Babadook meets Sinister
Harrow Lake tells the story of Lola, teenage daughter of a renowned horror film director, who met Lola’s mother in the town of Harrow Lake on the set of one of his most famous films. Her mother left when she was young and, following the hospitalization of her father, she is sent to stay with family in the town now infamous as a result of the film.
When Lola arrives, something immediately strikes her as unusual about the town. The locals all seem to know her, despite never having met her. Her grandmother seems aloof and distant, and the town itself seems to have changed little in the 20 years since the film was shot. Lola soon befriends a local family who tell her the towns legend of Mister Jitters; a creature who comes down from the caves at night to kill and feed upon anyone who crosses his path. Lola’s obsession with Mister Jitters, coupled with her desire to find out more about the mother she barely remembers, leads her toward discovering long kept secrets the town of Harrow Lake would rather stay buried.
I picked up this book on the strength of the premise. Horror films, spooky towns, mysterious monsters that may or may not prey upon said town’s inhabitants… The book hits a lot of my sweet spots in that regard. It was a let down to find that, ultimately, the book fails to really sell itself in any of these areas.
There is so much going on in this book that it ends up relying on the readers knowledge of standard horror tropes in order to tick that box and move onto the next. Strange town-folk? Check. Strangers stood outside bedroom windows in the night? Check. Creepy woods and an abandoned fairground? Check. It feels like the writer is throwing stuff on the page and seeing what sticks, the end result being very few set pieces or events being particularly memorable.
It is a shame, because Kat Ellis is such a strong writer. Her prose is succinct and vivid and you get such a clear sense of what she is portraying without reliance on lengthy details or descriptions. Her prose is peppered with pop culture references and the dialogue feels genuine and easy. A pity that the dialogue comes from such unsympathetic characters.
Throughout the book, I struggled to connect with Lola, who is our narrator for all but the brief Prologue and Epilogue (cleverly set out in the form of an interview). Her inner monologue is too consistently self-absorbed, and her constant tick of describing things based on how ‘optimal’ they are becomes very grating very fast. A weak plot is easy to forgive with strong characters, but I can’t say Harrow Lake particularly excelled in this regard either.
The twist ending is heavily signposted very early on and came as no surprise and, while there was a lot to like that comes before it, there’s not a lot to recommend it as anything more than an enjoyable enough, but forgettable and, ultimately, faintly disappointing read. While I would happily try another book by Kat Ellis, I can’t say Harrow Lake is the one that will be winning over new readers.