Epeolatry Book Review: The Witch in the Well by Camilla Bruce
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Title: The Witch in the Well
Author: Camilla Bruce
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Release date: 4th, October 2022
Synopsis: When two former friends reunite after decades apart, their grudges, flawed ambitions, and shared obsession swirl into an all-too-real echo of a terrible town legend.
Centuries ago, beautiful young Ilsbeth Clark was accused of witchcraft after several children disappeared. Her acquittal did nothing to stop her fellow townsfolk from drowning her in the well where the missing children were last seen.
When author and social media influencer Elena returns to the summer paradise of her youth to get her family’s manor house ready to sell, the last thing she expected was connecting with—and feeling inspired to write about—Ilsbeth’s infamous spirit. The very historical figure that her ex-childhood friend, Cathy, has been diligently researching and writing about for years.
What begins as a fiercely competitive sense of ownership over Ilsbeth and her story soon turns both women’s worlds into something more haunted and dangerous than they could ever imagine.
An intriguing premise, but a mediocre delivery led to a disappointing read for me. Former friends reuniting in a small town and forced to face old secrets is one of my favourite trope-premises. But the premise got lost in a trio of frustrating characters and an experimental style that didn’t quite stick the landing.
The novel is composed of several different found footage sections based on documents from our three main characters, Elena, Cathy, and Ilsbeth. I enjoy found footage when done well and there are some good sections of this book, but for me it fails at the trickiest part of found footage, which is: justifying the existence of the documents and what is written in them.
The main texts are Elena’s blog, Cathy’s open letter to the local townsfolk, excerpts from Cathy’s book about Ilsbeth, and the Nicksby Documents written by Ilsbeth as a ghost? (this is never made fully clear). The blog works the best. Elena is an insufferable person, but her blog entries are entirely believable for her character. She strikes me as exactly the type to overshare like this online. However, the other documents are more confusing. The information that Cathy includes in her open letter, especially towards the end of the book, strains credibility. Cathy is a bitter, unpopular recluse who believes the entire town is out to get her, yet she still bares her soul against the advice of her lawyer and son for everyone to see, even when it incriminates her. Cathy also writes a fictional account of Ilsbeth’s life, and pieces of that book are used to fill in Ilsbeth’s backstory. While the prose in these sections is engaging, its inclusion is confusing since it’s not actually Ilsbeth’s story. Ilsbeth herself is opposed to Cathy’s book–something that is made clear in the Nicksby Documents, which serve as her posthumous diary of sorts.
In the end, most of the pieces do come together. Bruce offers an intriguing reveal that I only partially predicted. While this book didn’t entirely agree with me, if you are intrigued by the premise and a fan of found footage and witches, The Witch in the Well might appeal to you.
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Melody lives in Ontario, Canada and writes short, dark fiction. She has been published in several anthologies and online publications. In university, she studied Ancient Greek and Roman Studies and often infuses her work with elements of Greek mythology. She also loves reading, embroidery, and martial arts. You can follow her homepage at: https://www.blog.melodyemcintyre.com/