When the news of his cousin’s death reaches him, Albie Mirralls sets out to Halfoak of Yorkshire, determined to not only settle the matters of her funeral, but to unravel the unknowns of her death. Now an outsider of a foreign land far from the bustling streets of London, he can’t help but question the rumours that surround Lizzie Higgs – surely nothing more than superstitious nonsense – yet stories of faeries and changelings begin to creep into his mind as things take an unusual turn.
(WARNING: This review contains MAJOR spoilers.)
I’m always in the mood for a historical setting with what’s described as a dark and gothic atmosphere, so when I initially sat down with The Hidden People, I was thoroughly looking forward to what lay ahead. The bulk of the story took place in 1862, from the perspective of the protagonist, Albie Mirralls – a high class Londoner. As you can imagine, Albie played the part of a pompous Englishman well, Littlewood’s writing excelling in not only portraying the differences of the times in all its nuance, but in painting an immersive setting. The season that took the forefront was summer, and I couldn’t help but appreciate the prose of the sun’s relentless assault; truly lovely writing, yet it dragged at times and I really think the book could have been slimmed down. There was a lot of repetition in the first-person, but I suppose the risk of rambling comes with the territory. That’s where my enjoyment of the book, as well as my understanding, unfortunately came to an end.
The story aspects didn’t engage me, most notably the motivation of the plot. Obsession played a prominent theme, of one man’s infatuation with a cousin he met only once in his youth for a short length of time. He believed he knew her despite it being years later, often called her his, and this struck me as far-fetched and almost predatory. Due to such an impression I was unable to connect with Albie; I was unsympathetic to his struggles, and mostly indifferent to the troubles he brought upon himself. I understand it wasn’t so taboo in the 1800’s to keep it in the family, but even if the cousin part of the equation was removed, it would have been just as impossible to relate with him. When it comes to dislikeable characters, it can be enjoyable to hate them, but it felt as if I was meant to have some sort of personal investment – the only inkling of compassion I had was for Lizzie herself. The rest lacked any redeeming qualities and suffered from terrible human being syndrome. Perhaps this was the intention, to demonstrate how superstitions, naivety and baser instincts can ruin lives, but I didn’t connect with it.
The topic of fae folk is something that will always interest me, however it was never truly confirmed if events were accurate in how they were detailed on the page. Whilst I still came up with my own theory, the whole back and forth with teasing the supernatural just frustrated me more than it intrigued me. It could have gone either way – some things ordinary enough to be explained, with others a bit more bizarre. The ambiguous ending was mostly a miss, which was a shame as I often enjoy my own interpretation when answers aren’t directly offered. A prime example of an unreliable narrator, and in this case it just didn’t work as I was so detached from caring.
In conclusion: I wanted to love The Hidden People, but I just didn’t mesh with the story. Whilst it was beautifully written, full of vivid imagery of the countryside and the oppressive heat, the character of Albie didn’t appeal. I feel the real horror was in tragedy and human fault, but the attempt at creating tensions failed amongst the long-winded narrative. The watered down elements of the supernatural also didn’t keep me committed enough, and all in all I acknowledge Littlewood’s talent, but this wasn’t the book for me.
All the harshness and difficulties of life were here; the lack of forgiveness and the stern judgement; the sin and its fruit, hidden beneath a veil of sunshine and sweetness.
© Red Lace 2020