The Mist in the Mirror – book review

mist-mirrorAlthough originally published in 1992, I only got around to Susan Hill’s The Mist in the Mirror recently. I really like Susan Hill – she has impeccable prose and attention to period detail, tightly controls pace, and her masterpiece The Woman in Black is easily one of the most unsettling things I have ever read. I was actually saving The Mist in the Mirror for my holidays so I could focus on it properly – Hill’s delicately built creeping unease doesn’t work well crowbarred into commuting time.

The book follows Hill’s signature pattern of ghostly fog-laden Victorian England, and the scene is set impeccably. The book recounts a period in the early life of eminent lawyer Sir James Monmouth, born in England but raised by a distant relative in India and Africa. Sir James develops an obsession with the explorer Conrad Vane, and sets out to retrace his voyages. He eventually returns to England, where disturbing visions of a malevolent gypsy woman and a weeping boy begin a series of strange events that lead him back to his ancestral home…

wtfIt’s impossible to spoil the ending of this book because she gives us nothing to spoil. It builds and builds to a damp squib of an ending that has no pay off of any kind and leaves every mystery we were asked to invest in along the way unsolved. What happened? Where’s the explanation of Conrad Vane? What exactly happened to all the Monmouths? What about the crying boy? The gypsy woman? Even the mist in the mirror is apparently… well, I dunno, condensation? I actually can’t remember the last time I encountered anything so anti-climactic. Don’t let this put you off other Susan Hill books – but for the sake of your sanity avoid The Mist in the Mirror!

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