The Missing Years
Lexie Elliott
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Buy *The Missing Years* by Lexie Elliott online

The Missing Years
Lexie Elliott
384 pages
April 2019
rated 3 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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Elliott's second novel centers on the Manse, an impressive old Scottish manor that slumbers like a fairytale castle prey to forbidden explanations. The current owner, Ailsa, is convinced that the Manse is watching her and her younger sister, Carrie, who has come to stay. The joint-ownership house owes to Ailsa's father, who went missing years ago. Even after a "Presumption of Death" is released and the Manse's memories grow, expanding out and hijacking almost everything that Ailsa has to say, she's unable to recollect the precise details of her father's disappearance.

The Manse seems to be rotting from within, from the boot room to the lounge, to the formal dining room and the wide central staircase. Ailsa is tough, capable and ready for anything yet haunted by this ramshackle heap of stones that rumbles and creaks around her. It doesn't help that her relationship with Jonathan, a broadcast journalist, is like having "half a boyfriend."

As Elliott begins her uneven tale of Ailsa's phantoms and fears, hotel manager Jamie McCue reveals that he knows that Ailsa is the daughter of Martin Calder, the man who mysteriously went missing all those years ago. Jamie recalls hearing something about the Manse, "some kind of local diamonds or something," and Ailso finally confirms that her family story is the "local legend." At first, Jamie's intense self-assurance attracts Ailsa. Then she meets Jack, a handsome local who is a good few years younger than her and frowns like he's chasing down something in his head.

Jack is devoid of artifice, but so is Morag, a shopkeeper with attitude who has spread untruths about Ailsa's mother: "The Manse knows me--it's waiting for me when I get back." The Manse raises Ailsa's sense of isolation: "I know no one here. I have nobody on my side." Two people who don't want her here--and have made her feel unwelcome--are Morag and, perhaps, the wayward sister of Jamie McCue.

Elliott shapes her novel around the mystery of Ailsa's long-gone father and her eerie reveries. Increasingly bearing the weight of time and an ancient Welsh landscape, the Manse eats away at Ailsa's spirit. Trained to ask the questions and to follow the leads, Ailsa is all too aware of the sinister garden wall where she spies a gray sleek cat and later--as the twilight takes hold, shifting and bending and filtering--the figure in the attic window who is gone in less than a heartbeat. The Manse is haunted in a place where animals fear to tread and there's strange banging at night. Ailsa constantly feels watched.

Though the novel lacks the narrative punch of The French Girl (in the afterword, the author admits she was under pressure to write this novel), Elliott mostly delivers on her haunted house theme. The Manse "possesses" Ailsa with its eddies and its constant air currents. Ailsa thinks how it feels without Carrie and whether or not she can actually see what she thinks is an intruder in the room underneath the house: "I don't understand any of it, least of all the roiling unease in my stomach, as if the very ground beneath me was buckling and shifting."

Ailsa should just leave. The locals certainly don't want her here; the Manse itself doesn't want her within its four groaning walls. The vague sense of wrongness sitting within Ailsa's psyche reminds her of her university days and her unease with Carrie, Jamie, Fiona and all the layers hiding beneath the Manse.

The Scottish landscapes are gorgeous. The sense of unease is palpable, and while the tale stalls towards the end (and the excuse for Ailsa's supernatural-like visions hurried and pretty ridiculous), Ailsa's slow, sad path toward redemption reflects the painful complications of father-daughter love, and the truth behind Martin's disappearance.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at Michael Leonard, 2019

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