Reading this book I had a very strange sense of deja vu. Not because it is a 1978 book republished for its 40th Anniversary and I have read it before (which I haven’t) but because the setting is almost identical to another excellent book I have read, We were liars by E. Lockhart. The similarities are interesting, The Changeling is set on an island owned by a very rich American family. There is a main house on the island which is ruled over by a patriarchal figure and there is a large number of children living on the island as well, some related, some not but all running wild and free. Maybe Lockhart was inspired by The Changeling but even if she was, the similarities end there.
I enjoyed the first few chapters of the book; Pearl has run away from the island and is sitting in a Florida bar getting drunk with her baby, Sam, until her other half turns up to take her back. Then something pretty horrendous happens and we see Pearl back on the island several years later. This is where it slowly spirals into madness and frankly weirdness.
What follows is an alcohol fuelled, delirium narrative. In other words, it is completely unreliable and seems to slip into fantasy and myth regularly. Who are we to believe? Is Pearl speaking the truth or is she hallucinating? Can we believe the children and what are they? Or even Thomas, her brother-in-law? There is something very magical and mythical about this book with serious dark undertones and mental instability.
The second last chapter is key and since I don’t do spoilers I’m just going to say it really hits the jackpot on the ‘what the hell is going on’ scale. Suddenly, everything you thought was real might not be and it made me rethink the whole book. I have a suspicion that if you are interested in recreational drugs then you may well enjoy this or at least understand more of what is going on. There are moments of brilliance and because of that I liked The Changeling. The flashes of brilliance overcame the weirdness and the unsettling and dark tale sparked my imagination.