REVIEW by Desi Tsvetkova

NWR Issue r36

Wild Spinning Girls

by Carol Lovekin

Published by the Welsh press Honno, Wild Spinning Girls is the third notch on Carol Lovekin’s writing belt. Lovekin’s fiction focuses on strong female characters, complex family relationships, nature, and the supernatural. Wild Spinning Girls is no exception, telling the story of Ida and Heather – two girls brought together by their mutual grief and a haunting secret that awaits them in a gloomy house aptly named Tŷ’r Cwmwl (Cloud House).

The novel opens with Ida Llewellyn, a ballerina-in-training, during a rehearsal that ultimately ends her dancing career due to a foot injury, much to the disappointment of her mother, Anna Plessey, who is an infamous ballerina. Years later, Ida works as bookseller, but is laid off due to the shop closing. Not long after that, her parents pass away in an unfortunate accident while on a second honeymoon in Paris. Devastated, Ida decides to go to her childhood home in Wales in order to assess its market value in hopes of being able to sell it.
Seventeen-year-old Heather is the daughter of the previous Tŷ’r Cwmwl tenant – a pelucious woman named Olwen who is believed by the village residents to be a witch. She passed away a year before Ida’s arrival, leaving her daughter to take care of the estate. Heather takes an immediate dislike to the newcomer as she believes Ida is trespassing on Olwen’s grounds. The two enter a psychological tug-of-war while Olwen’s ghost haunts Ida and Cloud House. Dead mothers are, perhaps, the most prominent theme in the book, as their daughters struggle to come to terms with their absence:

Only Ida never dreamed, and undreaming she slept, without moving, and in the morning her body was stiff and heavy and haunted, possessed by memories of her mother.

However, there is no satisfying resolution to the women’s concerns, as the ending ties everything up neatly after the novel’s rather predictable plot-twist and rushed character development. Until the very end, Ida remains a very unlikable character who lashes out at people under the guise of grief. Her treatment of her love interest – the ballet studio owner, Lowri – is illustrative of this, as all interactions between the women ends with Ida getting upset and pushing Lowri away, only to seek her out again later. The way in which her character has developed by the very end of the novel leaves an unsatisfactory note as the reader doesn’t get to see her truly process her traumas.

Teenage Heather seems to be a lot more level-headed and mature, regardless of her own grieving heart and somewhat childish attitude towards Ida. Her hostility, however, is a lot more muted, and she shows on multiple occasions that she is capable of apologizing for her untoward behaviour. It is a lot easier to relate to her because, underneath her hard exterior, she has many layers that slowly peel away – specifically her fear of having an identity outside of her mother’s:

Heather didn’t want to be identified. Once she became visible, it was dangerous. No one must see her, especially not the interfering busybodies with their clipboards and false concern. Being invisible was a woman’s best trick, or so her mother used to say.

The novel is closely tied with the earth, as Lovekin creates atmospheric nature visuals; the beauty of the Welsh countryside is definitely a writing strong suit of hers. However, the dialogue leaves something to be desired, approaching the stiffness of a script. They sound unnatural, almost as if their only purpose is to propel Ida’s own thoughts. The writing itself lacks subtlety as everything is spelled out, leaving nothing for the reader to interpret on their own.

Wild Spinning Girls is a tale of ghostly mother figures and the search for self-identity. It has the potential to be a haunting Gothic story on a par with great Victorian novelists such as those by the Brontë sisters. However, it is hindered by the narrator’s insufferable behavior, lack of subtlety, and contrived dialogue.

Desi Tsvetkova is this season’s reviewer-in-residence, in a new partnership with Swansea University’s College of Arts and Humanities.


previous review: Jim Neat: The Case of a Young Man Down on His Luck


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