You Let Me In is not the only tale Cassandra Tipp has ever told, but it will be her last. As her final act before disappearing into the wildwood, she invites her heirs to see her life through her eyes before they decide whether they want to inherit her legacy, finally knowing what that truly means…
I had heard a lot about Camilla Bruce’s dark debut before I picked up You Let Me In. It was overwhelmingly positive, although I avoided any details. Trusted bookfriends urged me to get on and read it. Having done so, I’m not sure how to review it – it’s the sort of book best experienced without foreknowledge (but also the sort of book that merits content warnings); and they were right – it’s very, very good.
I knew I was going to like You Let Me In from the opening pages. It’s cheeky, breaking the fourth wall to address the reader directly, confident in how you’ll react. Only you aren’t the reader being addressed; you are an interloper, an uninvited guest intruding on family secrets. This is a private matter being shared by a dying woman with her estranged niece and nephew, who we see only through her assumptions about them.
Everything about the execution screams unreliable narrator, but when your narrator is called Cassandra, don’t you feel just the slightest bit awkward about leaping to such a conclusion?
Cassie was her father’s delight and her mother’s horror, held up as a warning to a spoiled younger sister and a brother too fragile to cause trouble. She is infamous for being the girl who married – and murdered – the town’s handsome bad boy, Tommy Tipp; the widow who got away with it thanks to a clever psychologist quite clear that she couldn’t be held responsible; the sister who may have talked her impressionable brother into killing her father; the novelist whose best-selling romance novels never hinted at her blood-soaked personal life.
Everybody knows these things.
Cassie has a different perspective on events.
Naturally, Cassandra has been disbelieved her whole life.
You Let Me In is a gothic fairytale of a wild young girl with an invisible friend sustained by her blood and love; of treasures from the wildwood – like twigs and dead birds – that appear in her room at night; of a marriage with a magical shelf life and a cunning faerie child full of rage. Cassie committed no terrible acts, whatever her sister and the townsfolk believe; no, those were all the faeries’ doing…
Or were they?
It’s very tempting to read Cassie’s account as metaphor. Strip away the faeries and her life is draped in red flags, with suggestions of emotional and sexual abuse, abortion, emotional trauma and ultimately dangerous dissociation. Her invisible friend is an older man who crawls into Cassie’s bed to drink her blood; his imagined (or are they?) urges shape her behaviours in ways that only deepened my alarm. Rejected by her mother, mocked by her classmates, Cassie has nobody in her corner but the discomforting friend the world refuses to believe exists. Her life is a series of betrayals by those she loves most, which she can only try to weather as best she can.
Whilst it’s deeply creepy, it’s also heartbreaking, and the scene in which the novel’s title gains its full significance was devastating (how dare you, Pepper-Man. How dare. I’m still angry and I’m not even sure I believe in you). But it’s also – at times – darkly funny, because Cassie is a terrible liar – her truth is just too outlandish to be believed.
You Let Me In is a chilling tale brilliantly told. Bruce writes elegant prose, dropping hints in a way that will reward rereads even as she first confirms and then questions the reader’s assumptions. Is it a desperately sad story of survival and of the stories we tell ourselves to get ourselves through? Is it the final creation of a gifted novelist reframing her infamous life to both confirm and deny everything that has ever been said about her?
Cassie herself asks: why not both? She sees no reason to choose between conflicting truths. Her readers may believe what they wish.
She can only speak her own truth.