Title: The Arrival of Missives
Author: Aliya Whiteley
Publisher: Unsung Stories
Prior to reading this novella I had read Aliya Whiteley’s other short novel The Beauty and a selection of her short stories; all of which deeply unsettled and disturbed me (The Beauty genuinely gave me nightmares). This is not a criticism, however, Whiteley’s writing is beautifully addictive and I was ready to read anything she wrote. I, therefore, instantly requested a copy of The Arrival of the Missives upon its release. For one reason or another, it took me a few months before I actually got a chance to read it but as soon as I arrived back at my parents home in Edinburgh for Christmas, where my books currently reside, I picked it up off the shelf. A decision I do not regret! I sped through this book, I quite literally could not put it down and it has made me all the more excited to see what Whiteley comes out with next.
The premise of the story begins with our protagonist Shirley, a 17-year-old girl about to complete her schooling and living on a farm in rural, post World War 1 Britain. We are made aware from the offset of the novel that she has feelings for her 24-year-old school teacher Mr. Tiller who returned from the war permanently injured. It is her intention, however, to make her feelings known to him now that her schooling is coming to an end in order for them to be together. From that point on absolutely nothing goes as you would expect it to.
Whiteley has a unique imagination, this was something I was aware of coming from her other works, and it comes through in this story. This book bests comes under the category of speculative fiction – a little bit fantastical, a little bit sci-fi, and all set in an early 20th century period setting. I don’t want to reveal anything further about the plot as the books is under 150 pages and moves quite speedily. Embrace the mystery.
What I can tell you is that this book was nowhere near as disturbing (even horrifying) as The Beauty or the short stories by Whiteley that I have read. I was certainly apprehensive throughout my reading experience and on occasion unnerved, simply because I was waiting for things to escalate. Whether a reader who was coming to Whiteley’s writing afresh, without having read The Beauty, would feel exactly the same, however, I am not sure. I certainly think my conviction that I was about to read the next Wicker Man was influenced more by my previous experience of her writing than it was by The Arrival of Missives itself. The story did develop, however, mysteries unraveled and the expectant pacing of the novel often unsettled me. I was never, however, inclined to turn away from the book for sake of my nerves in the way I was when reading The Beauty. The book felt like the perfect combination of surrealism and mystery with a determined if a young and inexperienced lead character I enjoyed going on an adventure with (a very weird adventure).
That is not to say there was not a darkness to the story. The book certainly was not a complete 180 from Whiteley’s other writing. It also retained what I enjoyed most about her other work and that was her individual and mesmerizing prose. Her writing is beautiful and she managed to move through the story with speed but without making me feel as though it had been rushed. A lot happens in this short novella.
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