Scandal, sex and secrets in a crumbling country pile await us in Megan Taylor’s latest dark novel, a coming-of-age tragedy packed with prose so vivid it leaps off the page.
In fact, it’s Taylor’s poetic handling of the narrative that stands out – and I need to start this review by applauding her. Where other writers strip their prose bare, We Wait is lush and full, and every so often it’s worth pausing to simply admire a great sentence. There are many here, from plush scene-setting to an abundance of animated characterisation, and multiple narrators too – a structure and style which I found enriched my experience of the story. I like my prose dripping with description, so thank you, Megan, for being a top-notch supplier. Once you start reading this, you’ll know what I mean when I say the novel is deliciously fat – and this is most definitely a compliment.
We first meet 15-year-olds Maddie and Ellie in the hot summer of 2016. The inseparable best friends are heading to Greywaters, the seat of the Crawley family. It is narrated in turns by Ellie and 40-something Natalie Crawley, Maddie’s long-suffering aunt, who absolutely doesn’t want the girls in the house. Ellie, plagued by nightmares and sleepwalking, is escaping the trauma of caring for a cancer-ravaged mum. Maddie is fleeing the consequences of a scandal involving her teacher and Greywaters offers the solace they are seeking… or does it? Natalie is not the easiest of housemates. She resents being forced into the role of full-time carer to her mother, the sick Crawley matriarch who resides upstairs unseen, and the tension between aunt and niece is cranked up to breaking point within a few hours of their arrival. Introverted Ellie doesn’t understand it, and nor do we, and then we are let into the tension between Ellie and Maddie… talk about the turn of the screw, and these are just the opening pages!
Then there’s the ominous-sounding Greywaters, a character in itself. The sprawling mansion must have been glorious once. Now it just about survives in a state of fading grandeur where everything is done correctly (real candlelight at dinner, Ellie notes) but under a permanent sheen of fusty damp and cracked plaster. Natalie feels trapped by the house while her brother Hugo enjoys a wealthy, stress-free existence in London, yet ironically for the younger girls, it offers them the freedom to explore different sides of their natures. Friends since early childhood, Ellie is a self-confessed watcher and in Maddie’s shadow. She takes pride in Maddie’s achievements more than her own and has enjoyed watching her friend blossom. She’s a sweet, gentle girl with a lot of love to give, and the reader quite rightly cheers for her from the off. The difference between the girls and uptight and angry Natalie couldn’t be more apparent – yet, as with any good novel, there are clues that all is not as it seems. Natalie, we discover, is haunted by her distant past as much as Ellie and Maddie are haunted by their present situations. Their arrival sparks something inevitable. We Wait makes great use of that fatalistic feel; the idea that these people are desperately running away from something unavoidable is palpable.
As tensions rise, we are taken back to another hot summer, this time in 1986, with different narrators and therefore a refreshingly different perspective, but with unnervingly similar tensions. The past and present are expertly entwined, with a volley of ‘aha!’ moments coming thick and fast as the narrative draws close to its inevitably tragic end. Taylor’s delicate handling of the younger character’s narratives is triumphant. She portrays the uncertainty and confusion of growing up with the most elegant of touches. The pages simmer with teenage lust and experimentation, and again, that sense of inevitability is threaded through their actions.
And the author makes fantastic use of darkness, describing it in dozens of different ways, and so viscerally you can almost feel the dark slithering and slipping and gliding at you from the pages. Shadows too: Greywaters, as its non-too-pretty moniker suggests, is not a house of light. Its rooms are banked with gloom, where light flutters weakly – almost in vain. A handy expression, of course, of the emotional shadows and darkness hanging over its occupants.
As the weather bakes outside, Greywaters is as untouchable then as it is in 2016; a dark, ever-looming presence encapsulated by a mysterious group of unnamed narrators who “all day, every day” wait patiently for history to tragically repeat itself. And the irony of their patience (and therefore the title) isn’t lost, either: Taylor dangles some bait, makes us wait, and then wait some more before we are satisfied. She is a deft storyteller. If you like your thrills and chills darkly unsettling, she’s the one for you.
– Lucy Wood, Sublime Horror
Ghost stories have a tradition of belonging to the long dark nights of winter, but here Megan Taylor turns things around, setting this tale in the baking heat of summer. While ghosts whisper from within the walls of the Greywater House, the oppressive atmosphere builds; like the release that thunder brings, something at Greywater is getting ready to burst. And as the two teens are drawn irresistibly to each other, Maddie’s aunt Natalie remembers her own youth, and the dreadful events that shaped her life.
We Wait is a story of family secrets, with a terrific brooding atmosphere. It maybe falls somewhere between ghost story and psychological thriller, or maybe it’s both combined. Evil just drips from the old house, and you know something horrific is going to occur. Great for lovers of both genres.
– Mary Mayfield, Our Book Reviews Online
One of the blurbs on the back of the book has this to say about We Wait: “Hill House for the 21st century: haunting, dark, and very, very real.” It’s a statement that I can support!
Megan Taylor gives us a chilling and modern gothic horror story with We Wait. It is atmospheric, spooky, and the character development is wonderful. The story takes places in 2016 and 1986 with some overlapping characters in each time, and this time hop is a way to slowly unveil some of the history of the house and its former inhabitants as we advance along in the story.
There are some “real” and sadly relevant horrors in this book as well – I do not want to give TOO much away because that plot/sub-plot of the book was a total surprise to me! And I am here for it! But it just adds to the looming darkness of the book.
A fun, yet serious, and great read! Highly recommended for fans of Susan Hill or Shirley Jackson – and Megan Taylor does her own little twist on what makes those aforementioned authors so loved as well. 4 stars from me!
– Alex, The Ladies of Horror Fiction
The Woman Under the Ground
The Woman Under the Ground is both captivating and disturbing… a must-read for readers who like to be challenged and provoked
– Lucy Shiels, Edinburgh Book Review
Megan Taylor’s first short story collection is a beautiful but dark affair, exploring illness, guilt, trauma, absent mothers, ghosts… imaginary siblings, broken relationships and insects preserved behind glass. But it’s offset by some beautiful Tim Burton-esque illustrations, which accompany each story and distort the reader’s expectations. If you like short stories, you won’t want to rush with this book. Read it slowly. Treasure its characters – the wonderful, dangerous, honest creatures that they are.
-Emily Cooper, LeftLion
The over-all tone of this collection is decidedly dark – so don’t come looking for sweetness and light, and happy endings; these are a little twisted, a little macabre, and frequently disturbing. While some of the stories explore the darker, hidden side of human nature – children turn out to be far from the darling little angels we fondly imagine, adults are enveloped by loss, regret and guilt – others tell of things ‘beyond’ nature – strange things that shriek in the night or squat unwelcome at the end of the bed, and wishes that might come fatally true.
Through all of them runs a thread of finding one’s identity, and of coming to terms with repressed emotions – maybe The Woman Under The Ground represents those buried parts of ourselves that we wouldn’t wish to share with even our nearest and dearest?
– Our Book Reviews Online
The Lives of Ghosts
It’s a classic Taylor addition… I loved it. Liberty Fuller’s voice is strong and vibrant right from the start, and she treads a tenuous path balancing between imminent young adulthood and the childhood she can’t quite leave behind… Utterly beautiful…. [It] left me at the same time devastated, satisfied and desperately wanting more… a book to treasure and ponder over – not one however for a bright sunny day but one for a dark and gloomy evening, and all the richer for it.
– Anne Brooke, Vulpes Libris
This is a book about the ghosts we all have – the events and people who haunt our memories and won’t leave us alone. Taylor’s beautiful dark prose interweaves the two timelines, skilfully revealing Libby’s story and showing how she comes to terms with the ghosts lurking in her childhood. A fascinating exploration of the way events separated by a quarter of a century can resonate with each other, The Lives of Ghosts grips from the first line to the last.
– Pippa Hennessy, Leftlion
There are whole scenes that are vividly etched into my memory and passages that will haunt me for a long time, particularly in the last few chapters… Megan’s strength lies in her descriptive powers and her strong sense of empathy both of which have been finely honed in this, her third novel, to deliver a knockout blow that will leave the reader reeling in shock
– Pam McIlroy
You can also find full interviews on the web about The Lives of Ghosts with:
Compelling, enthralling, ensnaring. Megan Taylor spins each character into life and then she makes us wait, breath held, as they unravel, as they twirl and twist before our eyes. This writing is fearless, is full of heart, is very very good.
– Caroline Smailes, author of In Search of Adam, Black Boxes, Like Bees to Honey and 99 Reasons Why
– Shanta Everington, the view from here
Taylor writes like a modern D H Lawrence. The quality of her rich and poetic prose wraps you round like a fur coat on a winter’s night . . . read slowly to savour it
– Anne Brooke, Vulpes Libris
The characters are all intelligently formed . . . a deliciously realistic atmosphere plus some clever plot devices
– Oonagh Robinson, Nottingham Evening Post
The Dawning is one of those hungry reads: appetite whetted very early on, a tasty bit of fiction that you can’t devour fast enough . . . . a dizzy, poetic, brutal, page-turning novel
– Annie Clarkson, Bookmunch
An involving picture of a family in a tailspin
– Robin Lewis, LeftLion
The writing is taut, visual and evocative … I was so riveted by this book that I read it in one sitting
– Pam McIlroy, Guide2Nottingham
How We Were Lost
Taylor writes beautiful, intense prose, richly evocative and with a strong appeal to the senses that’s as vivid as it is tactile-
Nicholas Royle, Time Out
Grips all the way.
– Nottingham Evening Post
Megan Taylor writes beautifully. Her prose leaves you tingling. The narrative voice is consistently controlled, the tension is commanded and the reader clutches, fuelled by suspense. The language is poetic, evocative, with layers that are dark and rich.
– Caroline Smailes, author of In Search of Adam, Black Boxes, Like Bees to Honey and 99 Reasons Why
a dark, compelling novel, with some superficial similarities to Jill Dawson’s ‘Watch Me Disappear’ . . . The language is seductive and draws the reader into Janie’s complicated world, which features a pregnant older teenage sister, an absent mother and a neurotic aunt. As Janie’s life collides with the public drama being played out over the hunt for two missing girls, the reader is forced to reconsider the line between childhood and adulthood.
An exceedingly intense book [written] in rich, highly sensual prose. I read it in one sitting, staying up far too late to finish it. Utterly gripping. It comes highly recommended.
Taylor has a rich prose style and strong linguistic imagination that are particularly well suited to the numerous dream and hallucination scenes…the language truly soars.
The acute handling of subject matter and Taylor’s eye for detail work to lend the reader a sense of what it means to search, to really search, for someone or something, only to find that the process of discovery is perhaps paramount to the outcome itself. One emerges with a somewhat sharpened sense of, to paraphrase Taylor, how easily it can all come apart…This book was such a joy to read – it was, unfortunately, over in one sitting!
How We Were Lost was placed second in the novel category of the international Yeovil Prize 2006 (Betty Bolingbroke-Kent Award).
A superior and moving novel that explores a thought provoking subject with a delicate touch. A remarkable debut.
– Margaret Graham (Yeovil Prize co-founder)
Beautiful writing, page turning tension, and the subject will grab the heart straight away.
– Katie Fforde(Yeovil Prize judge 2006)