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Raina: A Prequel to Jacqueline Willoughby

by Schuyler Randall

Rating: ***

Raina Willoughby and her Aunt Nancy are subjected to a brutal assault by Nancy’s co-worker, Dr James Posey. When justice fails to prevail due to Posey Snr’s wealth and connections, further tragedy strikes the Willoughby family. Despite seemingly able to cope, Raina is secretly in turmoil and harbours plans of vicious revenge on Dr Posey and all those she has perceived have wronged her…

Raina is an interesting book that provides for a curious read. It is written in present tense which, whilst lending a sense of immediacy to the narrative, does affect the pace as the reader is given fairly superfluous detail as Raina and others move through present time. The tense also lessens the effect of any dramatic tension. The second half of the book is certainly the stronger. In the beginning, the atmosphere is quite stilted and the prose has a detached quality; especially with dialogue. However, this gives the narrative a dreamlike, almost filmic quality which does begin to heighten the foreboding you start to feel in regard to Raina. Her demeanour and family life are so wonderfully lovely at certain stages in the book that you just know there is an element of façade here and I felt a sinister undercurrent. The plot is fairly straightforward and the early twist concerning Raina was neatly foreshadowed but that did not lessen the impact. I think the reveal involving Aunt Nancy was a good move; it does add another dimension to the plot and also possibly another reason for Raina’s later behaviour.

There is quite significant change in tone just before three-quarters through that takes the narrative down a nightmarish rabbit-hole. Raina develops into someone far removed from her earlier sweetly perfect persona and I was reminded of an automaton come to life with chilling intent. This descent into madness and horror combined with the almost stylised, deadpan prose make for a surreal reading experience that enhances Raina’s actions. The story is set in the late 1930s but aside from reference to The Wizard of Oz and Raina’s ubiquitous cloche hat, there is very little historical context and the novel could certainly have done with more.

Overall, an unconventional and strangely endearing read. Well worth a look.

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