Source: Review copy
Publication: 19 January 2023 from Orenda Books
When Teddy Colne arrives in the small town of Rye, he believes he will be able to settle down and leave his past behind him. Little does he know that fear blisters through the streets like a fever. The locals tell him to stay away from an establishment known only as Berry & Vincent, that those who rub too closely to its proprietor risk a bad end.
Despite their warnings, Teddy is desperate to understand why Rye has come to fear this one man, and to see what really hides behind the doors of his shop.
Ada moved to Rye with her young son to escape a damaged childhood and years of never fitting in, but she’s lonely, and ostracised by the community. Ada is ripe for affection and friendship, and everyone knows it.
As old secrets bleed out into this town, so too will a mystery about a family who vanished fifty years earlier, and a community living on a knife edge.
Teddy looks for answers, thinking he is safe, but some truths are better left undisturbed, and his past will find him here, just as it has always found him before. And before long, it will find Ada too.
Oh my goodness! Ronnie Turner’s So Pretty is an exquisitely written gothic novel set in Rye and it is both creepy and mesmerising. It reads like a malevolent Old Curiosity Shop, reminiscent of Dickens in its atmosphere and characterisation whilst modern in subject matter.
Teddy Colne comes to Rye hoping to make a new start. He finds a job in a strange shop called Berry and Vincent where Mr Vincent, the proprietor, is shunned by the townspeople. Vincent is a pale, silent figure and his whole aspect is both malign and very definitely squirm-making.
Ada, too, is hoping for a new start in life. She’s moved to Rye with her young son Albie and is looking to make friends in this small town after cutting herself off from her parents. But Ada is lonely and that makes her needy and there’s nothing that makes people nervous like being too close to needy people, so she finds it very difficult to make friends.
When Teddy and Ada meet it is the coming together of two bruised and fragile people and it will have devastating consequences. As they get to know each other Teddy introduces Ada and her son to Berry and Vincent, where he works, and to the strange man who runs it. It’s a shop with no customers, and the people of Rye go out of their way to avoid it. This shop is hiding some dark secrets and the skin on the back of Ada’s neck prickles when she enters. For Berry and Vincent is the refuge of an especially frightening character.
Ronnie Turner’s book is beautifully written and is totally creepy and so very intense. It is really unsettling and Turner manages to make even the Rye townspeople strange and somehow unpleasant. This is a book that gets under your skin and very quickly begins to squick you out.
It’s an amazing, gothic piece of writing that provides a great deal of food for thought. Themes of nature versus nurture combine with some provocative considerations of the relationship between parents and children and this is wrapped up in themes of coercive control with a dash of examination of how a small community can act in concert but never quite see what’s going on under their noses.
Written with a classical nod and containing dark and beautifully observed pen portraits, So Pretty is startling and incredibly intense and it engenders an atmosphere of fear and dread.
Verdict: A remarkable, beautifully gothic read that deals with old secrets and new. I’m overwhelmed by the intensity that Ronnie Turner creates. This is a seriously good piece of literary fiction that deals with fascinating questions around the nature of how personality and character are formed. I loved this thought-provoking, deeply sinister read.
Orenda Books Waterstones Bookshop.org
Ronnie Turner grew up in Cornwall, the youngest in a large family. At an early age, she discovered a love of literature. She now works as a Senior Waterstones Bookseller and barista. Ronnie lives in the South West with her family and three dogs. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling and taking long walks on the coast.