times and international bestselling author of several young adult fantasy novels. Spells for Forgetting is her adult debut.
Spells for Forgetting follows the story of Emery Blackwood and August Salt. Through flashbacks we see their childhood and adolescence and in the present, August returning to Saoirse Island many years later.
The novel is a beautiful, dark and atmospheric read with a lush and vivid setting. I have never read a novel which has conjured such strong imagery. Spells for Forgetting shows just how beautifully Young’s writing translates to adult fiction.
“Sometimes the signs were subtle, like a fleeting shadow or an echo in the trees. Other times, the island wasn’t gentle with her words.” Saoirse Island is steeped in magic and history and the residents of the island are extremely private and fiercely protective. The opening of the novel finds August returning to Saoirse, fourteen years after disappearing into the night following accusations of the murder of Emery’s best friend, Lily. Throughout the novel, we see the impact of the intensity of this community and the way that those living on Saoirse treat Emery – and August – after Lily’s mysterious death. We see this in August’s return to the island at the very beginning of the book and are left wondering whether their horror at his return is down to the anger and resentment following Lily’s mysterious death, or the fact that they now view him as an outsider: he was one of them once, but is no longer.
Although Spells for Forgetting is primarily a mystery novel, it also deals heavily with witchcraft and magic. Adrienne weaves magic into the story in such an effortless way, showing that for the folk of Saoirse, magic is an everyday occurrence. Emery owns and works in Blackwood’s Tea Shoppe – which was originally owned and run by her mother – providing herbal tonics and tea leaf readings. While Emery is hesitant to provide these readings, magic and divination is a key theme that is woven into the narrative.
The setting is so richly atmospheric, it will transport you to Saoirse in an instant. The island being so remote and tucked away from mainland society creates a hushed atmosphere and as a reader, you feel as though you are peeking in, witnessing something that isn’t for your eyes to see.
If you’re looking for a slightly spooky, beautifully written, dark and atmospheric mystery thriller to pick up this autumn, Spells for Forgetting is the perfect read for you!
Mrs Caliban by Rachel Ingalls
Mrs Caliban by Rachel Ingalls was first published in the UK in 1982, but it didn’t succeed until 1986, when the British Book Marketing Council named it one of the top twenty American novels of the post-World War II period. Nevertheless, the book has been quietly popular and has influenced many artists, such as Guillermo del Toro’s film The Shape of Water. To push its popularity, Faber republished the novella in 2021 as part of their Editions series to “spotlight rediscovered gems; books for the future, rooted in history.”
I ended up picking up the short novel after being intrigued by the strange description – Dorothy is in an unhappy and loveless marriage and recently lost a child. She and her husband, Fred, try to have another child but she has a miscarriage. Their marriage has broken down, especially with Fred cheating. Whilst carrying out household chores, Dorothy hears on the radio about a frog monster who has escaped from a local research centre. After breaking into Dorothy’s house, searching for food and security, she and the frogman, Larry, end up falling in love and developing a relationship. It is pretty much The Princess and the Frog, but for adults.
As expected, it was bizarre. This was a super short read, which I could read in one sitting – all the drama and action kept me hooked. I felt somewhat uncomfortable reading about Dorothy’s and Larry’s relationship, but at the same time, I could not stop reading. Dorothy and Larry reunited to cope with their trauma: Dorothy from her marriage and Larry from his violent experiences from torture to rape at the research centre.
Irenosen Okojie, a Nigerian-born short story and novel writer, sums up the novella perfectly in her foreword:
“[The novel] is a hallucinatory vision anchored by the trials and tribulations of everyday people ... Here, the mundane and the otherworldly coalesce in devastating tale of mythical proportions with a feminist slant.”
I enjoyed reading this weird and wonderful book. I think a modern take on this story would be interesting; maybe even something sinister – Larry the frogman was too friendly for my liking.