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Table of Contents
About The Book
From the author of the “dark and devious...beautifully written” (Stephen King) Mirrorland comes a richly atmospheric thriller set on an isolated Scottish island where nothing is as it seems and shocking twists lie around every corner.
A remote village. A deadly secret. An outsider who knows the truth.
Robert Reid moved his family to Scotland’s Outer Hebrides in the 1990s, driven by hope, craving safety and community, and hiding a terrible secret. But despite his best efforts to fit in, Robert is always seen as an outsider. And as the legendary and violent Hebridean storms rage around him, he begins to unravel, believing his fate on the remote island of Kilmeray cannot be escaped.
For her entire life, Maggie MacKay has sensed something was wrong with her. When Maggie was five years old, she announced that a man on Kilmeray—a place she’d never visited—had been murdered. Her unfounded claim drew media attention and turned the locals against each other, creating rifts that never mended.
Nearly twenty years later, Maggie is determined to find out what really happened, and what the islanders are hiding. But when she begins to receive ominous threats, Maggie is forced to consider how much she is willing to risk to discover the horrifying truth.
Unnerving, enthralling, and filled with gothic suspense, The Blackhouse is a spectacularly sinister tale readers won’t soon forget.
It wasn’t the screams he remembered most, although they crashed to shore inside the howling, furious wind and ricocheted for hours around the high cliffs above the beach. It wasn’t the storm or the roaring, foaming waves that carved great snaking wounds through the wet sand and stole its shape from under his feet.
It wasn’t the dark or the flashing torchlight. Or the frantic hours of men pushing boats into the wild surf: motorboats, fishing boats, even old wooden sgoths. All to be smashed into the bay’s high headlands or hurled back onto the shore like stones from a slingshot.
It wasn’t the long, tired wails of the women whose silhouettes stood in a clifftop vanguard ahead of the silver-starred inland sky. Nor those waving white arms out on the rocks, which became slower and less frequent as the screamed chorus grew quieter. And it wasn’t the wondering about which of those arms, those bobbing heads that disappeared and sometimes reappeared, belonged to his father.
It wasn’t even the eerie silence that came after. The exhaustion of energy and grief and hope. The exhaustion of wind and rain and thunder and sea.
It was the tide bell out on those rocks. Its low, heavy ring growing ever more muffled under the weight of water and all that time.
And it was the black tower casting an invisible shadow over the sand and bay and calming waves.
They were always what he remembered the most. Sometimes they were all he could think about.
The tide bell. And the black tower.
And knowing that every man on those rocks would never come back. Because of him.
Because of what he’d wanted. Because of what he’d done.
Reading Group Guide
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In 1994, Robert Reid lived on the Isle of Kilmeray, haunted by his past. Instead of ingratiating himself into the villagers’ lives, he sets himself apart at every turn. Maggie is there to unravel the circumstances of Robert’s death. On this haunted island, nothing is as it seems, and Maggie’s pursuit of the truth puts her in grave danger.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. When present-day Maggie first arrives on Kilmeray, her immediate experience with the islanders—Jaz, Kelly, Gillian, and Bruce—is positive. How does this interaction set the tone for Maggie’s relationship with them throughout the course of the book?
2. At multiple points in the novel, Maggie stops herself from revealing the recent death of her mother. Why do you think she feels the need to hide such a large part of her story?
3. On page 50, Maggie recalls her mother’s fierce proclamation: “Mental illness is a tool of repression and ignorance.” What does this tell you about Maggie’s mother and do you think her statement has some truth to it?
4. When Maggie encounters Charlie on the bluffs, he tells her of strange sightings on the island, which serve to bolster Maggie’s fear of the crows she’s recently found. He goes on to mention “thin places” and tells her that Kilmeray is one. Did you believe Kilmeray truly is a “thin place”?
5. When we first meet Robert, we know right away that he is a haunted man. In contrast, he describes fellow islander, Charlie MacLeod, as “smiling, charming, everyone’s friend” (page 70). What does Charlie represent to Robert? And how does Charlie differ in the past from the present?
6. Maggie sees and hears strange things throughout the course of the novel and has a growing suspicion that someone on the island is trying to scare her. Why doesn’t Maggie mention anything to people she has befriended? And how does her fear work against her in finding answers?
7. Both Maggie and Robert feel drawn to the island and are compelled to stay longer once they’re there. How do their relationships with the island differ? What are the similarities?
8. The villagers play a prominent role in the novel, often hindering Maggie and Robert but other times providing them with support. Discuss the ways the villagers hide the truth, and also how they help.
9. Mary is obviously devoted to Robert, but he becomes so absorbed in his own self-hatred, that he begins to believe Mary is conspiring against him. What did you think Mary was thinking? Did her evolution surprise you? How does this novel make us think about marriage and partnerships today?
10. Both Maggie and Robert suffer from some form of mental illness. Robert, in 1994, is unable to receive proper care while Maggie, in 2019, is prescribed medication and receives a certain level of community support (from both Will and Kelly) but still struggles with acceptance. Consider conversations around mental health as well as our healthcare system. How do these characters’ experiences reflect what we see in our society today?
11. The island itself is richly atmospheric and memorably described. How are both Maggie and Robert affected by the island’s moods and elements?
12. How did you feel about the choice Maggie makes at the end of the novel?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Research Scotland’s Outer Hebrides to get a better sense of the rich setting of The Blackhouse.
2. Read Carole Johnstone’s first book, Mirrorland, for another fabulously atmospheric and twisty thriller!
- Publisher: Scribner (January 3, 2023)
- Length: 336 pages
- ISBN13: 9781982199678
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Raves and Reviews
“Fans of Tana French will embrace author Johnstone's skill at weaving supernatural and setting-as-character aspects into her story, and readers of Lisa Jewell will enjoy her unexpected plotting and character development. The caliber of Johnstone's writing and masterful storytelling will delight both. This richly evocative story exists at the point where love, fear, guilt, bad decisions, psychosis, and mythology collide.” —Kirkus, Starred Review
“Atmospheric, thrilling, and utterly captivating.”—Booklist
“A uniquely claustrophobic and disconcerting tale with notes of otherworldliness.” —Book Riot
“Spins Norse legends, Hebridean superstitions, Bronze Age history and canny Scottish wisdom into a deeply absorbing and wildly atmospheric mystery about the dangerous brew of self-loathing, familial duty and guilt. Johnstone cleverly sets revelations, sometimes sinister, always startling, across her plot... the alchemy of place, plot and character is the white-bright light at the core of Johnstone's novel.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune
“[An] eerie gothic thriller... this ghost story ultimately packs a gale-force wallop. Johnstone is a writer to watch.” —Publishers Weekly
“Read THE BLACKHOUSE with the lights on, wrapped in a cozy blanket... The early spring of the Scottish isle will chill your bones, along with the darkness of the book. It's as unsettling as the ocean in the stormy seas and as enigmatic as the Norse myths that accompany it. And the twists — oh, the twists.” —Book Reporter
“Johnstone fashions a gripping narrative awash with multiple shocks and secrets. A perfect choice for a winter evening, The Blackhousefreezes the blood as it churns the brain.” —Jay Strafford, Fredericksburg Free Lance Star
“Provides pulse-pounding panic.” —Popsugar
“Atmospheric and compelling with an excellent sense of place, this literary thriller is somehow both uplifting and heart-breaking, with some very unexpected twists!” —Catherine Cooper, author of The Chalet and The Chateau
“One of the most atmospheric novels of the year... cements her reputation as a rising queen of the gothic.” —Crime Reads
“One of the best suspense novels of the year... Richly atmospheric, gothic, eerie, and pulse-pounding... Multi-layered and mystical, The Blackhouse will hook you, reel you in, and capture your imagination until the last thrilling twist. —Mystery and Suspense Magazine
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- Book Cover Image (jpg): The Blackhouse Hardcover 9781982199678
- Author Photo (jpg): Carole Johnstone © Julie Broadfoot(0.1 MB)
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