Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Bodies of Water - V. H. Leslie

I'm trying to have a bit of a spring clean at the moment (so far I've regretfully thrown away two mugs with cracked handles, and put aside an unused storage jar and jug for oxfam. It could be going better) and part of that is to read through some of the towering piles of books that are currently everywhere. Quite a lot of them are short, so theoretically won't take long...

V. H. Leslie's 'Bodies of Water' had been hanging around ignored for far to long and seemed like a good place to start. There are two timelines linked by a building, Wakewater house, and the river Thames. In Victorian London we have Evelyn, who has been ministering to fallen women, after a love affair ends badly she has a nervous break down and ends up at Wakewater House for the water cure. Back in the present day Wakewater is in the process of being converted into modern flats, and Kirsten moves in fresh from a painful break up. There is only one other resident, Manon, an archivist who starts to tell Kirsten about the murky past of the river and the women who turned to it as a solution to their problems.

The two stories start to touch each other as Evelyn unravels further, and Kirsten starts to see mysterious women at the waters e
dge as she gets to know Wakewater better. There is also the water that randomly pours into her flat and then dries up again (after my experiences with being repeatedly flooded by my upstairs neighbor last year that touched a nerve).

Leslie borrows from the Slavic tradition of Rusalka (the more malevolent nineteenth century versions) as well as referencing all sorts of Victorian paintings (including George Frederick Watt's 'Found Drowned' which is the sort of moralising melodramatic Victoriana I find particularly appealing) to create a very watery gothic ghost story.

Everything about the story is slippery, and by the time I finished I was slightly more rattled by it than I might have liked. This is maybe because I live next to a river where sadly drownings have not been uncommon, so it felt a bit close to home. Otherwise it's a clever, provocative, and genuinely chilling, book that ratchets up the tension all the way through. I wouldn't particularly recommend reading it after dark, or with a tap dripping.

2 comments:

  1. I very much enjoyed Bodies of Water too.

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  2. I can live so much better without tension that I shall give this one a miss, but thank you for writing about it.

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