Sundial by Catriona Ward

Sundial is a new, twisty psychological horror novel from Catriona Ward, internationally bestselling author of The Last House on Needless Street

You can't escape what's in your blood...

All Rob wanted was a normal life. She almost got it, too: a husband, two kids, a nice house in the suburbs. But Rob fears for her oldest daughter, Callie, who collects tiny bones and whispers to imaginary friends. Rob sees a darkness in Callie, one that reminds her too much of the family she left behind.

She decides to take Callie back to her childhood home, to Sundial, deep in the Mojave Desert. And there she will have to make a terrible choice.

Callie is worried about her mother. Rob has begun to look at her strangely, and speaks of past secrets. And Callie fears that only one of them will leave Sundial alive…

The mother and daughter embark on a dark, desert journey to the past in the hopes of redeeming their future.

Catriona Ward cements her position as The Queen of Unease with her new offering, Sundial. A tale of toxic motherhood and long held secrets. 

 Rob is a wife and mother who escaping her difficult childhood has set up home in suburbia with her husband Irving. But not all is as it seems! Behind the veneer of domesticity, Rob is a serial philanderer, and her eldest daughter is showing worrying tendencies that point to something being wrong! Very wrong! 

After an inexplicable incident involving pills, and her two daughters, Rob decides it is time to return to her home of Sundial to set things right and attempt to revisit the events that have led to her current situation. 

Full of intrigue and suspense, Sundial is a masterpiece of disquiet and unease, and from the very first page, the feeling of wrongness permeates from the page to give you a sense that nothing is what it seems. 

The book itself took me two days to devour and I could not put it down, could not stop thinking about it until the story had revealed its secrets and showed me how the tale would evolve into its true nightmarish form. Catriona Ward’s previous book had me similarly gripped and I spent hours trying to puzzle the labyrinthine plot, and Sundial is much the same. However, I have quickly learnt to just follow the story without obsessing about what secrets lie below and let the tale unfold at its own pace to reveal the core of the story as its layers are peeled off, one by one. 

There are so many things happening in the story. You have the story of Rob and her husband whose marriage is built on petty cruelties, each adding to something that is painful to watch, as he carefully manipulates everyone around him to join in his cruel games of misdirection and hate, and Rob responding to him. Irving is truly one of the most loathsome characters that I have met in fiction. He is never outright nasty, but you can feel it pulsing in every venomous act that he does. 

Rob on the other hand can be equally as poisonous at times, and there is an underlying feeling of cruelty about her, and whilst she loves her daughters, she has a creeping sense of mistrust to her older daughter who speaks is emojis at the end of every sentence and collects the bones of dead animals. 

The story is told from the point of view of Rob who imparts all her insecurities and scorn to the reader, but carefully hides them from her family, afraid they may be mistook for signs of weakness, particularly when Rob is playing his cruel mind games with her and currying favour with his eldest daughter to continue the miasma of vitriol that he surrounds himself in. However, there are times where we get the view of Callie, Rob’s eldest daughter, who may seem to be sweetness and light, yet holds darkly disturbing thoughts, especially to her younger sister, Annie. 

 With Sundial, Catriona Ward has carved out of the desert rock her place as a master of the disturbed as not a word is wasted. She will wrongfoot you at every juncture and just when you think you have the pieces in the right place, she will change the dimensions of the puzzle so that it doesn’t fit. Her prose is amazing, and it is not since I started reading Shirley Jackson novels many years ago that I have read anyone that has the same level of making all her characters seem to be so utterly awful yet utterly beguiling. 

The narrative itself is cloying and claustrophobic yet gives the characters time to develop and explore their unusual circumstances whilst never once missing a beat and letting up its grip. Sundial is one of this years must read books that will have you gripped to the end of the story until its secrets are revealed.


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