Elizabeth is a fairly short novel with spare prose that makes it a quick read, but Greenhall’s ability to evoke mood and tension makes it a strong novel. This was another Christmas gift Valancourt novel, and it’s been interesting to see that while I am not a fan of sci-fi around this time, I do tend to like horror novels from this era much better than modern ones. The mix of literary and genre here heightens the book as a whole.
Elizabeth is a take on a witch story set mainly in 1970s New York City. It’s told in first person by Elizabeth, a fourteen year old with a very clear narrative voice. While she is on vacation at a lake cabin with her parents, she is visited in the mirror by a spirit/woman named Frances, who marks her with a crimson symbol on her thigh. Elizabeth accepts her power and the novel follows her as she comes into her own (and wreaks havok on those around her). What is most striking about the narrative for me is how she has very limited emotions beyond happiness and the self-centered desire to get what she wants, which I thought made for a more unique main character. She wants what she wants and is willing to do whatever it takes to get it. She watches those around her like people from a separate species, and that sense of remove and scientific observation gives the book as a whole a more alien and creepy vibe that adds to the power of the book.
The forward writer describes this book as reminding him of Lolita, and it also had those parallels to me. Elizabeth is having an affair with her uncle, and the descriptions of her sexuality, as well as the sexual relationships of her family around her, form a large part of the narrative. It seemed like Greenhall was making a point about evil and the inhumanity of man’s desires, but it edged to the line where I felt weird about reading about a fourteen year old’s incestuous relationship. If you’re okay with reading Lolita, I do think this is its sort of horror successor in that the text is not condoning the relationship, much as Nabokov meant Lolita to show the reader what a monster Humbert is. Greenhall is trying to show us what a monster Elizabeth is, as well as her whole family (and seemingly the whole human race), but she is also fourteen so that gave me pause the whole time. I did like the book, as I thought it was a striking read and Greenhall’s prose is commendable, but it’s definitely a challenging read in terms of content.