Pseudotooth by Verity Holloway

Image result for pseudotoothVerity Holloway's Pseudotooth is a dizzyingly imaginative novel in which a teenage girl, Aisling Selkirk, suffers from a mysterious mental illness and is sent to 'convalesce' in the country while her mother goes to London to rekindle her relationship with a former boyfriend. Aisling means vision or dream, and Alexander Selkirk was was the seafaring adventurer who inspired Defoe to write Robinson Crusoe, so it's only fitting that Aisling has a desperate yearning to travel and is prone to strange episodes in which she seems to be losing her grip on reality.

At the beginning of Pseudotooth I wondered if it was a young adult novel, but I soon realised that it is in fact a much more adult take on the genre than I was expecting. The fantasy elements - hauntings, time-slip, portals between worlds, dystopia - are beautifully executed but there's an underlying darkness, even a grittiness, to this book. There are hints that Aisling's symptoms could be caused by a past trauma, and the story of Feodor, a young teenager from the East End who seems to inhabit Aisling's subconscious, is bleakly squalid and disturbing. What's Feodor's link with Aisling? Where does the strangely-dressed Chase, who turns cartwheels on the lawn after dark, come from? And who is behind the pre-war journals in Aisling's room that outline the author's theories on how to handle the the 'defective classes'?

You will certainly want to ask questions of this book that won't be answered, and it's left to the reader to decide for themselves what's real and what isn't, and where imagination ends and madness begins. Some would call this book fantasy, some slipstream, some speculative fiction and some would say it was magical realism, but it really doesn't matter how you choose to categorise it: it's enough to know that Pseudotooth is a cleverly constructed, atmospheric and gripping read.  It's packed with all sorts of ideas, images and allusions to art, history, literature and psychology that somehow come together with remarkable coherence, and its scope is ambitious, with multiple interlinked plot strands and a vividly-drawn cast of characters shaped in part by their respective pasts. Pseudotooth is one of the most original and immersive novels I've read in a long time.