Skip to Main Content

Told with startling twists and haunting power, Mirrorland is a thrilling psychological suspense novel about twin sisters, the man they both love, the house that has always haunted them, and the childhood stories they can’t leave behind.

Cat lives in Los Angeles, far from 36 Westeryk Road, the imposing gothic house in Edinburgh where she and her estranged twin sister, El, grew up. As girls, they invented Mirrorland, a dark, imaginary place under the pantry stairs, full of pirates, witches, and clowns. These days, Cat rarely thinks about their childhood home, or the fact that El now lives there with her husband, Ross.

But when El mysteriously disappears after going out on her sailboat, Cat is forced to return to 36 Westeryk Road, which hasn't changed in twenty years. The grand old house is still full of shadowy corners, and at every turn Cat finds herself stumbling on long-held secrets and terrifying ghosts from the past. Because someone—El?—has left Cat clues: a treasure hunt that leads back to Mirrorland, where the truth lies waiting...

A brilliantly crafted story of love and betrayal, redemption and revenge, Mirrorland is a propulsive, page-turning debut about the power of imagination and the price of freedom.

This reading group guide for Mirrorland includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Introduction

Cat lives in Los Angeles, far away from 36 Westeryk Road, the imposing gothic house in Edinburgh where she and her estranged twin sister, El, grew up. As girls, they invented Mirrorland, a dark, imaginary place under the pantry stairs, full of pirates, witches, and clowns. These days, Cat rarely thinks about their childhood home, or the fact that El now lives there with her husband, Ross.

But when El mysteriously disappears after going out on her sailboat, Cat is forced to return to 36 Westeryk Road, which has scarcely changed in twenty years. The grand old house is still full of shadowy corners, and at every turn Cat finds herself stumbling on long-held secrets and terrifying ghosts from the past. Because someone—El?—has left Cat clues in almost every room: a treasure hunt that leads right back to Mirrorland, where she knows the truth lies crouched and waiting . . .

A twisty, dark, and brilliantly crafted thriller about love and betrayal, redemption and revenge, Mirrorland is a propulsive, page-turning debut about the power of imagination and the price of freedom.

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. In the prologue, we meet twin sisters Cat and El, who’ve run to the harbor at night to join a pirate ship. How do we begin to sense that this is more than a childish lark? What about the dynamic between the girls? What can you tell about their relationship?

2. Describe your first impression of 36 Westeryk Road. Why is Cat unnerved to see the same furniture from when she was a child? How do the features of the house—the echoing bell pulls, the fantastically named bedrooms—create a particular atmosphere? Is there a moment that frightened you caused by something in the house?

3. When Cat first returns to Mirrorland, she says, “As the creak of that old wood settles and suffocates, I wonder if my nervous excitement is merely the ghost of the child I once was” (page 46). Why did Cat and El create Mirrorland? What were they trying to find there?

4. The girls’ mother, Nancy, explains to her daughters that they are mirror twins. How does this shape their sense of self? How do they seem the same, and how are they different, physically and psychologically?

5. Loving and fierce, Nancy is a complicated figure throughout the course of the novel, a woman who’s always thinking one step ahead and yet sleeps in a frilly room called the Princess Tower. How did your initial impression of her change as more of the girls’ childhood was revealed?

6. On page 77, we meet many of the characters of Mirrorland: “El and Ross were sitting cross-legged in the Captain’s Quarters. In the stern stood Annie, Mouse, Belle, and Old Joe Johnson, the barkeep of the Three-Fingered-Joe Saloon. The Clown representative, to my dismay, was not Dicky Grock, but Pogo.” How did you imagine these characters visually? Did you feel they were there to harm or help?

7. How do Ross’s experiences as a young boy affect how he behaves with Cat and El? Why do you think he became a psychologist? How did the way you felt about Ross change throughout the book?

8. On page 107, Cat says about Mouse, “Because she’d always been my friend, not El’s. The Mouse to my Cat. My creation.” As the character of Mouse evolves, how does Cat’s perception of Mouse shift? What do you make of Mouse in the end?

9. At first, we see El from almost entirely Cat’s perspective. Does Cat seem like a reliable narrator? How does El’s voice make itself heard?

10. “But this house and our mother and her stories turned our imagination into a melting pot, a forge. A cauldron. And, I’m beginning to realize, I can trust nothing that came out of it,” Cat observes about their childhood (page 135). As the treasure hunt clues force Cat to confront buried truths and secrets, were you surprised by how much was revealed and how successfully she’d managed to live a lie for so long? Did it make you question any of your own memories?

11. Rafiq is determined to solve the mystery of El’s disappearance; Cat is determined to solve the mystery of their past. How did the narrative balance those two quests? When did they start to overlap?

12. Mirrorland offers several twists and turns. As a reader, which one was the most shocking to you? Which developments did you expect, and which ones took you by complete surprise?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. Mirrorland is in some ways a novel of escape. Read Stephen King’s novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption or Alexandre Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo and compare and contrast their escape narratives. Why were these stories so inspiring to Cat and El? Why do you think the author chose quotes from these two works for Mirrorland’s epigraph?

2. Mirrorland features a grand old house with such a strong, haunting presence that it almost becomes a character in the story. Compare and contrast 36 Westeryk Road with the house in Rebecca or The Haunting of Hill House or The Witch Elm or another film or novel of your choosing featuring a spooky, atmospheric house.

3. Much of Mirrorland is devoted to the idea of how children use imaginative play to understand mature, adult situations. Were there concepts or situations that you created myths or misunderstandings around when you were young and that you had to revisit when you grew older?
© Julie Broadfoot

Carole Johnstone’s award-winning short fiction has appeared in annual “Best of” anthologies in the US and UK. She lives in Argyll & Bute, Scotland, with her husband. Mirrorland is her debut novel.

"I loved Mirrorland. It’s dark and devious, a neo-gothic featuring twin sisters and a deeply frightening old dark house. Beautifully written and plotted with a watchmaker’s precision." —Stephen King

"In this unsettling, labyrinthine tale, it is hard at first to tell who the villain is—or even how many villains there are in a family with a great deal to hide. The book unlocks its mysteries slowly, twisting the knife a little deeper with each revelation." Sarah Lyall, The New York Times Book Review

“An unnerving thriller. . . . Fantasy and reality intermingle when a twin returns to her childhood home to search for her estranged sister. As Cat roams the creepy house, memories of an imaginary world the twins created spring to life.”People Magazine

"Fans of twist-filled thrillers, look no further than Johnstone's tale of estranged twins who invented their own dark and imaginary world." E! News

“It’s hard to believe that this is Johnstone’s first novel. It’s slick and accomplished and drips with Gothic suspense, but never swings into melodrama. This is a writer to watch.” Globe and Mail

"Johnstone has plenty of tricks up her sleeve in this suspenseful tale of betrayal and revenge, memory and imagination, and the thin line between love and hate." —Business Insider

"Enthralling . . . a dark, twisting thriller that explores the pitch-black corners of people’s minds; how good and bad, love and hate, terror and joy can co-exist; and how childhood memories can be rewritten with time as the lines between imagination and reality are blurred. Fans of Gillian Flynn's creeping dread and Liane Moriarty's nuanced morality and complex relationships should love this book." —Kirkus Reviews

“Johnstone’s debut had me flying through the pages while also wanting to sink into her gorgeous writing. Paired with twists and turns I didn’t see coming, readers will certainly be in for tons of surprises.” —Buzzfeed

"This ambitious blend of psychological suspense and horror casts a powerful light on the liberating power of imagination." Publishers Weekly

“Melds intricate family dynamics into a gripping mystery with the undercurrent of a gothic novel.” —Oline Gogdill, Shelf Awareness

"Johnstone pulls out all the stops in creating an atmospheric mystery.” The Big Thrill

“An inherently riveting and compulsive page-turning suspense thriller about the power of imagination and the price of freedom.” Midwest Book Review 

“Carole Johnstone’s debut feels like the love child of Gillian Flynn and Stephen King. In Mirrorland, nothing is as it appears and the kaleidoscope twists and turns will have you frantically turning the pages until you reach the gasp-out-loud ending.” —Greer Hendricks, #1 New York Times best-selling co-author of The Wife Between Us

"A dark, twisty and richly atmospheric exploration of the power of imagination" —Ruth Ware, author of One by One and The Woman in Cabin 10

“A dark and twisty thriller told with thumping heart and extraordinary tenderness—Mirrorland is as much a celebration of imagination and its escapism as an examination of trauma and its echoes.” —Kiran Millwood Hargrave, author of The Mercies

"A sinister study in estranged sisterhood and the shapeshifting powers of repression and denial. Thick with propulsive twists and immensely readable." —Sue Rainsford, author of Follow Me to Ground

"Thrilling, dark, and propulsive, Mirrorland is an unsettling shape-shifter of a novel. This is a story about a mysterious death and a long-buried secret, but it's also a fascinating, terrifying portrait of how we seek refuge in our imaginations—and how easily imagination can be confused with reality." —Anna Pitoniak, author of Necessary People

"An intricate, brilliant puzzle of a novel where past and present, fantasy and reality, are all clues that one twin must decipher to uncover the fate of her missing sister and the secrets of their shared past. It's Gone Girl meets Rebecca . . . atmospheric, tightly plotted and utterly gripping, a must read for fans of Ruth Ware and Gillian Flynn." —Sarah Pinborough, author of Dead to Her and Behind Her Eyes

More books from this author: Carole Johnstone