The Drowning Poolby Syd Moore
Book Review by Ren Zelen
Essex Girls go Witch hunting…..
The story centres around Sarah Gray, a teacher and a young widow living in Essex with a four year old son, who often goes out drinking with her friends. At the end of one particular evening the women end up at a local scenic spot – a ruined castle on the coast. They build a camp fire and continue drinking late into the night. Getting increasingly inebriated, they begin to tell ghost stories. One in particular concerns Sarah’s namesake, Sarah Gray, who was reputed to be a witch in the district back in the 1800’s. For some reason not made clear, this innocent storytelling seems to summon up this entity and from that time on, Sarah is haunted. She believes the ghost is her namesake who is demanding justice for a wrong that was suffered by her during her time, so modern-day Sarah starts to investigate the history of her Victorian namesake and her life, hoping for a clue which might resolve the situation and make the hauntings cease.
Modern-day Sarah is still grieving over the untimely death of her husband and added to this, she has a suspected tumour in her brain so she has occasion to doubt her supernatural experiences, considering them as possible hallucinations, as do others, who also put them down to her alcohol intake. Not surprisingly, as these women certainly like to drink. There is almost as much energy expended in finding the next occasion to get smashed as there is in getting to the bottom of any supernatural manifestations. It’s a little disappointing that the ‘Essex girl’ cliché of binge drinking, materialism and bawdiness is perpetuated in the modern day setting of the book. Likewise, it’s not long before a not entirely unexpected romantic interest develops. I was quite sure that when teacher Sarah took a dislike to her new boss she would inevitably end up in bed with him – as the convention goes. At least he also turns out to be useful, as he is descended from someone who knew Victorian Sarah Gray and has documents that prove important – how convenient. The ghost appearances are fairly run of the mill, and seem to occur at any old time with no preamble. As usual, look out for misty mirrors and such.
I’m sure a lot of people would probably enjoy this story, perhaps those familiar with this particular area of Essex and the tales of witchcraft in its local folklore, or those that are looking for a more ‘edgy’ ‘chick lit’ story set in a more exotic genre, but personally, though the premise of ghostly goings on encouraged me to read the book, I found nothing really exciting, unusual or scary enough to keep me awake at night. Perhaps the only moments that might have disturbed me were those when Sarah’s little son was also subject to aspects of the haunting – but these were never developed.
Having said that, the story touched upon the interesting notion of history and particularly family history repeating itself or being stuck in certain patterns, and the historical background concerning women spuriously and arbitrarily accused of witchcraft was well researched and neatly woven into the narrative. I found the tale concerning the experiences of the Victorian Sarah much more engaging than that of the modern-day Sarah, who I couldn’t warm to as a character. The historical based parts of the book provided a more entertaining and absorbing read for me than the present day story. The writer’s strength seemed to lie in historical narrative and I’d be much more intrigued by an entirely period based ghost story by Syd Moore. Let’s hope she considers writing one in the future.