Audiobook Review: Mirrorland by Carole Johnstone
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio (April 20, 2021)
Length: 11 hrs and 38 mins
Narrator: Katie Leung
Cat and El are identical twin sisters who want nothing to do with each other. When they were nineteen years old, something happened that caused an irreparable rift between them, causing Cat to leave 36 Westeryk Road, the old Gothic house in Edinburgh where they grew up, and cross the ocean for a new life in America. They haven’t spoken to each other since, and Cat hadn’t planned on ever going back. That is, until a shocking phone call out of the blue changed everything.
Now, Cat finds herself on a plane back to her childhood home, trying to sort out her feelings for the news she just got. A few days ago, El had gone out sailing in her boat and never returned. Now her husband Ross is frantically trying to find her, though the authorities have reason to believe that she had an accident at sea and drowned. Cat, however, does not believe that El is dead. As children, they shared a preternatural connection with each other, and Cat was sure that if something bad had happened to her twin, she would have felt it. Besides, she alone knows the lengths her sister would go to if she wanted to make a point or to teach someone a lesson. Growing up, the two of them had been polar opposites, and El was always the one with the dark, impulsive, and mean streak. Cat doesn’t understand why all of this is happening now, but she feels with a certainly down to her bones that her sister is still alive.
But when she arrives at 36 Westeryk Road, where El and Ross have been living, the memories return to Cat like a tidal wave, reminding her of the good times the three of them had shared here as children. There were the thousands of hours spent under the pantry stairs, playing in an imaginary world they created called Mirrorland—a place of jungles, oceans, roadside American diners and anywhere else the girls could think of where their stories of pirates, princesses, witches, clowns and more came to life. Cat realizes that, no matter what happened between them, she still loves her sister and wants her to be okay. Unfortunately, the police have all but given up on looking for El, and Cat doesn’t know how to explain to them how she knows her twin is still out there, not when she doesn’t understand it herself. Someone has been leaving her cryptic messages, leading to clues scattered all through the old house—clues that have significance to both Cat and El’s shared past in Mirrorland.
This book had my attention from the very first page, beguiling me with its secrets and mystery. And as it turns out, El’s disappearance is only the tip of the iceberg. Much more of the story is buried in the past, unfolding through Cat’s childhood memories of her and her sister playing in their make-believe world. Information was doled out in measured amounts—never too much at once, but always just enough to keep you guessing. As such, every question mark was an exciting puzzle to be solved. For instance, what was the watershed event that ultimately led to the twins’ estrangement? And what was up with that insane introduction which showed the two girls when they were much younger? All I desperately wanted was to fill in those blank spaces, and to that, I knew I had to keep reading.
Ironically, where the book started to lose me was when we got the parts with Mirrorland. While I can appreciate the power of a child’s imagination, and to some extent I understood the effect the author was trying to go for, it was nonetheless difficult for me to perceive everything described as a shared phenomenon experienced the same way by multiple people. As much as I enjoy the occasional dash of fantasy in my thrillers, this felt like magical realism applied in a way that was often confusing and heavy-handed. Still, to be fair, a lot of creativity and effort clearly went into creating Mirrorland, a place where the atmosphere feels both eerie and whimsical, and where youthful innocence can sometimes meet with cruel curiosity, leading to hurt and spite. In that sense, it’s also perfectly believable as a product of a child’s mind.
As well, this bizarre nature of Mirrorland meshed nicely with the strange and uncertain tone of Cat’s unreliable narrative. Both she and El had gone through rough times and trauma, affecting her memories and perceptions of certain events. Gradually, these experiences are explained, and here the story holds no punches—be prepared for it to go to some really dark places.
All told, this was a solid debut, with a great premise behind it. Although I wasn’t completely on board with the implementation of Mirrorland, given how it was a major component, I was still thoroughly gripped by its psychological elements. This one was good at keeping me on my toes, and I ate up all the mystery and intrigue.
Audiobook Comments: This is my first audiobook narrated by Katie Leung, who’s probably best known for playing Cho Chang in the Harry Potter movies, but seeing as she’s already an accomplished actress who’s also had a few audiobooks under her belt, I was pretty confident this was going to be a good listen. Admittedly, I had to set playback speed to slower until my ear adjusted to her character voices and accent, but overall I felt her performance added new layers of depth to the story while bringing Cat and the setting of Edinburgh to life.