Audiobook Review: Cackle by Rachel Harrison
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): 4 of 5 stars
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Penguin Audio (October 5, 2021)
Length: 10 hrs and 15 mins
Narrator: Dylan Moore
Rachel Harrison is paving the way for a rising trend of chick lit horror, and I kind of like it. That said, I’d also advise putting aside all your preconceptions and any prejudices for the chick lit genre when it comes to Cackle, because it certainly didn’t turn out anything like I’d expected.
In this book, we follow Annie, who initially appears to be your typical chick lit protagonist navigating her way through the rough waters of modern womanhood, which includes relationship hang-ups, female friendships, and workplace drama. It’s her thirtieth birthday, she has just broken up with Sam, her boyfriend of nearly ten years, and is now in the middle of vacating their shared apartment in Manhattan. As high school teacher, Annie can scarcely afford another place in the city, so she is forced to move to a small village upstate where she will be starting a new job.
Almost immediately, she is charmed by the picturesque town of Rowan, where the people and warm, friendly and welcoming. Her life may be in ruins, but at least there’s this silver lining. She thinks that if she can survive here for a while, put up with the snotty and disrespectful teens at her school just long enough, maybe one day Sam might come around and they can be a happy couple living together again.
But then, Annie meets Sophie, one of the town’s residents who changes her life forever. The older, elegant woman is everything Annie wishes she could be—beautiful, charismatic, composed and confident. And amazingly, this incredible lady wanted to be her friend! Sophie shows Annie a whole new way of looking at things, encouraging her to seek her own happiness and do things for no one else but herself, teaching her to be more comfortable in her own skin. But gradually, Annie beings to suspect there may be something more to Sophie’s self-assuredness and ethereal, ageless beauty. The other townspeople all act like they are afraid of her, and strange and terrible things seem befall those who speak ill of her or Annie—almost as if they’ve been cursed. And then there are the spiders glimpsed around Sophie’s mansion in the woods, unnatural little critters that act like they’re in her control. There’s a word for women who wield such power, but surely that’s only in children’s stories and fairy tales?
Although Cackle is most definitely categorized as horror, it is also much less shocking and gruesome than Harrison’s previous novel The Return. Dare I say, there may even be streaks of some feel-good vibes here and there, and a conclusion that ultimately has an uplifting message. Still, there were definitely some downright grotesque, skin-crawling moments as well, and an overall tone to the story that is eerie and disturbing.
Cackle is also a great tale of transformation. Annie makes for a fascinating character study, introduced to us as a rather needy, timid woman. She is self-conscious of her looks and tall lanky figure, turns to drinking when she gets depressed (which is often), and can’t stand the idea of being single because she’s always had a boyfriend in her life. She’d thought Sam was the one, until he dumped her, shattering her plans for their future. The breakup completely unmoors her, leaving her feeling adrift, but fortunately her friendship with Sophie is like a life preserver that keeps her afloat and steers her back on a stable path.
But there’s also more to Sophie than meets the eye, which I’m sure you’ve guessed. Needless to say, I won’t be elaborating since unraveling the mystery that surrounds her is a huge part of the plot, and much of the fun. I do have to give a shoutout to Ralph though, who is the most memorable spider ever. Even now, I’m just picturing his sweet, goofy grin! He wins my favorite character of the year award, hands down.
All in all, Cackle was a quirky novel with some genuine moments of gross, terrifying horror. If you’ve also read The Return, which was another good read, you should know this one is quite different, but I do appreciate that Rachel Harrison has the versatility and talent to go in another direction and try something new. My compliments also to the folks behind the production of the audiobook, especially to narrator Dylan Moore who made this such an enjoyable listen. Perfect for the Halloween season.