Mistletoe by Alison Littlewood

Jo Fletcher Books | 2019 (10 October) | 295p | Review copy | Buy the book

Mistletoe by Alison LittlewoodLeah Hamilton and her husband had a plan to escape the city and buy a farmhouse in Yorkshire. Their little boy would thrive in such a place. And Maitland Farm seemed perfect! Leah’s maiden name is Maitland, her family came from this area. It is quite possible that her ancestors lived there. But then, so quickly, Leah’s world turned upside down. She lost her family. In her grief she hastily bought Maitland Farm and now, at Christmas, her first family-less, she has moved in, bringing with her only the bare essentials. The farm is in decay. It’s unlikely anything will ever grow in its fields again. The house is without heat, the plaster falling from the walls, with hardly any furniture, and the snow is falling thick and heavy. And Leah notices something in the snow – snow has been scraped into snowballs and later a snow angel appears by her doorstep. But there are no footsteps, no tracks. The snow angel should have been left by her son but Leah feels the presence of somebody else, someone who wants to play with her, who is reaching out.

Mistletoe is a truly enchanting, frightening and gorgeous ghost story. The beautiful hardback cover, the pages with drawings of mistletoe, suggest the story will be special, the sort of book you can immerse yourself in during the long and dark evenings, and they are right. I love ghost stories, especially at this time of year, and Mistletoe is an extremely good one. The elegant prose is a pleasure to read. It’s easy to be drawn into it, especially if you read it by lamplight as I did, and Leah Hamilton is an extremely likeable and appealing main character. My heart ached for her. I loved how she was vulnerable but also strong, coping with a world no longer kind to her. She’s susceptible to whatever it is that haunts her farmhouse – it’s almost as if it were waiting for her arrival – but she’s not easy to frighten. Whatever it is, she wants to befriend it. But nothing is quite what it seems.

This is a ghost story but it is also a timeslip novel, something that doesn’t always work. It works very well here indeed. The past and the present merge lightly. It’s not laboured. I loved the portrayal of the farmhouse, and its residents, in the past. But of course this is also a ghost story and that means something very bad happened in the past, something that won’t let go, and it’s that which fills this wonderful novel with atmosphere, darkness and mystery. I was engrossed.

I read Mistletoe in one sitting. I don’t do that very often but it’s such a bewitching book that it wasn’t hard to do. I enjoyed Leah’s developing friendship with her neighbours and their natural suspicion of this new and isolated stranger. It’s a beautifully written, tender and deeply atmospheric and chilly ghost story and timeslip novel. Mysterious and sad, disturbing and enchanting – it’s the perfect read for these longer nights.

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