Ghostly girls, a creepy cradle, and whispers from hidden passageways would be enough to make most people leave their family home. Regardless of any personal or generational connection to the place, an average person would be put off by putrid smells or the continual feeling of someone watching over them while they slept. Sissy and Ava Hush, of Gerard Collins’s new novel The Hush Sisters, are definitely not most people.
Quiet, reserved, and happy to spend her time alone, Sissy Hush finds comfort in the dark. Though she doesn’t always understand why she is connected to their haunted family home in a way her sister Ava is not. Boisterous, dramatic, and living a tumultuous but lonely life in Toronto, Ava is vocal about her hatred of the Hush house. She wants to sell the property and leave Newfoundland with cash in hand. While the sisters have very different feelings about the place, they remain connected to and by its spectres and its secrets.
This core tension around the fate of the Hush home guides the narrative, but Collins offers no simple domestic drama. In fact, The Hush Sisters is tricky to effectively synopsize, but it’s safe to say that the deaths of their fragile mother and their brutal father cause the sisters to reflect on their lives. They reckon with difficult memories, struggle to reconnect after years apart, and confront both past and present mysteries as they unfurl—penetrating and deliberate—like a fantastical fog.
Collins is skilled at crafting descriptive yet off-putting prose (in a good way), and his character development draws readers in. Sissy is particularly compelling. Her compounding worries align with an emerging sense of self-awareness, and a new love interest from out of town shakes things up even further. She reaches out for answers and connection as the novel moves forward, and with pain and horror comes unexpected clarity.
Just as the characters develop in interesting ways, so too is the Hush family house wonderfully rendered. A dilapidated Victorian manor of the best kind, lies and shame mix like a disease and rest in the veins of the walls or rot in “the bowels of the house” where Sissy spends her time. “Castle Hush” as Ava calls is, “rises up from the dark landscape like some grotesque monstrosity.” It is the locus of the darkness in the family and Collins paints an effective picture of its power. The mysterious past and jittery present are all impacted by different spaces—like the garden, the baby’s room, or the basement—and haunted by different kinds of presences.
At times, the various threads can be hard to follow or become disconnected. I found myself needing to know more about certain characters (like the eccentric and loving uncle, Cotton Hush) or curious about conflicting details. These discrepancies may frustrate readers looking for a tidy mystery to solve, but in the end I considered them to be part of the novel’s atmosphere. A sentiment toward obscurity is made clear by Sissy in the opening pages. She is “confused about what was solid, what was imaginary”, and notes that “more and more, she was getting used to not knowing everything.”
The novel draws readers in and makes us feel off-kilter, simultaneously intriguing and repelling while building curiosity and momentum. With suspense and séances, ominous gardens and hidden staircases, creepy portraits and eruptions of Great Big Sea from empty rooms, The Hush Sisters has all the tenets of Newfoundland Gothic saga that will grip readers from the beginning.
About the author: Gerard Collins is a Newfoundland writer whose first novel, Finton Moon, was nominated for the International Dublin Literary Award and won the Percy Janes First Novel Award. His short-story collection, Moonlight Sketches, won the NL Book Award, and his stories have been published widely in journals and anthologies. He lives in southern New Brunswick.
- Paperback : 312 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1550818414
- ISBN-13 : 978-1550818413
- Publisher : Breakwater Books (Oct. 5 2020)
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Gemma Marr (she/her) was born and raised in rural New Brunswick. After over a decade away, she is excited to return to the province to teach in the Department of Humanities and Languages at the University of New Brunswick Saint John. Her research focuses on the intersections of place, gender, and sexuality in Atlantic Canadian literature and culture. She is an avid reader and writer who enjoys books from a range of genres and styles.