Rating: 4 out of 5
Overall: A complex, multi-layered narrative that’s easy to follow and enjoy. Very well done.
I’ve always been a fan of gothic horror novels since my later high school years; devouring the pages of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, short stories of Edgar Allan Poe, as well as the contemporary (less gothic) works of Joyce Carol Oats which I enjoyed much later in life, in particular, The Accursed (2013). When I recently came across The Stranger Diaries by Domenica de Rosa (pen name Elly Griffiths), I was taken aback by her ability to retain the elements of a gothic story; like a time capsule released in a modern day setting. It’s obvious that Elly is no stranger to works of the great gothic writers of the past, and yet her influences refrain from dominating her true voice as a writer; a feat not many are able to accomplish.
The Stranger Diaries takes place in a small town off the coast within the Sussex county of the UK. Centered around Talgarth High School, once the home of famous gothic writer R.M. Holland, The Stranger Diaries delves into the life of English teacher Clare Cassidy and the unfortunate events that unfold around her. A self-proclaimed expert in R.M. Holland’s work, Clare Cassidy’s pursuit in writing his autobiography is aimed at solving the mysteries of not only his literary labors, but the puzzling circumstances of his personal life. During a normal school term in the Fall, one of Clare’s colleagues (as well as close friend), Ella Elphick, is found murdered in her home. A single note is discovered on her body which reads, Hell is Empty; a quote from R.M. Holland’s short story titled, The Stranger. As the case for Ella Elphick is under investigation, Clare’s personal relationship is put into question as details between the two begin to unfold. Turning to her personal diary for clues, Clare Cassidy becomes a focal point when she discovers a hand written message that isn’t hers which reads, “Hello Clare. You don’t know me.”
Told through the perspective of three major characters; Clare Cassidy, her 15 year-old daughter, Georgie, and Detective Sergeant (DS) Harbinder Kaur, The Stranger Diaries pays homage to gothic framework with an approach maintaining a contemporary relevance. I appreciate how Griffiths’ method of utilizing three unique perspectives adds depth to the overall narrative of the story; although Clare Cassidy remains the counterpoint of the novel. Yet what I found most interesting regarding Griffiths’ approach to her storytelling in The Stranger Diaries is the interwoven short story, The Stranger, by R.M. Holland. These various excerpts throughout the novel contribute not only to the overall plot and tone, but bridge the modern world with the inspirational framework of gothic literature. Perhaps this was Griffiths intention. Griffiths also employs self-referential (meta) points sprinkled throughout the novel by calling attention to details within The Stranger and having them play out in The Stranger Diaries; or perhaps anti-mimesis is at play?
The Stranger Diaries is a complex, multi-layered narrative that’s easy to follow and enjoy. The characters, especially our three narrators, are very likable and developed very well by Griffiths. Although there isn’t much to character development or growth, Griffiths provides some real depth with rich, relatable, characteristics to each of our characters and their backgrounds. As the mystery unfolds throughout the novel, the story’s pace hardly treads the mundane with irrelevant details other thrillers tend to fall prey. Interestingly enough, Griffiths short story, The Stranger, kept me wanting to reach its conclusion aside from the main plot of the novel. There was even a slight tone of horror which I can always appreciate and give Griffiths an extra nod of respect for. Well done. The Stranger Diaries gets a high five and a definite recommend for mystery/thriller lovers, and perhaps just book lovers in general. Thanks for reading!