Stephen by Amy Cross

Forty years after her traumatic ordeal at Grangehurst, Beryl Seaton is finally ready to relive her past and recollect the events that have haunted her every day since. As a much younger woman, Beryl is accepted to be governess in the household of Doctor Elliot Brooks, her job to help his wife take care of their only son, Stephen. But there’s something terribly wrong with Stephen, and it becomes inevitable that things could only get worse.

(WARNING: This review contains spoilers.)

Rating: 3 out of 5.

If I ever thought that books could go too far, then I’d more than likely say that about this particular one. It’s one of those stories that heavily relies upon the shock factor; it wants you to ask the question of what-the-hell-did-I-just-read? And I did, in fact, chew over that question myself, especially after the much dreaded, yet highly anticipated chapter twenty-eight. When it comes to this novel, that chapter is rather infamous – all you have to do is glance over reviews to see the affirmed revulsion. If that wasn’t enough, then Beryl’s own words should certainly give you an idea:

“Let me state this, then: I, Beryl Seaton, write the next chapter only because it is a true account of what happened. I take no pleasure in the telling of this tale, nor do I in any way recommend that anybody should read the following chapter. I shall set down the events entirely within a chapter of their own, so that any right-thinking reader can simply skip that chapter and go to the next…”

The entirety of twenty-seven is one big forewarning, but it’s obvious that its intention isn’t to deter us from the next chapter; its intention is to make us want to read it all the more. The whole plot has been leading up to that moment, so what could possibly be so bad, you wonder? Well, I’m not going to include the specifics, and not because it’s a spoiler, but because I simply can’t bring myself to type the words. It’s truly disgusting, and if you’re that curious, just read it for yourself!

As for the character of Beryl, I didn’t find her at all dislikeable, but the writing suffered a great deal due to her personal narrative. I get that it’s a retelling of her life – or the most horrific part of her life – and that at the time of documentation she’s in her seventies. She’s an old woman, and I’m fully aware that the memories of elderly folk just aren’t the same, but the sheer amount of repetition in this book bothered me. Beryl states again and again how her younger self is naive and gullible. Those exact same words are recycled; as if they somehow gave us new insight every time they were written. Perhaps it really was to highlight her old age, or maybe it was merely to make the overall book longer. Either way, it didn’t do any favours, as after all, Beryl’s lack of real-world experience was integral; nothing would’ve happened otherwise.

Despite the faults that irked me, I enjoyed the plot for what it was; definitely eerie, and truthful in the ugliness of the situation. Let’s face it, there’s nothing pleasant about a dead child, and there’s doubtlessly something morbid about treating it as if it were alive and breathing. As unsettling as it is, there’s been cases of it happening in real life. Such a loss can indeed affect the mind, so Severine’s madness was not so far-fetched.

However, I do think that it would’ve been better had some aspects been removed. Beryl’s masochistic tendencies were out of place, and the scene with the apparition added absolutely nothing aside from filler. Anything paranormal played such a minor part, I wondered why it was there to begin with. It’s like Cross tried to cram in too many things, and ultimately they didn’t quite work together. Sometimes being much more simplistic has a greater impact, and I think this one would’ve benefited from it.

The ending also didn’t make much sense to me. Why did she seem so goddamn obsessed with Severine? I understand the need for closure, but her attitude, like she was in love with the other woman, just seemed so out of character.

In conclusion – I found it to be pretty average. I liked the premise of the plot – it was creepy – but there were issues that got in the way. I’ll not be adverse to reading more of this authors work in the future, though!

Notable Quote:

“It is astonishing how one can perform mental gymnastics and persuade oneself that left is right, up is down and so forth.”

© Red Lace 2018

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4 Comments on “Stephen by Amy Cross

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