Alison has never been a fan of Christmas. But with it right around the corner and her husband busily decorating their cosy Vermont home, she has no choice but to face it. Then she gets the call.
Mavis, Alison’s estranged mother, has been diagnosed with cancer and has only weeks to live. She wants to spend her remaining days with her daughter, son-in-law, and two granddaughters. But Alison grew up with her mother’s alcoholism and violent abuse and is reluctant to unearth these traumatic memories. Still, she eventually agrees to take in Mavis, hoping that she and her mother could finally heal and have the relationship she’s always dreamed of.
But when mysterious and otherworldly things start happening upon Mavis’s arrival, Alison begins to suspect her mother is not quite who she seems. And as the holiday festivities turn into a nightmare, she must confront just how far she is willing to go to protect her family.
My Darling Girl by Jennifer McMahon is the “Die Hard,” of christmas horror. Whilst there is a holly jolly festive backdrop, there are zero tidings of comfort and joy, something which seems to be a recurring theme in McMahon’s consistently unsettling writing. In this chilling, yet compelling story, McMahon explores familial relationships, trauma, and -naturally- demonic possession.
In “My Darling Girl,” we follow burnt-out author of the “Moxie,” series, Alison O’ Connor attempt to navigate her least favourite time of the year- Christmas. Alison endured years of abuse (and has the strange scars on her back to prove it) from her alcoholic mother Mavis. Now married to the overly-enthusiastic but supportive Mark, and a loving parent to two children, Izzy and Olivia (little mouse) it seems that Alison has truly turned her life around, and not even Christmas can take it away from her.
Until… “I have something to ask you, something I have no right to ask, but I am going to ask it anyway..Promise you”ll think about it, my darling girl…”
Mavis is dying of stage 4 pancreatic cancer, and she wants to do so surrounded by her family. Despite initial reservations about having her mother stay, it seems that Mavis is as sweet as cocoa, and has a soft spot for Alison’s youngest daughter Olivia. That is, until she captures Alison alone, and tells her things about herself- things Mavis couldn’t know …
In August, I read and devoured “The Winter People,” and I can safely say McMahon is NO fluke. Whilst her writing is sophisticated and downright scary, there’s also a sense of effortlessness, which allows the reader to fully immerse themselves in the world of Alison and Mavis.
Aside from periodic flashbacks of Mavis’ life, we read from the first person perspective of Alison for the novel’s entirety. This was utilised by McMahon, so that we are constantly questioning the reliability of her narrative- this meant that the stress Alison felt throughout was most definitely reflected in my reading experience. In conjunction with the novel’s whiplash pacing, the suspense was so taut throughout, that when I wasn’t reading this book, I was thinking about it.
The relationship between Alison and Mavis is an exploration of trauma, estrangement and sacrifice. The history between the two was so well-developed and complicated, nefarious demon aside, it felt authentic. The undeniable similarities between the two was an excellent choice on McMahon’s part, and had me constantly questioning whether history would repeat itself. As I mentioned, Alison is on the brink of insanity for the second half of the novel, meaning reading from her perspective was an absolute blast!
With small comedic elements, the estranged mother, and the demonic references throughout- I couldn’t help but be slightly reminded of “Black Sheep,” by Rachel Harrison- of course with the added perk of Jennifer McMahon’s gorgeous prose.
I don’t want to give anything about the ending away whatsoever, but let me just say I was stunned. I like to consider myself pretty great at figuring out the plot twists and turns before they happen- but definitely not this time. “My Darling Girl,” by Jennifer McMahon is an absolute gem for readers seeking an enthralling read, jam-packed FULL of raw emotion and thrilling revelations.