Epeolatry Book Review: Myrrh by Polly Hall


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Title: Myrrh
Author: Polly Hall
Genre: Psychological Horror
Publisher: Titan Books
Release Date: 9th April, 2024

Synopsis: Myrrh has a goblin inside her, a voice in her head that tells her all the things she’s done wrong, that berates her and drags her down. Desperately searching for her birth-parents across dilapidated seaside towns in the South coast of England, she finds herself silenced and cut off at every step.

Cayenne is trapped in a loveless marriage, the distance between her and her husband growing further and further each day. Longing for a child, she has visions promising her a baby.

As Myrrh’s frustrations grow, the goblin in her grows louder and louder, threatening to tear apart the few relationships she holds dear and destroy everything around her. When Cayenne finds her husband growing closer to his daughter – Cayenne’s stepdaughter – and pushing her further out of his life, she makes a decision that sends her into a terrible spiral.

In horror, I am attracted to strange creatures and unexplained monsters. Vampires, werewolves, giant lizards, aliens, zombies…you name it. They are fascinating especially when their backstory is revealed, so I couldn’t wait to dive into Polly Hall’s Myrrh and explore the goblin that bullies from within the protagonist’s body. 

At first, I struggled reading Myrrh though I’m not entirely certain why. The main protagonist, Myrrh, is adopted and knows nothing about her birth parents. Her mind is often attacked by the goblin, and it delights in tormenting her. The opening conveyed unfocused attention on Myrrh’s surroundings and her relationships. Nothing made sense for a while as I tried to understand Myrrh’s way of thinking. It was almost like I, the reader, was a goblin too, shifting through her perspective with little interest. Eventually I adapted and began to understand Myrrh’s longing for a place to call her own, and a sense of belonging as the world (thanks to the goblin) shuns her for being different.

While Myrrh battles with the decision to get in touch with her birth parents, another woman enters the scene. Cayenne is a woman deeply in love, who marries, but then cracks form in her marriage. She wants a baby, but her husband doesn’t. Cayenne has to deal with her stepdaughter’s meanness and her husband’s aloofness while her desire for a child goes unanswered. I knew Cayenne must have a connection to Myrrh and speculated that she was actually Myrrh’s birth mother, so I read on. I was so wrong.

Hall focuses on Cayenne and Myrrh while sliding in other women now and again, but at times this became quite confusing, especially when Myrrh’s timeline bounced back to her childhood. It was tricky to keep up with who was who and from which stage they were speaking. I had a headache afterwards, and found myself speculating what Myrrh’s goblin could be and where it came from. Was it mental health? 

Piece by piece, Myrrh reveals the truth with a great ending, but it was a long time coming. By then, I was sick and tired of the goblin’s venomous words and Myrrh’s frustrating silence when she could have been asking the many questions that she had been leading up to. My patience was rewarded, but in part. The goblin’s backstory had a gaping hole that for the life of me I couldn’t figure out, and perhaps I was never meant to, but it feels like a letdown. 

Even so, it was worth reading, and without giving any spoilers, I recommend Myrrh. It masterfully conveyed the many roles of women, the isolation of being adopted, and how secrets can be twisted. It’s thought-provocation tackles self-identity, the meaning of family, social appearances, marriage and pregnancy. The lush descriptions are beautiful and literary. 

However… I’m not sure whether to call this horror. It’s disturbing in places, but focuses too much on adoption, self-identity etc, and therefore the horror doesn’t have as much impact as it could have. It reads more like a mystery thriller that wants the reader to keep on guessing how everyone’s connected.

For me, it was a victory to finish reading. It was one of the hardest books I’d read in a long time and perhaps this is because it is labelled as horror. I come for horror, so I expect horror. Instead, I found strong female characters, diversity, and a unique writing style. Read Myrrh and you might find yourself completely disagreeing with me. I think Myrrh is a complex read that will have many readers disagreeing on its identity, ironically on brand.


Available from Amazon and Bookshop.

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