Reviewer: Nicola Smith – Short Book and Scribes

Publisher:  Michael Joseph      14th October 2021

ISBN: 978-0241533994     HB

A book set on a remote Scottish island, you say? Count me in! The Whistling is set on the island of Skelthsea where Elspeth travels from Edinburgh in 1860 to take up a position as nanny to Mary, a young girl who has recently lost her twin brother. Elspeth’s feelings are in tune with Mary’s, having recently also suffered a tragic bereavement of her own. Mary lives at Iskar with her aunt, a cook and a couple of servants. This is not a happy tale, but one of sinister goings on in the closed off rooms of the house, hummed lullabies in the corridors, dolls and a strange sound of whistling.

I loved the setting of this book. Island life has its own particular set of ways and Skelthsea is no different. It’s a small community and felt very insular and at times unwelcoming. I thought the author did a marvellous job at portraying this, especially for Elspeth coming from a big city.

I’ll be honest and say that ghost stories aren’t always my thing. Maybe it’s an inability to let myself suspend disbelief and just go with it. However, I have to say that Rebecca Netley’s narrative is as convincing as I could find a ghost story and is certainly well-written and well-constructed, with an initial slow burn building up to a crescendo of an ending. I liked the idea of the whistling and the story behind it along with the elements of witchery which really created a creepy and ominous vibe.

I liked Elspeth, who I found plucky and determined. I particularly enjoyed her relationship with her charge, Mary, and how that developed throughout the story. Whilst, perhaps in the very depths of my mind, I had an idea of how part of the ending might pan out, it was still a surprise and I thought it a clever way to add an unexpected ingredient to the mix.

I thought The Whistling was a beautifully written and intricate gothic tale with an atmospheric setting……and remember…..if you can hear it…..it’s already too late.