This post is part of a blog tour organised by Random Things Blog Tours. I received a free copy of the book in return for an honest review.
‘When Teddy Colne arrives in the small town of Rye, he believes he will be able to settle down and leave his past behind him. Little does he know that fear blisters through the streets like a fever.
‘The locals tell him to stay away from an establishment known only as Berry & Vincent, that those who rub too closely to its proprietor risk a bad end.
‘Despite their warnings, Teddy is desperate to understand why Rye has come to fear this one man, and to see what really hides behind the doors of his shop.
‘Ada moved to Rye with her young son to escape a damaged childhood and years of never fitting in, but she’s lonely, and ostracised by the community. Ada is ripe for affection and friendship, and everyone knows it.
‘As old secrets bleed out into this town, so too will a mystery about a family who vanished fifty years earlier, and a community living on a knife-edge.
‘Teddy looks for answers, thinking he is safe, but some truths are better left undisturbed, and his past will find him here, just as it always has. And before long, it will find Ada too.’
In So Pretty, by Ronnie Turner, we meet young mother Ada (along with her four-year-old son Albie) and Teddy, a man in his early 30s. Both have moved to the small Cornish town of Rye for a fresh start, and with the hope of recovering from their respective traumatic upbringings.
However, Ada finds Rye unwelcoming and suspicious of incomers, especially ones who try too hard. Teddy, meanwhile, gets a job at antique and curio shop Berry & Vincent, a shop the locals avoid on account of its sinister past and creepy owner, Mr Vincent.
Ada and Teddy are drawn together, but what initially looks to be the beginnings of a beautiful friendship or even romance mutates into something much darker as, under the roof of Berry & Vincent, Teddy’s true colours emerge.
So Pretty is unusual and highly effective. For the first 40% or so of the book, the focus on the backstories of Ada, Teddy, and Berry & Vincent lulled me into a false sense of security where lines of “good” and “bad” between the two protagonists and the shopkeeper were firmly established.
Then, Teddy starts showing worrying signs of presumptuousness and possessiveness towards Ada and Albie, and the story shifts into a different and unexpected gear, revealing that he is more like his twisted late father than previously suggested. At the same time, the relationship between Teddy and Mr Vincent alters, with the employee taking the lead over his previously dominant, albeit silent, manager.
Things quickly get really unnerving and tense, and I was put through the emotional wringer hoping for a happy ending!
The author has a spare, stark writing style that does a brilliant job of conveying the bleak, cold atmosphere of Rye and, for a while, makes you wonder where the story is heading. Her no holds barred descriptions of the macabre merchandise on display in Berry & Vincent, and Mr Vincent’s past behaviour, made me feel both compelled and unnerved.
So Pretty not only makes you think about different reactions to trauma and loneliness, but also how giving a child the idea that they might turn out a certain way can make for a self-fulfilling prophecy. Ada aspires to be a better mother to Albie than her own mother was to her, while Teddy protests too much that he isn’t like his father, having been closely surveilled for shared traits by his late mother. Ada is desperate for company but doesn’t push it, while Teddy is forceful.
After finishing the book, I was left with a lingering sense of mystery, as I wondered what it was exactly that made the story take such a drastic turn. Was it something that was always bound to happen anyway, given what we learn about Teddy’s past relationships? Does Teddy derive unaccustomed power from what he finds out about Mr Vincent’s past? Or does the shop itself have a malevolent influence all of its own, as the locals seem to suggest?
So Pretty is tense, atmospheric, and unsettling.