by Judy Finnigan

‘Eloise’ is a first novel by she of ‘Richard and Judy’ fame, Judy Finnigan.

It tells the story of a woman grieving for the loss of her friend, the eponymous Eloise, who has died, prematurely, at the age of forty-five from cancer.

The atmospheric backdrop of Cornwall lends its wild, rural landscape to echo the bleakness of the Yorkshire Moors and remind us of that Brontë classic, ‘Wuthering Heights’, the references to which are ubiquitous throughout this read. Now the scene is set and we have been reminded of the presence of Catherine Earnshaw, this leads us nicely into the return of Eloise’s spirit, who is given free rein to rattle her ghostly chains and alert Cathy, the aptly named protagonist, to the possible dangers ahead.

It is a tale of grief, loss, anger and resentment, all masquerading as a ghost story. What starts as a promisingly, tantalising opening soon spirals down into the ramblings of a woman forever labelled as unhinged because of a previous bout of depression. The irony is that the character casting the most aspersions happens to be her husband, a psychiatrist.

The lesson the reader learns, very early on, is that you wouldn’t want to use his services as a professional care-giver. Before you’d finished complaining that you were feeling a bit fed up, he’d have you sectioned, institutionalised and booked in for a course of ECT treatment.

I have to admit I felt a certain degree of ambiguity toward this read. On the one hand I was intrigued to finish the book and discover the ending, but torn because I found the character of Cathy incredibly irritating and often pathetic. It takes her an inordinate amount of time to realise that confiding in her husband about her ghostly assignations is not the best plan, unless she wants to end up forgotten about in some isolated, musty insane asylum. Although she exercises the occasional show of spirit, she  obligingly forgives him time and time again despite his dogged determination to make her feel inadequate and, quite frankly, barmy.

Much of the text reads like Judy’s own bio reflecting many similarities of her own life: same number of children and matching genders, homes in London and Cornwall, previous career in the media, patronising husband.

As the novel progresses, the narrative becomes repetitive dealing with the same issues over and over again. The same applies to the use of language with the term ‘gothic fantasy’ appearing more than is deemed acceptable and everything, from the quaint country cottage to the delightful children, being described as ‘gorgeous’.

I did finish the novel and, without revealing any spoilers, found it to be predictable and schmaltzy in parts; almost descending in to the happy endings typified by Mills and Boon literature, with all its loose ends neatly tied up.

So the only advice I can offer is that if you’re hoping to find a traditional spine-chilling, don’t-put-the-light-out ghost story, then don’t look here. But if you’re interested in a study of the complexities and dynamics between human beings, then it should be right up your street.

Don’t take my word for it – give it a go.

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