Book review: The Unmaking of Ellie Rook, by Sandra Ireland

Sandra Ireland
Sandra Ireland
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Ellie Rook, who was brought up at the back of a scrapyard in Aberdeenshire, is summoned home from her new life “abroad” – the blurb says Europe, the novel suggests she has been in Vietnam – when her mother mysteriously disappears, seemingly falling to her death while out walking near the family home.

Not content to accept that her mother is gone for good, Ellie ignores advice from both her father and police officers and undertakes her own search with the help of childhood school friend Liam, uncovering inconsistencies and family secrets along the way.

The Unmaking of Ellie Rook is the third novel by Sandra Ireland, winner of a Carnegie-Cameron scholarship for an MLitt in writing practice and study at the University of Dundee – and comes just a year after the publication of her second work, Bone Deep.

A twist, which is not revealed until the final third of the book, adds interest and subsequently reveals a darker plot line, which elevates the novel into a more serious category than a typical thriller.

Domestic violence – even an element of modern slavery with Ellie’s dad’s treatment of Polish IT whizz and scrapyard worker Piotr – becomes part of this sinister tale, which ultimately sees Ellie come face to face with demons which she has been suppressing for years.

I wanted to like this novel and it would be fair to say that I did enjoy its twists and turns and well-written pace – but somehow I just couldn’t love it.

Something smelled off from the start – the characters had a falsity to them which, as the twist reveals, is no surprise – but still made it difficult for me to engage with them.

What Ireland – who was born in Yorkshire but now lives in Carnoustie – is good at, however, is weaving Celtic mythology into a novel which otherwise deals with very modern themes.

This is a technique she used in her previous novel and it is no less successful here. The legend of Ellie’s namesake Finella – a character from Celtic mythology who disappeared in the same spot as Ellie’s mother after needing to “escape the inescapable” – is a theme throughout.

Yet, for me, it signalled too heavily in places. The prologue shows Ellie’s mother telling her the story of Finella, then the book ends with a quote from that same prologue. It is spelling out what would otherwise be an intriguing question mark over the ending.

Ireland is no doubt a proficient and clever storyteller, but I found the characters too shallow to be fully believable. - Jane Bradley

The Unmaking of Ellie Rook, by Sandra Ireland, £8.99, Polygon