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Hold My Place

by Cassondra Windwalker

Rating: ****

Sigrun, a librarian and lover of all things Gothic, shouldn’t be attracted to suave, chiselled-featured, chef Edgar; but she is and he to her. What starts as a chaste meeting of minds develops into an all-consuming relationship and marriage. But where is Edgar getting his money from, and what exactly happened to cause the deaths of his ex-wife and previous two lovers?...

Hold My Place is both a conventional love story and ghost story told in a beautifully unconventional way. It’s a novella, but packs an awful lot in, cleverly crossing through genres to bring the reader the final twist.

The book begins with a Prologue, which effectively signposts where the narrative will go, but the journey to get there is intriguing, unnerving, and written in articulate, polished prose that capably explores the depths of human obsessive emotion.

Both Sigrun and Edgar are complex characters. Sigrun begins the novel slightly over-confident and, at times, she is unlikeable although her voice is unashamedly honest and self-aware. The reader is given scant backstory and, on the whole, it works, stripping her back to the fierce persona she hides behind, and bringing her relationship with Edgar into sharp focus.

However, as the novel progresses, Sigrun begins to move away from her goth trappings and ideologies as she begins to both question and, to a certain extent, lose this identity. This shift is dramatic but it’s written convincingly and compellingly.

Towards the end of the novel, as she delves further into the box containing memorabilia from Edgar’s past loves, the intensity of her internal wrangling seems to directly appeal to the reader, taking them into her confidence in a chatty, intimate way which is unsettling and makes the reader begin to question if she is a reliable narrator.

Edgar begins the story suitably smooth and enigmatic, almost a prototype. But this ambiguity is clever as he hides in plain sight and the reader cannot quite fathom him. Is he just a lonely, old romantic or a sinister Svengali character?

Evan, Sigrun’s friend and colleague at the library, functions as a warning bell for both reader and Sigrun and one which she ignores. His hurt at Sigrun’s behaviour is palpable and I wonder if he could have been utilized a little more.

Notwithstanding, the nucleus of the book is the dynamic between Edgar and Sigrun which swells in toxicity, unanswered questions, and sexual gluttony. It’s an unhealthy, isolating, and suffocating relationship and its dark energy is intensified by increasing reference to Sigrun’s goth clothing and day of the dead aesthetic which makes her volte face all the more striking.

Hold My Place is set against the backdrop of the pandemic and this adds to the growing unease and foreboding without overshadowing and also, makes the narrative feels contemporary, relevant, and fresh. Nonetheless, I did make a note that the novel began to strongly remind me of a deconstructed version of Du Maurier’s, Rebecca whom Ms. Windwalker gives a nod to in her acknowledgments. Hold My Place definitely has that shadowy, supernatural prescience, and the nagging, creeping fear that something is really not right.

Hold My Place is a gripping and disconcerting novella that proves hard to put down. Highly recommended.

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