I'm always up for a good haunted house tale, and when that haunted house happens to be an old psychiatric hospital . . . well, consider me intrigued. I've been disappointed on more than one occasion when the haunting was passed off as just a psychotic delusion, or the craziest of the patients were exonerated by the presence of the supernatural, but everything I read about Circe suggested that Jessica Penot wouldn't settle for either easy out.
I still had my doubts, especially around the mid-point, but Jessica ultimately provided a reasonable balance between the two worlds.
There were two aspects of the book that really sold me on the story - the atmosphere and the characters. This is a very dark, claustrophobic feeling book, and one that weighs heavily upon the reader. It's the kind of book that feels as if it should be read in a darkened corner, preferably with a storm battering against the windows, no matter how much you may feel the need to escape into the open sunshine. Jessica does a masterful job of situating the reader within the corridors of the hospital, so much so that you can smell the mould and the disinfectant, and feel the rough textures beneath your fingertips.
As for the characters, they're not particularly likeable, but they're strong and fully-realized - something I can truly appreciate. David doesn't start out as a bad guy, just an ambitious, well-meaning young man with a significant flaw. He's actually introduced as being deserving of our sympathy, so it's quite a shock when we see him selfishly engage in some anonymous, no-strings-attached, alleyway sex. As for what happens later . . . well, let's just say this man has issues. His wife is an interesting character, a woman who balances herself between cultures, but she doesn't have much of a role to play (which is a shame). Cassie is a great character, dangerously seductive, but charismatic and captivating enough to overcome the reader's better judgement. You know damn well she won't be good for David, but you can't help but be perversely fascinated by the paths down which she leads him.
I'm pleased to say the story didn't develop quite as I had expected, which is always refreshing. I thought I had the ending figured out, but Jessica packs a few nice twists and turns into the story before she lets us go.Originally reviewed at Beauty in Ruins