I first became aware of Carly Holmes via a story in another Honno book, 'The Wish Dog and Other Stories' and subsequently via her Tartarus Press collection, 'Figurehead' (recently reissued in paperback by Parthian). My impression of her work is of a writer with a delicate and thoughtful touch for whom the strange, the uncanny or the weird is inextricably linked with, or can be found almost incidentally within, the workaday to the extent that it can be easily missed or miscontrued in potentialy devastating ways as is the case in this, her second novel, where she tells a story of madness and magic and most importantly of family with all it's associated turmoils.
When Annie's marriage breaks down and irreparably fractures the fragile unity of her family she takes flight with her two youngest children, the unnaturally beautiful Kitty (Doll Face) and her dark shadow Leila (Crow Face), two children with a seemingly unbreakable and potentially magical bond. We watch as Annie slides ever deeper into her own broken psyche, tormented by her perceived failures, exacerbated by the lingering guilt associated with an earlier bout of postnatal depression that had blighted her relationship with her elder daughter Elsa, obsessed with what she has lost and increasingly spellbound by her two youngest and her belief in their uncanny natures.
Holmes relates the story of Annie with gentle care teasing out her story and keeping it balanced on a razor's edge with the conflicting concerns of sanity and the supernatural held in a deliciously enigmatic consonance as we are slowly allowed to discover how reliable a narrator Annie actually is and we are never entirely certain as to what parts of her story are fact and what is fantasy, what is madness and what is manipulation and what is selfish and what is selfless.
With this book, particularly coming on the heels of the 'Figurehead' paperback, Holmes has placed herself squarely among the first rank of contemporary writers of the weird. I see a kinship in her work with many of the folks we've championed here on Wyrd Britain such as Rosalie Parker, Andrew Michael Hurley, Lucie McKnight Hardy and Alex Older. She is a writer for whom the strange is as mundane as the mundane is strange and 'Crow Face, Doll Face' beautifully encapsulates that fascinating ambiguity with a story of dreams, delusions, fallibility and frailty that lingers in the imagination.
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