Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Book Review: 'Clowders' by Vanessa Morgan

Clowders by [Morgan, Vanessa]
Belgian author Vanessa Morgan is an author, screenwriter (three of her works have been made into movies), and blogger on her site called Traveling Cats. She is also an avid cat photographer – an avocation that enhances her books about felines.

Vanessa provides the ‘set’ for her very cinematic book with an Introduction that bears sharing (in part): ‘Outsiders called Clervaux quaint, but the locals called it something else – cursed. How it came to be known as such had been lost in the memories of those who inhabited nearby towns outside the perimeter of the dense forest, but everyone accepted the curse as being legitimate. Through the years, several inhabitants of surrounding towns disappeared, and the story grew that they had stumbled upon Clervaux, never to return. Its reputation was solidified in the late 1700s after the appearance of a personal journal page found in the pocket of a rotting corpse. Written in now fading ink, it carefully preserved the terror that struck for the first time so many years ago in Eselborn, one of its closest neighbors. “It has been a cold winter in Eselborn this January of 1789, but our stalwart inhabitants hold against the never-ending cold, shortage of food, starving animals and children. Scraping together every last morsel of food, the people congregated in a local church on the evening of the 23rd, hoping to come to a solution to our predicament.‘

She then moves us into a Prologue that again establishes the mood and forecast for the tale – ‘MAY 2015 - They held the memorial service in the crematorium on the outskirts of Luxembourg City. Camille stared at the coffin sitting in the middle of the commemoration room and at the framed picture of the 17-year-old boy that stood beside it. Perfect arrangements of flowers filled tier after tier behind the altar, much more than she would have thought the place could hold. As she waited for the service to begin, Camille looked around her, scanning the location for familiar faces. Because she had met J├Ârgen at summer camp almost three years ago, most of the people here were from his hometown, Echternach, and thus unknown to her. For these people, neighbors were just as important as family. The psychological wounds inflicted on this community by the boy's passing would take longer to heal than anyone yet realized. It wasn't just the loss of someone they saw and spoke to every day that was hard to bear, but the injustice that a boy so young had been taken away from them without an apparent reason. The music swelled. The murmurs and whisperings stopped. Camille prepared herself to bite back the tears that would well up in the next half hour.’

The stage is set and the story unravels eloquently – ‘Clervaux, Luxembourg. This secluded, picturesque town in the middle of Europe is home to more cats than people. For years, tourists have flocked to this place – also known as “cat haven” - to meet the cats and buy cat-related souvenirs.

When Aidan, Jess and their five-year-old daughter, Eleonore, move from America to Clervaux, it seems as if they've arrived in paradise. It soon becomes clear, though, that the inhabitants' adoration of their cats is unhealthy. According to a local legend, each time a cat dies, nine human lives are taken as a punishment. To tourists, these tales are supernatural folklore, created to frighten children on cold winter nights. But for the inhabitants of Clervaux, the danger is darkly, horrifyingly real. Initially, Aidan and Jess regard this as local superstition, nothing to worry about, but when Jess runs over a cat after a night on the town, people start dying, one by one, and each time it happens, a clowder of cats can be seen roaming the premises. Are they falling victim to the collective paranoia infecting the entire town? Or is something unspeakably evil waiting for them? Aidan and Jess' move to Europe may just have been the worst decision they ever made.’

One very fine writer for both books and screen – Vanessa has a style that is intoxicating. Grady Harp, March 18

I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this book.

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.