Review: The Whistling by Rebecca Netley

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. This did not affect my opinion of the book in any way.

Publisher: Michael Joseph
Published: October 2021
Pages: 400


Alone in the world, Elspeth Swansome takes the position of nanny to a family on the remote Scottish island of Skelthsea.

Her charge, Mary, hasn’t uttered a word since the sudden death of her twin, William – just days after their former nanny disappeared.

No one will speak of what happened to William. Just as no one can explain the hypnotic lullabies sung in empty corridors. Nor the strange dolls that appear in abandoned rooms. Nor the faint whistling that comes in the night . . .

As winter draws in and passage to the mainland becomes impossible, Elspeth finds herself trapped.

But is this house haunted by the ghosts of the past?


Chilling, twisty and emotionally gripping, The Whistling is an atmospheric page-turner with shades of the classics, yet a unique character of its own, perfect for fans of Susan Hill and Laura Purcell.

My Thoughts…

CW: this book contains mentions of death and child death.

It’s 1860 and Elspeth Swansome is alone in the world. Trying to escape painful memories and the ghost of her life in Edinburgh, Elspeth accepts the position of nanny to a family on the remote island of Skelthsea.

When she gets there, though, she discovers that her new charge, Mary, hasn’t spoken since the death of her twin, William. A death no one wants to talk about. Soon, strange things start occurring in the house and an eerie whistling can be heard at night… and Elspeth will be left wondering whose secrets haunt the halls, those of ghosts or of the living?

The Whistling is a novel in the best gothic tradition, that kept me glued to the pages and gave me quite a few chills. It’s an absolutely perfect read for a dark winter night (or afternoon, if you’re like me and need to read spooky stories in the light). The author did a great job in creating a haunting atmosphere with a strong sense of foreboding, while at the same time letting the story eerily play out in the space somewhere between dreams and reality.

I absolutely adored the setting in this. The island and the house were both drawn so well I could almost see them and feel the cold, the fog, the sea… and the whistling. This book is beautifully atmospheric and reminiscent of classic gothic novels in its style and setting.

The characters were also compelling, with Elspeth and Mary certainly being the best ones in terms of characterisation. The bond that develops between the two of them is so tender and adorable that I couldn’t help getting attached to them too! The rest of the cast is quite varied, and I enjoyed seeing snippets of island life through them, and the colourful characters that live there. I did occasionally find Elspeth to be a tad too naive, but I suppose that added to her charm somewhat and didn’t end up annoying me too much.

Even though I thoroughly enjoyed this, it came just short of blowing me away. Mostly, I think, this was because I had a strong sense of having seen all this before. There are hardly any original elements here, and the story follows pretty closely the template of other ghost/gothic island stories. The author does a fantastic job with it, but it just needed a little bit more for it to go from a really good read to a great one for me. This possibly won’t be a big issue for anyone just looking for an entertaining haunting read, but genre aficionados might not appreciate it as much.

Rating: 4/5

Four butterflies to indicate rating.

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