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  • Writer's pictureHannah R. Palmer Author

The Cottingley Cuckoo - A J Elwood || Psychological fantasy-thriller book review

Rosemary’s Baby meets Laura Purcell’s Bone China in a dark British fairytale…

Captivated by books and stories, Rose dreams of a more fulfilled life, away from the confines of the Sunnyside Care Home where she works to support herself and her boyfriend. She hopes the situation will be short term.

Charlotte Favell, an elderly resident, takes a strange, sinister interest in Rose, but offers an unexpected glimpse of enchantment. She has a mysterious and aged stack of letters about the Cottingley Fairies, the photographs made famous by Arthur Conan Doyle, but later dismissed as a hoax. The author of the letters insists he has proof that fairies exist; Rose is eager to learn more, but Charlotte only allows her to read on when she sees fit.

Discovering she is unexpectedly pregnant, Rose feels another door to the future has slammed. The letters' content grows more menacing, inexplicable events begin to occur inside her home, and Rose begins to entertain dark thoughts about her baby and its origins. Can this simply be depression? Or is something darker taking root?


I received this book in the latest Abominable Book Club book box and was immediately pulled in by the concept and blurb. Arthur Conan Doyle, fairies and Rosemary’s Baby? Colour me intrigued.

This book started out really well. All the ingredients were there for an atmospheric, moody, psychological thriller. The main character, Rose, is immediately dropped into her idea of hell - the town that she grew up in: grey, small and suffocating. It’s unsettling and claustrophobic; the perfect set-up for the introduction of some potential fantastical activity. We're quickly introduced to our antagonist, Mrs Favell, a temporary patient in the care home that Rose is working in. Mrs Favell was my favourite character, an expertly crafted aloof and manipulative older lady that has complete control over any given situation. The relationship and tension created between Rose and Mrs Favell worked really well and made for a wonderfully uncomfortable read at times.

The novel switches between the modern day and the early 1920s where the reader is treated to a slow reveal of events through letters written to Arthur Conan Doyle. In case you didn't know, Arthur Conan Doyle accidentally gave credence to what is now considered one of England's greatest hoaxes, The Cottingley Fairies, a series of falsified photographs of two young girls playing with fairies. The letters that Elwood created weave a dark and horrifying story that parallels some of Rose's own experiences and emotions during and after her pregnancy with her son.

The ultimate question that this novel poses is: is Rose in control of her faculties and truly experiencing something otherworldly and terrifying, or is she the unfortunate victim of post natal depression and struggling to come to terms with becoming a mother?

The pacing of the novel is great. I comfortably read the whole thing in 3 sittings. The characters were intriguing, multi-faceted and morally grey - my favourite combination.

Sadly, for me, the book fell down at the last hurdle. The ending didn’t have a big enough pay-off and generally felt underwhelming. Without entirely ruining the novel, the conclusion felt rushed and failed to encapsulate the energy and feeling in the rest of the book. Such a shame as the rest of the novel had me hooked! Despite this, I’ll definitely be checking out more from this author, but the ending of this one just let it down.

Have you read The Cottingley Cuckoo? What did you think?

Get your own copy here.

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