Review: The Whistling by Rebecca Netley (2021) @MichaelJBooks @Rebecca_Netley


Alone in the world, Elspeth Swansome takes the position of nanny to a family on the remote Scottish island of Skelthsea.

Her charge, Mary, hasn’t uttered a word since the sudden death of her twin, William – just days after their former nanny disappeared.

No one will speak of what happened to William. Just as no one can explain the hypnotic lullabies sung in empty corridors. Nor the strange dolls that appear in abandoned rooms. Nor the faint whistling that comes in the night . . .

As winter draws in and passage to the mainland becomes impossible, Elspeth finds herself trapped.

But is this house haunted by the ghosts of the past?


Chilling, twisty and emotionally gripping, The Whistling is an atmospheric page-turner with shades of the classics, yet a unique character of its own, perfect for fans of Susan Hill and Laura Purcell.


Huge thanks to Ella Watkins at Penguin Michael Joseph for my spot on the tour, and for providing me with a digital ARC in exchange for an honest review.

I don’t tend to theme my reading around the time of year, so it is merely a lucky coincidence that I ended up reading The Whistling during ‘spooky season’. I have to admit, reading it in bed with the wind howling and the rain lashing down outside, was spectacularly atmospheric, and that’s before you add in the previous week’s experience of hearing ‘footsteps’ in our loft (it was birds on the roof, btw, but I swear it sounded like footsteps!) Anyway, suffice it to say that the scene was set for me to be properly scared by this book, and indeed, it did make me a bit jumpy for a few days!

What I loved about The Whistling, though, is that it doesn’t go in for cheap thrills and shocks. It builds up the tension by tiny increments, letting us become fully immersed in Elspeth’s experiences on Skelthsea, developing the characters as much, if not more, than the spooky plot. As Elspeth desperately tries to cling to rational explanations for the strange happenings, we are right alongside her, maintaining our scepticism as long as we can even as the evidence mounts that there is something unnatural going on at Iskar, the family home that is simply dripping with du Maurier-esque atmosphere. As with the best first person narratives, we are so firmly in Elspeth’s viewpoint that each suspicion, each fluctuation in how she views the other characters, becomes part of our own response, and I found myself unwilling to trust anyone at all apart from our narrator.

There is something about the book that reminds me not only of du Maurier but also of Stuart Turton’s The Devil and the Dark Water – it doesn’t ask you to suspend your disbelief and just buy into the (potential) ghostliness, instead it slowly and carefully assembles the evidence, and, in the end, becomes something more than just a supernatural tale. I don’t want to spoil anything about this book, but I will say that I found the way all the threads wrapped up deeply satisfying. It is a really clever story, and the writing is beautiful, especially when evoking the landscape.

If you’re looking for a fast-paced, gore-filled horror, this is not it; but if you like your books creepy and atmospheric and full of dark corners, strange noises and sinister traditions, I highly recommend getting your hands on this wonderfully crafted novel. I’m really looking forward to reading more by this author.

The Whistling by Rebecca Netley is published by Penguin Michael Joseph and is available to purchase here.


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