Monday, 6 January 2020

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Review: Impossible Causes by Julie Mayhew

Impossible Causes by Julie Mayhew

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Impossible Causes by Julie Mayhew

Published: 17th October 2019 | Publisher: Raven Books | Source: Won in a giveaway.
Julie Mayhew's Website

For readers of All the Missing Girls and You Will Know Me, Impossible Causes is a gripping thriller about isolation, power, and the lies that fester when witnesses stay silent.

For six months every year, Lark Island is fogged in, its occupants cut off completely from the mainland. The community is small, tight-knit, and deeply religious. Lark seems like a good place for 16-year-old Viola Kendrick and her mother to be alone as they mourn Viola’s father and brother, both killed in a tragic accident.

But the islanders are hiding dark secrets. As the winter fog sets in, Viola gets to know the Eldest Girls—the only three teenagers on Lark—and begins to learn about the island’s twisted history, including an old story of a young girl, whose death the islanders insist was accidental. When a man’s body is found at the end of Viola’s first winter on Lark, Viola finds herself at the center of a murder mystery: one that asks whether the man’s death was a righteous act of revenge, or a cold-blooded killing.

Eerie and menacing, timely and moving, Impossible Causes is an unputdownable thriller that examines the consequences of secrets kept at young women’s expense.
From Goodreads.

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I won this proof in a Twitter giveaway held by the publisher. What I have written is an honest review.

Rep: Two lesbian side characters.


When I saw a giveaway for a proof of Impossible Causes - Julie Mayhew's adult debut - on Twitter, after looking it up, I knew that this book was right up my street. It sounded like a really intriguing thriller, and I was excited to read it. What I didn't expect was to read an incredibly heartbreaking and rage-inducing story that blew my mind.

After her the death of her dad and her brother, Viola and her mum move to the isolated and almost forgotten British island of Lark. With a small population and a tight-knit community, Lark is safe, and safety is what Viola's mum needs right now. Due to bad weather conditions, the island can only be reached between April and August, the rest of the time, this very religious community is shut off from the rest of the modern world; there is one radio telephone and one computer (used for placing orders only) on the whole island, no-one has mobiles, and all the movies on the island are several years old. To some, it sounds idyllic, but others feel trapped. When Viola meets the Eldest Girls - Britta, Anna, and Jade-Marie, the three eldest students on the island, she discovers there's more going on, on this island than anyone is willing to talk about, and finds herself becoming involved in the girls' experimentation in Paganism and witchcraft. When a dead body is discovered, the island must face what they have always kept hidden.

Impossible Causes is so brilliantly written! There are three perspectives; Viola's third person perspective; a teacher at the school, Leah Cedar's first person perspective; and an omnipresent third person narrative that shows us glimpses of conversations that neither Viola or Leah are witness to. With Viola's perspective, it jumps back and forth in time; the book starts on Friday 13th April 2018, when Viola has discovered the dead body of a man and reports it, and keeps coming back to this day and the events that happen after the body is found, but it also goes back to when Viola and her mum first moved to the island, and tells her story linearly from there, showing the events that lead up to Friday 13th April. It might sound complicated, what with three different narrations, and with Viola's jumping back and forth, but each chapter stays in a particular perspective and time, and you know from the beginning of each chapter who you're following and when. The skip in the narrations and the jumping back and forth in time is brilliantly done to keep the readers guessing. At the beginning, four questions are the reader's focus: who has been killed (because although Viola knows, it's not revealed to the reader at the time)? Why have they been killed? Who killed them? And what secrets is the town hiding? What's also really interesting is how Impossible Causes doesn't have the amount of dialogue that I'm used to. While you'd imagine this would involve a lot of telling instead of showing, it actually really works because of this omnipresent narrator, through which we get glimpses into the behaviours and minds of people we wouldn't otherwise. And it just really helps to create an atmosphere that drew me in, as well as the mystery

The whole mystery of the story was exciting! I was completely gripped, getting to know all the characters and the world of Lark, trying to figure things out for myself. The town is ridiculously patriarchal and sexist, with women not being allowed on the Council, and only being allowed to go to the pub at the weekend, stuck in the past where there were jobs for women and jobs for men. While this wound me up, for the most part, I was just rolling my eyes at the ridiculousness of it all, but kind of accepted it, because the whole island is cut off from the rest of the world, and they're stuck in the past in so many ways, it was kind of understandable, if not acceptable, that this was the way they lived and what they accepted as normal. There was middle-class pearl-clutching gossip between the ladies when they got their hair done that they absolutely revelled in - relishing in the latest scandal and saying what they really thought about certain people, while being nice as pie to their faces. There were the men in their pub and their outrageous sexist talk that went beyond what you might expect, and was quite shocking, insulting, and uncomfortable. It was also so hypocritical, yet completely expected; these people who quote scripture at the drop of a hat, are all holier-than-thou, and have certain expectations on how people should behave, and yet behind closed doors are absolutely disgusting. And after a while, my excitement for this mystery dwindled, as alarm bells started ringing, and the penny finally dropped.

And everything came crashing down. What's happening on the island is so strongly alluded to before it's actually stated, that there can be no doubt. There are no words for the immensity of the dread and the sadness and the rage. It just comes down to who and when and for how long. And how - how on Earth could this be happening in such a small town. How?! So you go back to the main mystery of the body. Who is it? Who did it? How did they do it? And now there's a greediness to wanting to know these answers, a righteousness to this death, this murder, because although I didn't know who it was, I believed I knew what they did. I had so many theories of who the dead body was. I kept jumping from person to person, because Mayhew has written this book so fantastically, only giving certain information here and there, and sometimes those hints are just the assumptions of Leah or Viola, and they're not necessarily correct. It could be any of a number of people. My heart had broken and I was raging, and I needed to know who had died, and that they suffered. And then there's a twist. The biggest twist of all. Something absolutely no-one will see coming, because it's just impossible to. And my heart broke all over again. The truth, the truth of everything, is almost too much to bear. My rage intensified, and I just wanted to shout at these people, "Look! Look what you did!"

I want to touch on the Paganism and witchcraft in Impossible Causes. I didn't know about this side of the story originally, before starting, but I was so pleasantly surprised! It isn't a massive element of the story; we don't see a huge amount of what the Eldest Girls actually get up to. We just know they go to their stone circle, wearing old fashioned nightdresses, they cast circle, they invoke gods, and they cast spells. We don't know the details of those spells - what they are, nor what they're intention is - partly because if we know what and why they were casting spells, their reason for turning to witchcraft, it would spoil some of the mystery. We do find out, but we find out later. But it warmed my heart to see them discussing deosil and widdershins (clockwise and anti-clockwise), and the what and the how don't matter so much as the intent does. It's nor just kids having a laugh, they're serious about it, and they're respectful, and it's written about respectfully. There's also Margaritte, Leah's elderly next door neighbour who she visits for tarot readings every Tuesday evening, who has books and books about dreams, astrology, runes and pastlives, and so on. Margaritte is an outcast in this very religious community, and originally, the Eldest Girls and their antics are dismissed with derision as child's play, but unholy nonetheless. That is until things start to become more serious, and there's religious outrage and disgust that is reminiscent of the witch hunts of the past. As awful as it was, it was believable of the community of Lark; they wouldn't have reacted in any other way. I loved that Mayhew not only included Paganism and witchcraft, and treated it respectfully, but also this nod to the witch hunts and what innocent people suffered.

At intervals of the story, there are images of the Major Arcana tarot cards, which was just amazing! I loved how Mayhew used them to tell the story; each card related to a specific part of the story in some way, whether it was directly about the name of the card, like Death or Justice, or the themes of the card. As someone who is learning to read tarot cards, I really appreciated this, and the insight it gave me into what could be coming up, and then relating what I was reading to the card if it wasn't quite so obvious at first. This was just a brilliant addition to the story, and fantastic storytelling, because each card, in chronological order, told the story, really - or the story was written around the order of the cards and their names/themes. This was just so very clever, and I absolutely loved it!

Something else I also want to talk about, before I end this review, is the age category. I originally thought this was YA, because there's no mention of any protagonist other than Viola in the description I read. However, it's marketed as Mayhew's adult debut, and published by an adult imprint. When it comes to Leah's perspective, and occasionally the omnipresent narration, it does feel kind of more adult - not in regards to content, because YA covers similar topics, just the way it's written, the writing style for the adult voices. There are a few short sex scenes from Leah's perspective, and while not gratuitous or overly graphic, the writing of those scenes felt different to YA sex scenes, too. I think Mayhew does an absolutely fantastic job of switching from the YA feel of Viola's voice to the adult voices of Leah and the narrator. All of this is to answer the question, would teen readers want to read Impossible Causes? As a reader and a bookseller, I think this would probably be more appealing to older teens, but in my opinion, it's definitely a crossover novel, and I don't think it's necessarily "inappropriate" for teens. It really depends on the individual teen reader, what they like reading, and what they feel ready for - and whether they think they would enjoy the older voices, because of the different styles.

Impossible Causes is an absolutely incredible, but a very hard-hitting, unbearable story that ripped me to shreds. There is so much more I could say, so much more I want to discuss, but can't without spoiling the story. But it's such an important, powerful book, and I absolutely implore you to read it. This is one book I won't be forgetting in a very long time.

Thank you to Raven Books for the proof.

You might also like:

Sadie by Courtney Summers I Stop Somewhere by T. E. Carter What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler

Over to you graphic

What do you think about mysteries/thrillers that also have a hard hitting and emotional element? What are your thoughts on stories that are narrated by both teens and adults? Will you be reading Impossible Causes, or have you read it already? Let me know in the comments!

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