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You Let Me In by Camilla Bruce review – a fairytale with a twist | Books


At first glance, this smart, creepy fairy story has a familiar premise: the one in which a character blames her misfortune or misdeeds on supernatural forces. Typically by the end of such stories the character is proved either right or delusional. Camilla Bruce, though, is up to something different.

The twisted narrative, left behind by romantic novelist Cassandra Tipp following her apparent disappearance, is addressed to Cassandra’s niece and nephew, who are set to inherit her considerable fortune on the condition that they read her tale to its end. “I was never a good girl,” she writes near the outset. “Some of us are just born wrong.” Society thinks Cassandra is mad and bad, and she doesn’t argue with that: she might well be.

Different versions of the author’s life are proposed. In one, her disaffected younger self is possessed by a vampiric entity named Pepper-Man, who makes a home with others of his fairy kind in a burial mound in nearby woods. Pepper-Man spends his time causing minor household mischief, for which Cassandra is blamed, and lasciviously drinking her blood. He graduates to identity theft of the most chilling variety.

In another, murkier version of Cassandra’s life, the non-supernatural but even more monstrous spectre of domestic abuse and brutal murder holds sway. A browbeating mother, a distant father, an insufferable sister and a ghostly brother all have parts to play, as do a psychiatrist and the police. What makes this side of Cassandra’s story more frightening than the one in which Pepper-Man devours hearts is that the acts and identities of the perpetrators are never spelled out. But the hints offered along the way, including gifts of contrition sometimes left behind, reveal just enough.

Elegant sentences add to the pleasure of You Let Me In: glittering and menacing, they perfectly evoke their subject matter. One badly shaken character admits that he too can see fairies, and asks Cassandra what they are. “‘They are nothing,’ I told him. ‘Nothing we can define. They live in the cracks and narrow spaces, in between day and night. They are twilight people. Not quite dead, not quite alive.’” But oh, so vivid, and like Bruce’s novel, so deliciously terrifying.

You Let Me In is published by Bantam.

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