Sally is a typical school girl of 1960s Manchester. The 15-year-old believes herself a lot cleverer than her class mates and also her family. With her new best friend Pamela, she tries to extent the rules, takes her freedoms and over and over again gets into trouble. Most fun both have tormenting Sylvia Rose, a shyish, old-fashioned girl of their class. Even though Sally and Sylvia do have some common interests, she follows Pamela’s example and makes fun of her, some of their tricks go quite far, humiliating their class mate in front of the whole school. Common among the girls of their school is the attraction by superstition and an ouija board they secretly use during their breaks. When it predicts some bad luck, they do not want to believe it even though they are clearly warned by one of their teachers. But then, the unthinkable happens and will haunt Sally for the rest of her life.
Carol Birch’s novel is an addictive combination of school girl, coming-of-age and ghost novel. She cleverly turns the carefree, boisterous girls into fearful and edgy young women. The story is told from Sally’s point of view so we often get to know her thoughts which are convincingly portrayed: it is not easy to be a teenager, conflicting feelings, knowing what is right but doing what is wrong, making the wrong decisions and regretting them later.
The novel is divided into three chapters named “penumbra”, “umbra” and “anteumbra”. I was trying to make sense of this, but I am not sure if I really got the meaning. Maybe it reflects Sally’s mental state which deteriorates throughout the plot. Maybe this is linked to the idea of the ghosts and seeing or not seeing things, being tricked by the eye.
There is an uneasy feeling looming over the story, you know it is not going to run out well, yet, you cannot be sure what is real and what is only imagined. Is there some supernatural power making sure that there is some kind of pay back for the evil done? Or is it just all the imagination of a young woman at the edge? Captivating once you have started with some unexpected twists.