Title: THE UNSUITABLE
Author: Molly Pohlig
Publisher: Henry Holt & Company
Thank you to Henry Holt for my free copy.
THE UNSUITABLE is a bloody, outlandish gothic tale set in the Victorian era. It’s full of dark scenes and even darker thoughts.
Iseult is twenty-eight, a spinster, and her father is desperately trying to marry her off. Even though her father is a cruel man, she resists the idea of getting married and keeps a black book detailing her unsuitable suitors. Iseult has another problem: she is haunted by a voice in her head. Her mother died during childbirth leaving a considerable scar on her neck. And although she never met her, she believes her mother’s ghost resides in this scar, dictating her every move.
As you can imagine our narrator is unraveling and perceived as mad by those around her. She practices self-harm as a way of dealing with her instability and since the story is told completely from Iseult’s perspective, the scenes are graphic. Pohlig wrote a brilliant debut that straddles the line between horror and humor. Although I will say if I had to choose, it’s the side of horror that wins the prize. The writing is creative and the prose is sharp and deliberate. I devoured this debut in one sitting.
As an aside, I am a serious fan of genres that include aspects of mental illness or any psychological component. The human mind fascinates me to no end and my senses perk up immediately when I hear about a book such as this. I not only enjoy going on the nebulous roller coaster of a ride with the narrator, but I also relish it.
THE UNSUITABLE is an exquisite book with fantastical elements, full of vivid, disturbing imagery and a precarious mind. ★★★★★
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This is quite an interesting read. I'm utterly fascinated with books dealing with mental health and how it was dealt with in history. And as we all know, times have changed drastically in this field. Pohlig brings us Iseult (I STILL can't figure out how to pronounce this so my mind kept pronouncing it a bit differently each time). Iseult lost her mother before she could ever meet her but feels she lives in this scar in her neck as she hears her voice on the daily. The run-on sentences in these internal conversations are HARD to read - it takes some getting used to and to be quite honest, I didn't care for it even after I got used to it. However, I do understand why it was portrayed this way. Madness.
Here's the thing - this is more a character read than a plot-driven read. Iseult is considered a spinster at her age and her father is trying desperately to marry her off but her "condition" doesn't bode well to make this a proper goal. The hard part is seeing how people treated her because, at this time, no one could understand a woman claiming to carry her dead mother with her inside. We get the inside of Iseult and everything she is going through. It's a bit of a tough read at times because of this.
Full disclosure, despite the subject matter, this writing style is typically not the kind of book I usually like. I usually need something more plot-driven. However, in this case, the continuous grumbling of Iseult, and what she has to endure is psychologically fascinating. And that ending, while not unexpected, still gave me pause. What are we actually reading about here? Iseult and her mental illness? Or is her mother truly a part of her and haunting her? I don't even think Iseult truly knows.
This book definitely won't be for everybody. I'm so curious about what Pohlig will bring us next.
Chandra blogs over at:
It is a rare occurrence when horror seems new and refreshing, especially in terms of Gothic Horror. Typically you’ve read one, you’ve kinda read them all. At some point, the rest seem to blend together like a melted crayon. Similar settings, characters, storyline; In some ways you find yourself predicting its ending. I have been fortunate to read some brilliant gothic tales and I can now add The Unsuitable to that list. This is unlike any gothic horror I have read before. This story tragically beautiful and poetically blends a traditional gothic with a modern-day feel. It is raw, unnerving, at times unsettling and certainly not for the faint of heart. There are parts some may find difficult to read. At its core the main character is so transparent you began to feel for her in ways you may have never connected with a character before. This certainly one you’ll hear people talking about for some time. I do hope it is one you will try on for size and look to add to your collection. This has become one of my Top 5 of 2020 and one I am sure to revisit time and time again.
_Kami L Martin