The Tenth Girl: Slow read chapters 14-18

One of the difficulties with slow reads is that my interest slows too. I think, because I’m a writer, I am geared to be looking ahead all the time, and when I put the book down after a couple of chapters, my brain keeps working on it.

Part of me is trying to write the ending I expect.  Or the confrontations I’m imagining. Or the horrors. And then I have to pick up the book again, and it’s a little disorienting, because wasn’t I past that point??

But I think I’d have had some slow down with this book anyway, because the alternating chapters are getting to me. I’ve done alternating chapters in books and there’s always a point where you’ve finished with protag one’s POV, and protag two has… nothing really going on yet. But you can’t skip time to the next interesting moment in protag 2’s life because that leaves 1 out of whack, and yet your brain also tells you that you can’t skip the alternating chapter because that’s the rhythm you’ve established and the reader will be confused…

I am here to tell you SKIP THE BORING CHAPTER. Have two chapters in a row from protag 1; the book will not collapse from the breaking of the pattern.

I am still far more interested in Mavi’s segments than Angel’s. I don’t know what Angel’s situation is (still); is she a ghost? Is she dead and her spirit visiting the past? Is this her personal hell (for committing some unspecified act of violence) or is this a chance at redemption? Is she even really a ghost? Spirit/Specter/Other… I can’t shake myself of the feeling that Angel is a technological mystery not a magical one. So then I start thinking about Stuart Turton’s The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle where the (SPOILER!) whole endless time loop is a literal prison/punishment for criminals, where the possibility of parole is dependent on them preventing a crime. I’m not actually sure Angel is dead—she may have just been disconnected from her mind. Yet she needs to feed, which suggests some sort of biological component, yet the “food” is memory.

Hmm.

Too much mystery surrounding Angel and not enough answers. It’s distracting me and not in a good way. But that’s when I’ve stepped away from the book. When I’m actively reading it? Faring’s writing is pulling me along.

Chapter 14: Angel 2020-1400 

Wait, do Angel’s numbers correspond to chapters?? Hmm. Not evenly.  I tell you, these chapter numbers need to mean something or I’m going to be put out. Of course, other readers may already understand it and I’m just slow. If so, tell me! 

The school is rotting around them.  Not metaphorically.  I kind of love that. Yes, some of it is the age of the building and the lack of maintenance, and some of it is the encroaching dampness of the ice fields. But a lot of it seems to be castoff from the curse.

Have we talked about the curse on the school yet? No, probably not, because I’m not loving that general premise: The gist being that the local natives (imaginary Zapuche, not real-world Mapuche) cursed the European interlopers with evil spirits that must be satiated by the sacrifice of a girl (it’s always a girl, always a young girl, hint hint virgin, so that’s an eyeroll).

The last time they skipped the sacrifice, the residents of the school died. And now these new residents need to make a sacrifice and either don’t know about it, or are planning to sacrifice someone out of Mavi’s earshot.

I have issues with this premise. I don’t like the evil natives aspect. I don’t like that they screwed up their vengeance and made it too strong. I don’t like the sense the book gives that the Zapuche revenge for their decimation is disproportionate and that the Zapuche were wrong to lay down the curse. There’s a lot of discussion of savages, which is a nails-on-the-chalkboard word when it comes to the indigenous people of the Americas.

And of course, the house on cursed native land is just very, very familiar (also not in a good way).

Which leaves me with disliking the premise of the curse even as I like the effects of it. And the Others really are insanely creepy.

Back to Angel and oh yeah, the reason this chapter brought on the rant about the curse. Because Angel learns the last time the curse took over the school, the girls that were sacrificed—were the native servant’s girls—Zapuche girls.

To be fair, Angel goes “urgh” right alongside me. But she’s now on the hunt for the Tenth Girl, who she and Mavi have both decided is the little ghost girl who is not an Other.

She eavesdrops. She visits the “sick” girl, Sara, who sees Angel even in her ghostly invisible intangible form and declares as Dom did, you can not have me. Apparently, Sara’s eyes have been opened, but at what cost? She is not well at all and is refusing to eat or sleep.

Angel flees and runs into the ghost girl. The ghost girl is anomalous because she is visible to all, but is also obviously a ghost. She is not an Other, and Angel tells her Angel knows she’s the tenth girl.  (writer sleight of hand? Or is this actually true and not just what Angel believes. I’m leaning toward Mavi being the tenth girl somehow.) The ghost girl doesn’t give Angel the time of day, telling her she won’t talk to her kind, before lunging out a window and falling into the icy craters below. She’ll be back.

Chapter 15: Mavi

Problems continue to plague the school. It’s freezing cold and the food has gone to hell—no more gourmet plates for anyone there. Mr. Lamb has suffered a heart attack outside and been brought in to recover. Sara has supposedly recovered and is back in Mavi’s class, but her favorite student, Michelle, is now ill and absent.

And Sara… well, Sara is not herself. She is cruel, crass, and terrifying, and the lesson is abruptly ended.

Mavi goes to see Michelle. Michelle worries her and tells her “When I’m awake I feel this ice in my bones. It’s easier to sleep but I don’t get any rest when I do. I—I go to this… place… It shines like scales and there are other people there. She’s okay, Mavi,” she whispers, a weak grin spreading across her face.

So I’m still stuck in SF territory in my head, and given Sara’s abrupt change coupled with her previous terror of sleep and not being taken… I am almost wondering if this is some sort of process to hollow the girls out and put new minds in. A technological possession factory, processing souls into the past for some odd reason? I don’t have any clue; it’s just where my mind is going. The Others feed on memory, after all.

Mavi is still at odds with Yesi, ostensibly over Mavi’s “conspiracy” thinking, but seems to be more about her friendship with Dom(Angel). I wonder what hell Dom put Yesi through before Angel took over his body.

Dr. Molina tells Mavi that the girls are dreaming of men coming to them in the night, touching them, and giving them illness. Mavi and Yesi are both appalled, but Molina thinks it’s the virus coupled with group hysteria. Mavi and Yesi both think that Molina should insist on sending the girls home. As she is about to agree, Molina is (to the reader’s eyes) possessed by an Other, who dismisses all concern and leaves a welt on Mavi’s wrist when she touches her.

Furiously unhappy and scared, Mavi goes to dinner, and Dom/Angel smiles at her, which makes her decide to stay. Oops, did you mean that to happen, Angel? She would be better off fleeing.

Chapter 16: Angel 2020-1600

Angel argues with Charon about the tenth girl. He tells her she couldn’t have seen a tenth little girl. Then they argue about Angel’s motivations. Angel makes more vague allusions to her past.

Angel becomes Mavi’s confidant about the Others and the ghost girl. “Dom” tells Mavi he saw the girl too. Mavi tells Dom about the night her mother was taken which is good, except I already knew the big picture, and the details, while nice, don’t really deepen the issue. I’d rather have heard about Angel’s past which is being kept for some grand reveal that, at this point, will probably fall a little flat.

Obviously, her beloved brother Rob died, probably through foul play, potentially at her brother-in-law’s hands, potentially at her own. Seems more likely to be Angel’s if she feels this much shame over it.  Really the big picture moment here is that Angel and Mavi are united in a cause: to help the girls.

Chapter 17: Mavi

Mavi visits Lamb and they discuss ghosts over brandy. Later, Mavi and Dom sneak out of their rooms in the night to visit Michelle’s sick room. Mavi is partially reassured that she’s sleeping peacefully, smiling in her sleep.

Mavi thinks about souls and bodies and how in the end, the bodily features mean nothing at all, which makes me think I might be on the right track with possessing spirits taking full ownership of the bodies in some other space. Other space? Charon ferrying the malevolent dead spirits back into the living bodies? To what purpose?

Also Mavi gets a clue that she doesn’t understand at the moment: a glow that suffuses Dom’s skin, a febrile touch of his hand, hotter than normal (shades of Dr. Molina?) a sign that Angel is in residence?

On their way back to their rooms, an Other briefly possesses Mavi, walking her body along. A lot of medical imagery here: pincer, rubber glove, oculus (also a pop culture VR system). No wonder I keep thinking SF instead of ghosts.

Mavi shakes them off with Angel’s help, and is horrified. The Others are no longer a theory to her, but a painful, undeniable reality. In her relief, she kisses “Dom”, who tells her she’s drunk and sends her to bed. I really need to think of a way to describe Angel as Dom and Dom on his own. Original Dom? Angel!Dom? Which just looks like a tag on Ao3.

Chapter 18: Angel 2020-1800

Angel is appalled by Mavi’s possession, not just on Mavi’s behalf but witnessing the process from the outside, so to speak.

And that’s really it for the plot, so we finally, finally get another specific piece of Angel’s past. A scene with her mother, drunk after a terrible case where a man killed a little girl. Apparently her mother is in some sort of social service or criminal justice job. I can’t recall if I knew what her job was before.

But somehow this memory prompts Angel to decide to confess who/what she is to Mavi. Later.

Overall, kind of a rough few chapters. I adored Mavi being possessed. I really liked her thoughts on flesh/soul, and while I complained about already knowing how her mother was taken by the government, I loved Mavi’s realization that her mother’s “last words” had been carefully composed for just this occasion.

About halfway through, but I’m definitely going to have to pick up the pace! The book is due back to the library on the 22nd!

The Tenth Girl: Slow read chapters 14-18

The Tenth Girl–Slow Read Chapters 8-11

Chapter 8: Angel 2020-300

This is a game changing chapter. Angel finds Dom mutilating pictures of Mavi, and in her attempts to stop him, finds herself inside him. Possessing him. Exciting!

Chapter 9: Mavi

Angel’s possession of Dom’s body is apparently not a one-off. “Dom” seeks out Mavi and they begin a flirty friendship with multiple secret rendezvous. This can’t end well. Sooner or later, Angel won’t be piloting Dom when Mavi ends up alone with him. Really, this is nothing but trauma waiting to happen. At best, it’s hurt feelings; at worst… well, it’s like Angel is training the deer to approach the hunter.

On the school side, Mavi finally gets the student files from Morency, and it’s a series of tragedies thrown into contrast with the earlier personal essays that barely touched on the realities of their lives. Mavi begins to make inroads with the students—commiserating with Lucinda over her dying mom. And after Michelle has a near-fatal accident when something unseen pushes her on one of the school’s icy, rocky paths, Mavi makes a project of her. Keeping an eye on her, the girl who reminds her of her classmate murdered by her mother’s guerilla fighters.

That’s also not going to end badly.

Chapter 10: Angel 2020-1000

Okay, so first off, I obviously have no idea what those numbers refer to, since it jumps from 300 to 1000. I will have to wait for illumination.

Angel is really doing the heavy lifting regarding the Others and the actual events happening in the school. She’s the one who can see the packs of slobbering Others feasting on the girls. She’s the one who can see that as the ice season progresses, more and more Others arrive. And Angel is the one who has heard the truth about the curse laid on the school: that it can be mitigated each generation by the sacrifice of (of course) a young girl.

In the meantime, things are getting worse. Angel sees the Others possessing the students in a gruesome scene of exaggerated human actions. And she sees the teacher Mrs Hawk in sleep paralysis, aware of and horrified by the Others feeding on her. 

It’s a grim little chapter, full of horror, and the only light spot is her moment with Mavi—which involves them talking about such cheerful things as dead relatives and the nature of ghosts.

Chapter 11: Mavi

Mrs. Hawk abandons ship and flees. Though there is a lot of concern about how, exactly, she left, but Morency and Carmela aren’t discussing it. Also, one of the students—Sara—is sick from the Others’ attentions. Carmela’s fragile mental state becomes a little clearer when Mr. Lamb has a serious case of foot in mouth and suggests one of these girls might be a successor to Carmela’s legacy.

And Mavi finally has “proof” that something very wrong is going on at the school, besides bad feelings, nightmares, when a ghost girl shows up in her room. A pre-teen, who resembles Domenico. And she’s a new anomaly in the book: not whatever Angel is, not an other, but a previous (presumably) victim of the curse. She tells Mavi about the Others, and that Sara’s not sick, but drained. She tells Mavi she should leave and take all the staff and students with her. But Mavi, in the best traditions of horror book protagonists, has a slew of reasons to stay.

But Mavi is now stirred and worried. Yesi is no help, because she’s caught up in the book she’s writing. She talks to Dom. And “Dom” confirms that Mavi didn’t have a nightmare and that Sara doesn’t have a virus.

So she’s even more worried at the end of her chapter.

It’s getting harder to keep myself to a couple chapters at a time.

The Tenth Girl–Slow Read Chapters 8-11

The Tenth Girl Slow Read chapters 6 & 7

I can’t believe I’ve gotten this far without saying, OMG this cover! I love it so much. It may be what first piqued my interest: the school with its deep roots that are somehow rootless anyway. Birds flying above and below, and up close, the background is full of computer coding/gibberish. And all of it in the cool blue of fracturing ice. It’s just excellent. And designed by Jeff Miller, it looks like.

The downside to slow, deliberate reading is that I am easily distracted. By pandemic. By work. By my own glitchy brain. Apparently, my reading style is either “All at once, now now now!” or “huh, I know I was reading something, wonder what it was, oh well,” and picking up a different book* to burn through.

*btw Michelle Birkby’s The House at Baker Street is a good read for those of us who adore Sherlockiana: this case is a mystery solved by the team of Mrs. Hudson and Mary Watson. The tone is spot on, the mystery is gripping, the characters feel well fleshed out, yet recognizable as the characters Conan Doyle created. Holmes and Watson are nicely themselves even if they’re mostly swept off the page. I will definitely read more books by Birkby. This book was right up there with Lyndsay Faye’s The Whole Art of Detection.

Anyway, back to The Tenth Girl.

Chapter 6: Angel 2020-200 : Angel shows up at the breakfast, realizes that she is the only ghostly presence there, and takes the opportunity to eavesdrop on all sorts of conversations. As a method of giving the reader information we weren’t privy to from Mavi’s POV, it’s excellent.

Again, we get the invocation of the mysterious, increasingly ominous “Tenth Girl”—this time when Morency (the unpleasant head of household with her baseless grudge against Mavi) brings the girl up to Carmela as a bad idea–part of Carmela’s greater cause.

We learn more of Angel’s past; we meet her sweet-natured younger brother Rob, her older, arrogant half-sister Liese, the jerk that Liese married. It’s a family disaster waiting to happen, and if Angel’s committed some terrible act of violence, I have a candidate I’m willing to nominate to be her victim.

As an aside, I think this is why I’m not as hooked into her character as I am Mavi’s. These disasters are already in Angel’s past. They’ll be revealed to us, but they’re already done. Mavi’s problems, however, are currently happening which gives them an urgency. Of course, really, Angel’s story is the current one and Mavi is in 1978? I don’t know. My brain persists in thinking that Mavi is current and Angel is the past. Books with characters from two times are always tricky for me. The last one I read that worked well for me was Simone St. James’ The Sun Down Motel.

Unsettled by her memories, Angel decides to teach Mavi’s bratty students (who remind her of her own family bullies) a lesson by haunting them. Some vicious, strong Others nearly drop a roof on the girls. Angel sees the Others and sparks out—the ghost version of blacking out? Or did the Others yank her life energy away from her?

As much as I am not sold on Angel’s character, I am 100% sold on Faring’s writing. This opening section has so much wonderful imagery in it that it’s just flat-out pleasurable to read. There is Angel’s musing that food to her is “now as edible as crumbling plaster moldings”, or the alarmed quiver that strikes her “jelly-thick as an electric eel”, or the amazingly predatory description of Carmela de Vaccaro’s mouth as she withholds information from her loyal minion.

Faring has a way with making villains super-unlikable with one or two lines. First, I hated Domenico de Vaccaro for mocking Mavi’s appetite, and now I hate Angel’s brother-in-law. Not only does he smack Angel around, but he tells her to “learn your place, kid” and holds gratitude over two orphans’ heads. It’s an economic trifecta of terrible.

I’m trying to figure out what the numbers on Angel’s chapters represent. The first one was 2020-0, the second was 2020-100, and this one is 2020-200. So presumably the year plus…? Right now the tag numbers remind me of class levels. Basic haunting, haunting 101, midlevel haunting…

Chapter 7: Mavi, Argentina, March 1978. Mavi meets up with sympathetic fellow teachers at lunch. She and Yesi play a very similar game to the mean-spirited students. Instead of playing “What might have become of the tenth girl, Miss Quercia?”, Mavi and Yesi play, “What is Carmela’s real motive for opening this horrifically isolated school?”

But their game lacks viciousness—they don’t intend their target to hear it, and their imaginings are more absurd than violent.

At the core though, it’s still the same game. Another teacher—Mole, as Yesi dubs her—flattens the fun by giving telling them Carmela has lost her daughter to an unnamed illness and has retreated from the world to mourn.

 Mavi grades her students’ English essays and the reader gets snippets of five of them; it’s quickly clear that there is a lot of unpleasant stuff going on in her students’ home lives. Plus, the cracks are beginning to show in the de Vaccaro family façade: Carmela treats Morency with casual contempt, despite her devotion, belittles her in front of the school as head of household and a third-generation family servant. For Morency, who prides herself as a partner, this is cruel. Domenico has nothing to do and spends most of his time stoned and hateful.

At dinner, Mavi presses for answers on the tenth girl and gets shut down by the loyal, aggressive Morency. But Carmela says she’s been ill and will arrive shortly. Given this in conjunction with Carmela’s dead daughter, I find myself wondering if the Tenth Girl is Carmela’s daughter. In the world of haunted houses and time ghosts that feed off the past living, why not?

Mavi, for reasons that elude me and feel a little contrived, decides to follow Domenico to his rooms (even though he’s been nothing but hateful to her and any sensible girl would treat him like a scorpion and avoid him). But it’s great from a plot point because Domenico has secrets and troubles like whoa.

He seems aware that he’s being watched and followed and says:

“Don’t follow me. Don’t touch me.” …..

“I know what you are, and you disgust me,” he says, “You’re hollow at the core. But having me won’t help you. I’m nothing but a bad memory given shape by a disgruntled God.”

And he shuts the door.

p. 105

And oh Domenico, there’s a lot to unpack in his little rant. It feels like he’s talking to the ghosts, more than to Mavi—though poor Mavi takes it personally. Apparently Domenico has a strange self-image. It’s one thing to have a bad self-image, to consider yourself a mistake or an abomination or whatever terrible thing we might label ourselves. But a bad memory? That’s a strange label to apply. I can’t wait to see what’s going on with him. That’s the plus of him being so unlikable; I’m interested in his situation, but not concerned.

Mavi slinks off to seek solace with Yesi, but Yesi is working. Mavi ends up lost in her own memories: revisiting the moment when she learned that her mother and her mother’s guerillas were responsible for the death of one of Mavi’s classmates— a young girl who resembles one of her current students.  Yet another type of horror; the emotional haunting of a bad memory constantly revived by a young girl who can have nothing to do with the original event.

So that’s chapter 6 & 7. I’ll be honest, I’m a little further ahead than that, but I don’t want these slow read accounts to be endlessly long. But there are some strange changes ahead to discuss!

The Tenth Girl Slow Read chapters 6 & 7

The Tenth Girl Slow Read: chapters 4 & 5

So obviously, I should say, SPOILERS. This isn’t a review, but a read along, and appreciation (so far!). That means I’m going to talk about the events with varying levels of details.

That out of the way, let’s talk about chapters four and five!

Previously.

Chapter four brings us Angel’s POV again, and I’m assuming at this point we’ll get alternating viewpoints until the end.  But straight off the bat, we learn two things: Angel is in a sort of hell space spiritually after an act of violence—on an undisclosed someone, maybe herself? (There’s something about the phrase “a moment of violence by my own hand” that is hard to parse.) And also? She’s there to feed on the living people at the school. As Charon says, “You’ve got to suck one of the meat bags bone-dry before you jet out of here for the night. You’ve got to shuck its pretty little skull like a corncob.”

Eek!

As an aside, Charon makes me feel like one of those annoying reviewers who likes to leave one sentence reviews on goodreads that say things like, “This book had too much swearing in it, I couldn’t finish it.” Or worse! The reviewer who says something along the lines of “Oh, the writer shows obvious skill, ’tis a pity she can’t refrain from using such foul language.” It always makes me roll my eyes and grit my teeth at the same time.

That said, Charon really does have a foul tongue, and it’s strident against Mavi’s restrained voice. Jarring, still. I’ll get used to it. I think it’s not actually the swearing; it’s the hostility he seems to emanate. He makes me nervous. Which, I suppose is the point.

The writing is, as before, really precise and effective.

I shouldn’t call her that [ghostfucker]. I shouldn’t. She’s Yesi. … But I know it would be easier to feed if I branded her as one single thing and disconnected—choosing simplicity of thought over curiosity in the complexity of human nature. The less aware I am of her nooks and curves—the more I view her as a paper cutout of a human being—the easier it is to flatten her into nothing, all for my agenda. Flick—there goes the paper doll, smoothed to nothing at all. I’ve been the paper cutout before. I guess now I’m the flicker.

p. 57, The Tenth Girl

Nice psychology on the page, excellent imagery, and oh that little twist of being a flicker—both the act of careless dismissal, and the flicker of light that brings ghosts to mind.  Love it.

And things get worse. Angel goes to feed and sees that Yesi’s already being fed on. Like a buffet, the Others are swarming Yesi. It’s creepy as hell.  Good job, ghost story! You made my skin crawl.

We also see that the Others can steal the stolen energy from Angel, even as she’s stealing it from Yesi. It’s a whole horrible parasitic sort of creepiness. The chapter ends with Angel slipping into Mavi’s room to watch her sleep. There are suggestions that Angel knows Mavi’s future, but whether it’s just the near future of being fed on by spectral scavengers, or whether Angel actually knows Mavi’s personal history is not yet clear. Either way, Mavi, unlike poor Yesi, sleeps peacefully and unmolested.

Chapter five is hard on poor Mavi. It starts auspiciously enough–a well-laif banquet, sunlight, friendly faces of fellow teachers (and weirdos)–but it plummets quickly. On her problem-riddled arrival, a young man had looked out the window, seen her stranded outside, and sneered at her. Now, she learns that he is Domenico de Vaccaro, the spoiled son of the school’s owner, and that he’s even more horrible than she thought. His mother, Carmela, isn’t much better–abstractly menacing, superficially polite, and yet….

Here, we get the tenth girl of the title. Carmela tells Mavi she will have ten girls in class, but only nine arrive (nearly half an hour late, lacking all respect). When Mavi asks about the remaining girl, the nine girls tell mocking, contradictory stories about where the girl is: some rude, some violent, all unkind. Mavi gives up, more worried about another revelation: she was told the students were novice English speakers; instead, they’re at the same skill level she is. And she’s going to have to teach them. There’s another weird type of horror for you–the “oh god, my imposter syndrome is actually true!”

A bad start for Mavi, but a great chapter for me, reading this.

These few chapters in, and I have to say, I definitely enjoy Mavi’s chapters. She’s so sympathetic. I’m not sure how I feel about Angel, yet. Maybe it’s that Mavi’s fears and problems are so concrete: she needs this job, the students are trouble, the whole set up is trouble, yet she came from worse, so she won’t walk away. Mavi is the classic hero of the haunted house novel—the one who stays because they lack the resources to go elsewhere. Angel? She’s sympathetic, but also morally weak, and her world is much more shapeless than Mavi’s. A ghost world for a time ghost girl.

I am having some trouble keeping myself to a couple of chapters at a time. But I will persevere! For one thing, I’m really enjoying thinking about each chapter after reading it, instead of blindly rushing forward on a wave of story emotion.

The Tenth Girl Slow Read: chapters 4 & 5

Slow and Steady: Reading The Tenth Girl

One of the downsides of being an aggressively voracious reader is that you tend to read quickly. Words tend to flow in a certain way, after all, and so it’s too easy for me to grab the important bits of a sentence and move on. It’s not quite skimming, but it’s a lot like gulping a meal: you can lose the taste even if you still get the nutrition.

So I am going to experiment with deliberately slowing down. I have The Tenth Girl by Sara Faring in my hands. (thank you public library!) For whatever reason, I’ve been wanting to read this book for a while. But I am not going to read it in one sitting or even one day. I am going to read it a few chapters at a time–for one thing, the writing deserves it. For another, this book is going to be a different read than I expected. The blurb made it seem like a fairly straight-forward haunted house saga. It’s not.

To keep myself honest about not rushing through, I’m going to blog the chapters piecemeal.

There’s a prologue. I have mixed feelings about prologues. Sometimes they just feel like the equivalent of cold opens on formulaic tv shows. This is especially true of the serial killer thriller genre. I always skip those prologues. I also skip a lot of the YE OLDE EPIC FANTASY prologues where the events take place thousands of years before and involve a prophecy. I’m certain I’ll hear about them again.

But the prologue to The Tenth Girl is an elegant, enjoyable little snippet. Is it necessary? Not strictly so, I don’t think. It mostly just tells us that there’s a school that was shuttered and is now opening again. But it’s got lovely original feeling details – the giant-handed matriarch who eats a dozen raw eggs every morning, the school on a shelf of rock where ice fields meet salt mountains – it’s all evocative. And it’s short! I liked it, and it made me relax into the book. The author, it seems to say, knows what she’s doing with her words.

Chapter one introduces us to Mavi, the main character (according to the blurb) and her dire straits. And they are dire! Her mother one of los desparecidos, a citizen abducted and murdered by her own government. Mavi is being sought. She’s 18 and effectively friendless, so she lies and takes a job as the 20-something English teacher at the reopening Vaccaro school. Here, again, Faring show us the tone of the book. Matters, she shows us, are going to be endlessly difficult. Mavi is dropped off at the wrong dock, climbing the wrong steps, arriving unnoticed, and unwelcomed. Trapped outside the school. We haven’t even gotten to the haunting and here are three separate horror stories: the government turning on its own, turning citizen against citizen; the horror of unexpected loss, her mother vanished with no hope remaining; and the weird nightmarish sensation of being locked out and alone.

Even when she gets inside, she faces the lesser conflict of an unsympathetic administrator, and is sent to bed hungry–a childish punishment for an adult. Her introduction to the school is nightmarish even before the atmosphere of the house kicks in. I love it! The writing is lovely. So many little perfect details, and Mavi’s personality shining through.

“…The door is an iron wall as impenetrable as a bank vault, and the door knocker is shaped like an unsmiling woman’s head–she’s understandably upset, I suppose, that visitors will slam her head for all eternity. I paste a jagged, fake smile on my face and knock with her. Then knock again. Politely.

… I chuck pebbles at the carious windows as the gargoyles chuckle at me; they know I’m a runner with nowhere to run to, pitiful prey.

It’s the truth: …my safe havens only exist in memory, and my memory’s poor, a winding montage of half-repressed sights and smells, pulled from a life I feel no ownership of. But I better kill that thought. If I think about my past too long, my mind unravels.”

The Tenth Girl, p 8-9

Then comes chapter two, and suddenly this is a very different book than I thought it was. We jump from Mavi in 1978 to Angel in 2020-0, though she’s more spirit than flesh and she’s a witness to Mavi’s arrival in 1978. We’re getting topsy-turvy with time. Angel is old and the United States is a wreck and global warming has wiped away the Patagonian ice sheets (and presumably the school perched before them.) Angel says she’s old but she sounds like a younger woman, which kind of bugs me, but I’ll see how it plays out. Angel is very full of pop culture references – whitewalkers, RPGs, He-who-must-not-be-named.

She flits through the past like a mostly-benign ghost, but is conscious of Others lingering malignantly in the shadows. Another young teacher at the school senses her, and she flees–afraid that Yesi won’t be rightfully afraid of the Others if she interacts with Angel.

Angel is a conundrum. While Mavi seems to have trauma making her mental state somewhat chaotic, Angel seems to be more unreliable. Even her name is fractured. She’s Angel, calls herself El, remembers her mother speaking to her as “Maria Eugenia”. Those could all be her names, but as a reader, I’m always on the lookout for a character with multiple names. They’re usually complex.

So, yeah, ghost novel, with time-traveling spirits guided by Charon to poke around in an old school that has, actually, been cursed. That’s new!

I allowed myself one more chapter after the surprise of chapter two. I wanted to see if I was going to get another POV or what. But we’re back to Mavi and her troubles. More of her traumatic past is revealed–and an ideological rift between her and her mother who was using her position as a professor to draft students to her guerilla cause. Even if the cause is just, there’s something Mavi finds unethical about adding to their ranks from the young students.

Mavi meets Yesi who shows her where the snack foods are and gives her the low down on the scene. Prosaic information but delivered in an appropriately atmospheric way. Anyway, I can set the book down for the night, because yay, Mavi made a friend.

Slow and Steady: Reading The Tenth Girl

Book Review: The Affair of the Mysterious Letter 

A Decadent Affair: A Review of The Affair of the Mysterious Letter

Over at Spec Chic!  The short take: if you like weird and wild Sherlock Holmes styled fantasies… you’ll like this.

I purchased it in ebook form, but I’m going to buy a dead tree copy just so I have one that I can press on friends.

Definitely recommended.

Book Review: The Affair of the Mysterious Letter