Reviewed by Emily Cahill
This one is not for the faint of heart, folks. If you are looking for a dark, gothic, twisted listen allow Emma Lysy’s voice to lull you in. Newcomer Jeanette Ng’s Under the Pendulum Sun is the most original book you will listen to all year.
When Catherine Helstone’s brother Laon goes missing on a mission to convert the fae inhabitants of Arcadia to Christianity, she seeks permission to follow after him and ascertain his safety. What she finds instead is a land full of serpentine twists where very little seems real—even herself. The sun, the moon, the house she lives in, are all part of a great manufactured world that she explores in the company of Ariel Davenport’s changeling and a gnome-like butler Mr. Benjamin while waiting for news of her brother.
Ng’s Arcadia is such a beautiful world—filled with a swinging pendulum of a sun and wicker whales that dive and swim through the earth as if through water—that you may think for a moment that is the great benefit of this tale, a jolly trip down the gorgeously imagined Arcadian lanes. It’s not. The point is to ravage your—er, Cathy’s soul.
Full of Christian mythology and classic fae tropes, Arcadia is a land that will seem familiar at first until you realize you—like Cathy—are utterly lost. In true Gothic form, Cathy discovers a sinister plot in the moonlit, deserted rooms of the grand house she is imprisoned in. And the truths she discovers are enough to shatter both her and the listener vicariously.
Deserving of praise is Emma Lysy, the narrator who brings to life Laon’s husky despair, Cathy’s righteous narration, and Ariel’s chirping London accent. In a world full of the abnormal, Lysy’s voice is a dependable anchor of the real. She remains the reliable narrator directly opposed to the increasingly unreliable literary one. Her variation in British accents is so convincing you might be shocked to learn she grew in the American Midwest. But the fact that she has narrated over 100 audiobooks should be no surprise—she clearly knows what she is doing.
And likewise Ng, whose background in studying history and theology is evident in her scrupulously rendered historical atmosphere. Even as you want to look away from the degradation of her main characters, you only get further enveloped in their dark tale. No doubt Jeannette Ng’s next work will be equally full of evocative prose. And though another trip into her imagination will likely be just as hellacious as the first.