Skip to main content

Looking Glass Sound


Looking Glass Sound

As she has demonstrated in her previous books, Catriona Ward is a master of atmosphere. Her latest gothic thriller, LOOKING GLASS SOUND, uses place to great effect. Her young protagonist is dropped into a beachy yet ominous locale, a place of dread and beauty that comes to stand for longing, desire, fear and loss for the rest of his life. But the “rest of his life” grows increasingly hard to pin down as the novel progresses and Ward upends --- then upends again --- her narrative, resulting in a sense of unease for readers and characters alike. The story, Ward insists, can be manipulated in the telling.

"LOOKING GLASS SOUND is a complex, dark, surprising, confident and crafty novel from a writer who continues to produce bold and curious books."

Wilder Harlow is in high school the first time he visits his late Uncle Vernon’s house in Whistler Bay. The lovely seaside town is marred only by the crimes of the Dagger Man the summer before. This summer promises to be one of continued loneliness for Wilder, as well as the ongoing marital strife of his parents. Before he can spend too much time pondering his mysterious uncle, where his father disappears to, or what life will be like back at school next year, Wilder meets local kid Nat and summer resident Harper. They are as lovely and compelling as any literary teens --- strange, attractive and enigmatic.

Nat and Harper take Wilder under their wings and introduce him to the shore, the sea, and the folktales and lore of the town. They tell Wilder about the Dagger Man and the threatening Polaroids he took of sleeping children. They also fill him in on Rebecca, the ghost of a drowned woman who haunts a cave on the edge of the ocean, pining for her daughter and exacting secrets. Wilder comes to love Whistler Bay, apart from one particularly unsettling meadow, and enjoys spending time with his new friends. Their friendship gets him through the school year, but things have changed by the following summer.

When Wilder returns to Whistler Bay, Harper is sober, Nat is distant, and things are worse with his parents. A shocking discovery horrifies the town and brings the three of them all too close to a serial killer. Everything Wilder thought he knew about the town, his friends, his family and himself is called into question. By the time he goes to college, his world is thrown out of whack. And this is where LOOKING GLASS SOUND turns upside down as well.

In processing the trauma he witnessed and experienced, Wilder writes an autobiography. That text is stolen and published, and his trust is destroyed. Ward nests story within story, weaving the narrative into cloth that is inventive but often confusing. Are these ghosts? Or ghost stories? And if storytelling makes it real, what is the distinction between the two? Where does the truth lie, and whose account is most accurate? Can Wilder rely on memory? Or has pain and deceit destroyed even the truth?

This is a psychologically chilling read that requires a lot of work on the part of the reader. There is no settling in here; Ward shifts and upsets, rattles and rebuilds the plotlines a handful of times, creating tension and uncertainty. Some will revel in following the threads and puzzling out the realities, while others may find that kind of reading tedious or baffling. Yet there is no doubt that LOOKING GLASS SOUND is a complex, dark, surprising, confident and crafty novel from a writer who continues to produce bold and curious books.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on August 11, 2023

Looking Glass Sound
by Catriona Ward

  • Publication Date: August 8, 2023
  • Genres: Fiction, Horror, Suspense, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Tor Nightfire
  • ISBN-10: 1250860024
  • ISBN-13: 9781250860026