Dunvegan School for Girls has been closed for many years. Converted into a family home, the teachers and students are long gone. But they left something behind… Sophie arrives at the old schoolhouse to spend the summer with her cousins. Brooding Cameron with his scarred hand, strange Lillias with a fear of bones and Piper, who seems just a bit too good to be true. And then there’s her other cousin. The girl with a room full of antique dolls. The girl that shouldn’t be there. The girl that died.
Frozen Charlotte by Alex Bell was a deliciously creepy novel, and the perfect October read!
The story is narrated by Sophie, who goes to stay with her step-cousins on the Isle of Skye for the summer. Sophie’s in a bad place at the beginning of her trip, because she’s just lost her best friend Jay, and is convinced that his death had something to do with the Ouija Board app they were messing around with on the night he died…
Sophie goes to Skye in search of answers, because the spirit she and Jay were trying to communicate with through the app was her cousin Rebecca Craig, who died there when she was seven. Could Sophie and Jay’s actions have awakened a vengeful Rebecca? Is she the reason Jay is dead? And what really happened on the night Rebecca died?
From the moment Sophie arrives on Skye, it becomes obvious that the Craig family are in an unnatural state of suspension – that none of them have been able to move on from Rebecca’s death all those years ago. All of the family members give the impression of being maladjusted, stunted, like plants that haven’t seen the light in a long time, and it’s clear her death is the event which has held them all back:
From Uncle James with his paranoia about keeping the gate closed (because Rebecca fell to her death when she wandered out and over the edge of a cliff), to surly Cameron, prone to unpredictable bouts of violent behaviour… From sweet, smiling Piper, who likes to wear her dead sister’s creepy ‘Frozen Charlotte’ dolls in a string around her neck, to disturbed little Lilias, who was born after her sister’s death, yet claims she can see Rebecca playing out in the garden. All in all, there’s something not-quite-right about the Craig family. Even their parrot, Dark Tom, likes to screech out murdery catch-phrases in the middle of the night!
The family live in a remote location, up in an old school-house on the cliffs (which locals believe has been the site of several other suspicious accidents, besides Rebecca Craig’s, in its time), and they don’t seem to have much contact with other people besides one another. Because of this isolation, their relationships with their home and with each other feel weirdly claustrophobic – like they’re all trapped, desperate to get out, yet unable to express their feelings freely and naturally – to let their true colours show. There always seems to be something dark simmering beneath every word spoken – something which could boil over at any second. There are plenty of odd things going on in the Craig household, but a large number of them revolve around the strange behaviour of the family themselves, and the secrets they are each keeping. I don’t want to give anything away, but I found most of the characters extremely unsettling, which I think is a great strength in this genre… you don’t read horror for a relaxing and comforting ride with a predictable bunch of people!
The centre-point of creepiness in the novel is the ‘Frozen Charlotte’ dolls, which Rebecca used to play with as a little girl. The idea behind the dolls is that they’re based on a folk ballad called ‘Fair Charlotte’ about a girl who froze to death because she refused to wear a coat over her pretty dress on a sleigh ride. The dolls are made of china, in a chalky white colour, to represent her frozen body. More than a little macabre for a children’s toy! These dolls are a real thing (I Googled them), and this is what they look like:
Creepy much?! Most of the ones on Google Images are sans the aforementioned pretty dress, and are stark naked, which in my opinion makes them even creepier.
The dolls, like Rebecca, are a huge fascination for Sophie, because they appear to be everywhere… strung together in Piper’s sinister necklace, lying side by side in the glass cabinet in Rebecca’s old room (where nothing, except maybe the Frozen Charlotte dolls, has moved since the day she died)… Sophie even discovers some down at the beach. Everyone has an opinion on the dolls… Piper thinks they’re sweet, Lilias is terrified of them (and warns Sophie of what they’re capable of, what they’ll do to her in her sleep)… Cameron thinks nothing of them; they’re just dolls. But are they really? Sophie is determined to find out. So determined, in fact, that she recklessly leaps into action every single time a creepy noise or sensation occurs. There’s definitely a lot of ‘DON’T GO INTO THE BASEMENT YOU CRAZY FOOL!’ moments in this novel. But it wouldn’t be the genre we all know and love without them, now, would it?!
Overall, this was a pacey, fun read – spooky and atmospheric – with a lot of genuinely scary scenes! Read this alone, in the dark, with a single flickering candle, and you’re in for a treat of a Halloween!