Magpie by Elizabeth Day is a mental labyrinth of a domestic thriller

One for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl, four for a boy. Magpies have long been the subject of superstition, and this domestic thriller from Elizabeth Day is one you’ll find yourself reading with raised brow suspicion throughout.

Released in 2021, Magpie’s opening chapters are dark and unsettling, depicting Marisa’s side of the story which centres around her pregnancy and relationship with Jake. She grows wary and distrustful of their lodger, Kate, and by page 100-or-so, I was convinced that I knew what was going to happen – but I was so very wrong.

The blurb reads: “Sometimes Marisa gets the fanciful notion that Kate has visited the house before. She makes herself at home without any self-consciousness. She puts her toothbrush right there in the master bathroom, on the shelf next to theirs.

“In Jake, Marisa has found everything she’s ever wanted. Then their new lodger Kate arrives. Something about Kate isn’t right. Is it the way she looks at Marisa’s boyfriend? Sits too close on the sofa? Constantly asks about the baby they are trying for? 

“Or is it all just in Marisa’s head? After all, that’s what her Jake keeps telling her. And she trusts him – doesn’t she? But Marisa knows something is wrong. 

“That the woman sleeping in their house will stop at nothing to get what she wants. Marisa just doesn’t know why. How far will she go to find the answer – and how much is she willing to lose?”

Within the first few chapters, one solitary black and white feathery bird crashes into the novel, bringing with it a foreshadowing of what was to come, based on the well-known rhyme, but it’s not the sorrow one might initially expect. This is a tale of many twists and turns and just when you think you’ve figured it all out, something else transpires.

Magpie expertly documents a painful and emotional fertility journey, and draws on Elizabeth Day’s own conception struggles. The book was written in the wake of her third miscarriage following a decade of trying for a baby, including IVF and egg freezing. They are entirely exceptional circumstances, but ones in which Elizabeth is able to allow real raw, honest emotion to seep into the pages.

Born of her own desire to become a mother, Day has drawn on and amplified that desperation and created an insidious storyline with thrilling dramatics. As well as documenting the turbulent journey of pregnancy, it also explores the straining of relationships and a toxic parental relationship.

The book’s second part was like looking at the same film through a different camera angle, offering a new perspective on the same series of events, which is when the pennies begin to drop – but the real villain of the novel is somewhat unexpected.

While I wouldn’t want to read this book if I were going through a fertility journey myself, Day has done a fantastic job materialising the fear and uncertainty that comes with it, to create a modern mental labyrinth of a thriller unlike any I’ve read previously. 

You can buy Magpie by Elizabeth Day on Amazon here.

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