House of Hollow by Krystal Sutherland
The flowers trail around the beautiful girl’s face but on looking closer, insects crawl and blood drips. This gorgeous cover is an apt introduction to this twisted and bizarre fantasy story.
Seventeen-year-old Iris is the youngest of the three Hollow sisters who ten years ago disappeared from a Scottish street and reappeared a month later in the same spot but unable to say where they had been. They are returned to their parents but don’t fit easily back into their old life. Their changed appearance mean they all stand out from the crowd: ethereally beautiful, with white hair and black eyes and each with a strange scar at the base of their throats.
Grey, the eldest, rebels against home, becoming a famous designer and model, and Vivi, the second daughter, becomes a member of a renowned rock band. However, youngest sister Iris struggles to lead a quiet life at school, studying while ignoring the hostility of schoolmates, and the unwanted public attention that results from their mysterious past. Iris is devoted to her anxious, hardworking mother, has confusing feelings towards her father who committed suicide after the girls were returned to the family and also loves her two older and wilder sisters passionately. Iris has no memory of life before the sisters’ disappearance when she was seven and tries to cope with life by drawing little attention to herself. The two elder girls display strange powers of coercion and all eat voraciously with no effect on their appearance.
Iris is drawn into a dramatic train of events when her sister Grey disappears. The sisters have a paranormal connection, and can feel the presence of each other and as Iris and Vivi set out to track Grey down, the spooky and supernatural happenings lead them to ruined doorways, edges of place and time, to liminal worlds. Along the way they are pursued by a man with a bull’s skull on his head, and dead bodies sprout beautiful flowers while overwhelming with the stench of decay. Told through Iris’s eyes, this darkly mysterious story has a nightmarish quality and I read with a looming feeling of dread. The fluid storytelling leads the reader from a real and everyday modern world with inexplicable and supernatural events to a mysterious half world of walking dead, and together with lyrical descriptions of beauty which blossom and merge into horrifying images of ugliness and decay create a fascinating and horrifying fairytale.
The underlying themes of grief and loss, of family relationships between parents and children and the bonds between siblings, of sexual orientation and female empowerment and of living as a woman always looking over your shoulder walking down a dark path also add heft to the narrative. But like many a story of and for young adults, search for identity is at the core of Iris’s odyssey. And that search is not over.
Reviewer: Clare Lyon
Penguin Random House