Review by Hayley Anderton
You Let Me In is Camilla Bruce’s debut novel, and it marks her out as an author to watch. It is impressively assured with a very distinctive voice, and excellent pacing.
The blurb describes two stories and asks which one might be true: a dark fairy story of children lost to the woods and magic, or one of an emotionally and physically abused child. It seems to me that these are only two of the stories hinted at, and that both, or neither might be true. Which is appropriate for a novel narrated by a character called Cassandra, which is in itself an invitation to doubt.
As with her namesake this Cassandra is destined not to be believed, her narration not so much unreliable, as a set of stories or possibilities in which nothing is certain. Not even the basic premise that is the elderly author Cassandra Tipp has disappeared, or that this is the last in a string of family scandals that start with her being a difficult, possibly disturbed child, go through the gruesome death of her husband, and the later murder of her father and suicide of her brother.
We’re invited to understand that Cassie has been gone for a year, no body has been found, but instructions left with her solicitor mean that her niece and nephew are to go to her house, read a manuscript, and return with a password to take possession of her estate. Cassie has been a successful romantic novelist; the inference is that there’s a decent amount of money in the bank.
As we only meet Janus and Penelope through Cassie’s hazy recollections of them, and through her assumptions written into the manuscript as to how they’ll react to her words there’s nothing to confirm that the year (or the year and a day of fairy tale) has passed. Are we reading as Cassie writes, or is this something else entirely? That uncertainty is part of the charm of the book, not least because it helps distance the reader from what Cassie is telling us happened to her.
There’s a lot to admire and enjoy in Bruce’s handling of the themes she’s chosen. I enjoyed her representation of fairies; here they have a vampiric quality, they’re dead things that choose a live thing to feed from – everything from trees to little girls. It’s a clever mixing of folklore elements and psychology that works really well as the book unfolds.
I also appreciate the way she alludes to violence and abuse without much detail. Hints are enough, more than enough to build a picture, and when details do come they’re macabre to the point of fantastic, which again helps keep them at a distance – like something out of a Grimm fairytale. This uncertainty also allows Bruce to explore the reactions and behaviour of Cassie and her family without having to explicitly judge or explain them, although there are enough implications for the reader to do so.
In this instance the claim on the back of my proof copy that this is about the elusive nature of truth, and offers “an unnerving glimpse of the dark place that might exist between reality and somewhere else entirely” feels entirely justified. Truth is a slippery thing, an interpretation of facts rather than a fact itself, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading Bruce explore that.
Hayley Blogs at Desperate Reader and can be found on Twitter and Instagram under the same name. She finds books that deal with fairytales and folklore hard to resist.
Camilla Bruce, You Let Me In (Bantam Press, 2020). 978-1787633179, 259pp., Hardback.BUY at Blackwell’s via our affiliate link (free UK P&P)