Review: Hannahwhere by John M. McIlveen

John M. McIlveen’s latest novel, Hannahwhere, is a complex, haunting tale that straddles that fine line between the real and the supernatural. Social worker Debbie Gillan finds herself drawn...

51VQ6zpv7-L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_John M. McIlveen’s latest novel, Hannahwhere, is a complex, haunting tale that straddles that fine line between the real and the supernatural. Social worker Debbie Gillan finds herself drawn to a child found abandoned and tossed in the street. As she’s lured further and further into Hannah’s strange existence, she discovers that the thin veil of reality is slowly slipping away. How much of this new “reality” is real? Will the truths revealed bring salvation or destruction?

McIlveen keenly draws a razor’s edge of “real” throughout Hannahwhere. The reader is initially immersed in the dark reality of the Amiel twins. Neglect and the inevitable violence that ensues are the norm for these little girls. They spend their days trying to “stay clear” of their mother’s boyfriend during his “getting ugly” periods. McIlveen skillfully paints a brutal picture without resorting to cheap violence. As the novel progresses, however, you feel the ground slipping away under your feet. The “real” becomes slightly “unreal” until you find yourself questioning everything. McIlveen has found that elusive balance that makes Gothic dark fiction so alluring.

The paranormal elements in Hannahwhere are blended wonderfully into a story of pain, abuse, and, in the end, hope. It’s easy to let the supernatural overtake a narrative and spin so far out that the story loses cohesion. McIlveen maintains a tight control over the plot, giving us a multi-layered, thematic tale. There are challenging issues here. Without giving away the ending, McIlveen explores the themes of revenge, family, and exploitation with complexity and depth. John M. McIlveen’s Hannahwhere is captivating and compelling. Highly recommended.

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Alex Scully is a historian of Irish Identity and the Victorian Era. Her research into the dusty tomes often intersects with the Gothic literature of the 1800s. There are dark secrets in the stories, poems, and novels of centuries past; secrets that have yet to be revealed to modern audiences. Yet the haunting charm and sinister fears that transcend time, so masterfully captured by the Gothic masters, live on in a new generation of writers. Our nightmares are not as far removed from the terrible undercurrents of Victorian society as we might want them to be. The past and present, side by side, are mirror images of the same ghastly face. All historians know one cannot forget the past. Nor can one ignore the present. Look them both in the eye and be afraid. Be very afraid.

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