Earwig, by Brian Catling, is a paranormal fantasy set in historical England, though the period is not confirmed in the book. The main character, Herr Aalbert Scellinc, has been enlisted to care for a young girl, Mia, who has an obsession with teeth. He also has an acute sense of hearing, which is described throughout the story as being a gift. This features in the story’s detailed description of Aalbert’s past and how he finds himself in the duty of Mia’s care.
The story goes on to describe a complex and somewhat disturbing relationship between Aalbert and Mia. At the beginning, he has no understanding or desire of the need for human contact, often treating Mia like a robot or a limp ragdoll. Catling makes a real attempt at highlighting their dysfunctionality as people and how, in many ways, this seems to bring them together. Later in the story, Mia comes to develop a strong attachment to Aalbert which borders on romantic. This implies a chronic lack of physical affection which, as the story highlights, Aalbert is unused to giving or receiving. He is characterised as an isolated, selfish man whose best interests do not extend from his own.
This is changed by the introduction of a cat, which is delivered to the house unannounced. It turns out to be the companionship that Mia has been craving, but Aalbert takes an immediate dislike to it and plots out ways of killing it. However, his attempt is unsuccessful and the cat continues to provide a source of warmth and comfort in Mia’s life until eventually, she is dispatched by Aalbert to a different source of care.
I found this book difficult to review. The plot is complex and engaging to begin with, but goes off into a lot of different directions and leaves the reader feeling a little confused. New characters are introduced abruptly and the story often goes into great detail on previous events, which sometimes became a little tiresome to read. I often found myself re-reading sections to check there was nothing I had missed.
However, the story did keep me reading until the end and there were some parts of the story I could really sympathise with, namely Mia and her dysfunctional relationship with human affection. It is highlighted at the end of the story when she is introduced to people who are to become responsible for her care and speak to Aalbert with an attitude of disdain.
In my opinion, I think the book needs to focus more on the central characters and lose some of the back story. It would make the story-telling much more effective and the plot easier to follow. This was a weird, interesting read and I would read it again purely to see if my own understanding of the story improved the second time around.
I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. It is available on Amazon.