Saturday, January 20, 2024

Edith Holler by Edward Carey, his imaginatively weird tale set in the Edwardian theatre world (plus giveaway)

Artistic vision, wit, and the creatively grotesque intermingle in Carey’s (The Swallowed Man, 2020) literary historical fantasy. In 1901, Edith Holler is a physically fragile, curious, motherless twelve-year-old who’s lived her entire life within her large family’s historic theatre in Norwich, England because of a supposed curse.

A sprightly narrator, Edith is unsurprisingly possessed of an active imagination – too much so, the adults around her believe. After she deduces an unsavory association between Norwich’s lost children and the local delicacy of Beetle Spread (which is exactly what it sounds like), Edith writes a play about this secret history that her stern yet indulgent father agrees to stage. But when widowed Beetle Spread heiress Margaret Unthank becomes her father’s new fiancée, our heroine feels uneasy, for good reason.

Edith’s entertaining tour of the theatre’s many nooks and their inhabitants feels somewhat protracted, though the pacing quickens after Margaret appears on scene. This quirky homage to Carey’s childhood home, which bursts with personality and his expressive pencil drawings (and multiple ghosts), underscores the importance of listening to children.

Recommendation for young adults: Edith will win over YA readers with her dryly funny observations and determination to outsmart and overcome the wily Margaret.

Edith Holler was published by Riverhead in the US last October; this review was written for Booklist's September 1 issue. I haven't read Carey's previous novel, but loved his earlier historical Little, a reimagining of the woman who became Madame Tussaud. 

I also have a new hardcover copy to give away, open to US and Canadian readers.  Please add your details to the entry form on this page for a chance to win; deadline Saturday, January 27th.  Good luck!


The giveaway has ended. Congrats to Kellie - I'll be in touch.  Thanks to all who entered!


  1. It sounds like this is an author who chooses to write about very interesting subjects.

    Thanks for sharing your review with the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge!