Shadow Girls by Carol Birch

Having enjoyed two of Carol Birch’s earlier novels – Orphans of the Carnival and the Booker Prize nominated Jamrach’s Menagerie – I decided to try her new book, Shadow Girls. I enjoyed this one too, but it’s a very strange novel and not quite what I’d expected!

From the blurb, I had thought this was going to be a ghost story, but for the first half of the book at least, it’s much more of a ‘school story’. Our narrator, Sally, is a fifteen-year-old girl growing up in 1960s Manchester and the time and place are vividly evoked with references to the music, films, fashion and culture of the decade woven into the narrative. Like most girls her age, then and now, Sally’s life revolves around schoolwork and spending time with her friends and her boyfriend, and this is the focus of the first section of the book. Through Sally’s eyes we get to know her best friend, Pamela, a rebellious troublemaker nobody else likes, and their ‘enemy’ Sylvia Rose, a girl from a posh background who is a talented classical singer. She also describes her feelings for Rob, her first serious boyfriend, whom she is starting to have doubts about.

The supernatural element of the story isn’t introduced until surprisingly late in the novel, when Sally has a mysterious encounter with Sylvia that will haunt her for the rest of her life. The pace picks up from this point and it does become the ghost story I had expected – in fact, it’s quite a creepy one, particularly as, like many good ghost stories, it’s never completely clear which of Sally’s experiences are real and which are in her mind.

Despite not much happening for half of the book, I found it all very absorbing and was pulled into Sally’s world from the first page. I’m not sure whether so much build up was really necessary, but I enjoyed it anyway and found the book so difficult to put down that I ended up reading most of it in one day. Now I’m interested in reading Carol Birch’s previous ghost story, Cold Boy’s Wood. Has anyone read that one – or any of her other books?

Thanks to Head of Zeus for providing a copy of this book for review via NetGalley.

11 thoughts on “Shadow Girls by Carol Birch

  1. FictionFan says:

    Sounds good, although not what I expected either! I enjoyed Jamrach’s Menagerie but haven’t read anything else by her. This one is on my TBR so I’ll bear in mind it’s worth getting through the slow build-up…

    • Helen says:

      This one is very different from Jamrach’s Menagerie but still a good read. I quite enjoyed the school story part, so didn’t mind waiting for the ghosts, but it definitely wasn’t what I’d expected!

  2. jessicabookworm says:

    I’m afraid I haven’t heard of this author before, Helen, but I do love a good ghost story and tales set in the swinging sixties! So this sounds great! Glad you enjoyed it and I hope you will be able to read her other novel soon. 🙂

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