A Moonlit Path of Madness | Catherine McCarthy

This week has been a busy week for book releases with quite a number of books being released (well, there always are, aren't there? Top marks for stating the obvious Nerd).

Guess what, I actually read a couple, so here's a review of one of the new releases A Moonlit Path of Madness by Catherine McCarthy, which was released on 11 July 2023, and published by Nosetouch Press


Inheriting a family heirloom in the form of an antique clock with a broken moon dial as well as a seaside house in Wales, Grace Morgan mourns the loss of her mother and dreads the manifestation of a family curse that threatens to lay claim to her and everything she holds dear.

Set around the turn of the 20th century, A Moonlit Path of Madness traces Grace's journey from the United States to the distant parish of Newport on the West Wales coast. Partly epistolary and laced with Welsh folklore, this tragic gothic tale delves into the prevalent mental health challenges of the era in the face of unrelenting fear and all-consuming trauma, as Grace reckons with the insidious specter of her lingering grief.

A Moonlit Path of Madness is the latest book from Catherine McCarthy and is a gothic horror tale set on the coast of Wales.

The story begins in Vermont, 1902, where we are introduced to Grace Morgan and the Morgan family as a whole. The beginning of the story sets the tone for the rest of the book where we discover that Grace is caring for her ailing mother who is beset by visions and hallucinations. Alongside Grace, is Lilah, the Lithuanian help that has been with the family since they made the arduous move to the Americas. 

Tortured by her visions, Grace’s mother passes away, leaving Grace in a precarious position of what to do next. The family home is passed on to her brother, Johnathon. However, she is left the ancestral home of Parrog House in Wales, and the family heirloom of a grandfather clock which was transported with the family. Shortly after the death of her mother, and with the weight of her grief, Grace, along with Lilah embarks on a journey to move to the family home in Wales and sets about rebuilding her life in a new place. However, it is not long before the past resurges, and secrets long thought dead come back to haunt the living. 

I first became aware of Catherine McCarthy after reading her short story collection, Mists and Megaliths and thoroughly enjoyed the range of stories that she showcased in this book. This is the first story of considerable length that I have read of hers and I have to say that I was quite impressed. 

Gothic fiction as a whole is steeped in atmosphere, and with her prose, Catherine McCarthy sets about building the atmosphere from the beginning. Her prose is beautifully written, and I think that this totally belies the horror that lies beneath. However, when it comes to the fore, it can totally blindside you and send your senses reeling. She does this quite admirably, particularly at the beginning when she jars the reader with the visions and nightmarish scenes that are effectively small vignettes of grotesquery, creating a claustrophobic mosaic of hallucinatory terror following the death of Grace’s mother, illustrating the fragility of the lead character’s state of mind. 

The tone subtly shifts when she moves to Wales, and she attempts to find some semblance of belonging in her ancestral home and tries to build her life. Unfortunately, this small convalescence of domestic bliss with Lilah is shattered when secrets from the past resurge to the forefront, and subsequently Grace learns of the secrets brooding beneath the domesticity. 

Throughout the novel, Catherine McCarthy uses these shifts in tone subtly to portray the unnerving horror that is just below the surface and when things begin to emerge, the revelations come as a jarring juxtaposition that shows illustrates how disturbing these sequences are. 

McCarthy successfully uses the tones and tropes of the gothic novel and moulds them into something that seems fresh and modern, despite the fact that the tale is set in the early twentieth century, carefully crafting a tale of love and friendship, particularly between Grace and Lilah, who has effectively been Grace’s mother during the decline of her mother’s physical and mental wellbeing, and it was delightful to watch their relationship blossom past the confines of employer and employee.

With A Moonlit Path of Madness, Catherine McCarthy has crafted a darkly delicious tale of tragedy and obsession that she paints using a canvas of words.


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