Review - Perfectly Preventable Deaths
Perfectly Preventable Deaths by Deirdre Sullivan
Twin sisters. An isolated community. Generations of dark secrets....
Sixteen-year-old twins Madeline and Catlin move to a new life in Ballyfrann, a strange isolated Irish town, a place where the earth is littered with small corpses and unspoken truths. A place where, for generations, teenage girls have gone missing in the surrounding mountains. As distance grows between the twins - as Catlin falls in love, and Madeline begins to understand her own nascent witchcraft - Madeline discovers that Ballyfrann is a place full of predators. And when Catlin falls into the gravest danger of all, Madeline must ask herself who she really is and who she wants to be - or, rather, who she might have to become to save her sister.
Seriously, wow. This book absolutely blew my mind. A late contender for one of my favourite books of the year.
It's the most gorgeous, Irish, contemporary, queer, witchcraft story. It's very funny in places, and often had me laughing. Madeline is very sweet and funny and is just a really great protagonist. Even when things get dark there's a freshness and a humour to her that is just so endearing. The language and tone throughout are simply wonderful.
But it is the darker elements that really drew me into this story. From the start, when the girls arrive at the "murder-palace" they're moving into, there's a distinct sense of unease. It's largely left undefined too, which makes it all the creepier. For much of the book, you don't know where the threat is coming from, just that there most definitely is a threat out there. Even now, there are so many questions I have unanswered, and rather than being frustrating, that sense of unease is lingering long after I finished reading.
The relationships are so well drawn in this novel. Central to it is the bond of sisterhood between the two twins, with its ups and downs; love, support and occasional, bitter fighting. I loved the contrast between the two of them, and how Maddy sees her sister as being so different to her, and how that changes over the novel. There's a powerful depiction of an abusive relationship too, as seen from the outside. It's heartbreaking at times to see a beautiful, confident young girl being controlled and manipulated and this is possibly a vitally important element of the novel, particularly for young adult readers. Despite the supernatural elements, some of the most moving sequences are of Maddy trying to help her sister get out of a situation any young girl could find herself in.
Another key element in the relationships is about sexuality, and learning more about your own sexuality. With that come the fears of what the people around you will think and say, as well as the fear of rejection or heartbreak. I thought this played out really well, in a slow, patient, thoughtful way through the novel.
Perfectly Preventable Deaths does that peculiarly Irish thing of blending the contemporary, with its shifting values around sex and sexuality, with Christian mythology and Mary-worship and pagan belief and practice. Like in Other Words for Smoke, the three elements are woven together so tightly and effectively and it's something I absolutely love.
Through all of this runs the mystery element, the unspecified threat and the history of dead girls. This was so unsettling, shifting in tone from a vague unease to very real and seriously disturbing incidents. It had me totally enthralled and on edge.
Perfectly Preventable Deaths is dark, haunting, mesmerising and beautiful. A definite 5 moons.
Perfectly Preventable Deaths is by Deirdre Sullivan, it is out now from Hot Key Books. I was sent a copy by the publisher in return for an honest review.