Review of Falling Creatures, by Katherine Stansfield


The flavour of Katherine Stansfield’s book reminded me so of Emma Donoghue’s. Both are set in remote corners of the United Kingdom during the reign of Victoria: Ireland in The Wonder and Cornwall in Falling Creatures. (We too often forget that the Cornish are not English.) Both feature a central character mired (literally too) in a slough of toxic religiosity: Roman Catholic and Methodist chapel respectively. But this is a simpler story & I expect most readers would find it less ‘literary’ (whatever that means) than The Wonder. Personally I found the absence of bizarre OTT RC practices made Falling Creatures more accessible. Fortunately the narrator believes in the traditional magic just enough to add the right spooky touch. She a farm servant girl, the best friend and lover of Catherine Dymond, the murder victim. The word ‘lesbian’ hadn’t been invented then & I liked how she doesn’t regard their attachment as anything unusual. The narrator is called “Shilly” (short of “shilly-shally”) by her farm mistress, we find out her real name only @ the end. Catherine is found in a turfy mire with her throat cut, and Matthew, a farm servant is accused of the murder.

I found the settings superbly done, without too much description but with a feel for the landscape and the interiors, especially the smoky tavern that’s the setting for the trial. The characters vary in social class from gentleman and magistrate down to servants, & are placed easily by their characteristics. ‘Mr Williams’ – who appears initially @ the trial in the guise of a newspaper reporter from London, reminded me a bit too much of Lib in The Wonder as being presented anachronistically in the story more to appeal to readers today than realistically fitting the period. But I am very hard to please as a reader of historicals. Otherwise seemed a very attractive character & appropriately good at disguises.

This book sticks much closer to its original source than The Wonder. Tho’ both Williams and Shilly are invented characters, the rest of the story including the outcome of the trial are based on fact. But it’s an excellent story, the setting is well-rendered, & sometimes very eerie – especially the ponies drowning in the peat bog.

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