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The Unsuitable

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A fierce blend of Gothic ghost story and Victorian novel of manners that’s also pitch perfect for our current cultural moment

Iseult Wince is a Victorian woman perilously close to spinsterhood whose distinctly unpleasant father is trying to marry her off. She is awkward, plain, and most pertinently, believes that her mother, who died in childbirth, lives in the scar on her neck. Iseult’s father parades a host of unsuitable candidates before her, the majority of whom Iseult wastes no time frightening away. When at last her father finds a suitor desperate enough to take Iseult off his hands—a man whose medical treatments have turned his skin silver—a true comedy of errors ensues. As history’s least conventional courtship progresses into talk of marriage, Iseult’s mother becomes increasingly volatile and uncontrollable, and Iseult is forced to resort to extreme, often violent, measures to keep her in check.

As the day of the wedding nears, Iseult must decide whether (and how) to set the course of her life, with increasing interference from both her mother and father, tipping her ever closer to madness, and to an inevitable, devastating final act.

271 pages, Hardcover

First published April 14, 2020

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Molly Pohlig

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 224 reviews
Profile Image for Miranda Reads.
1,589 reviews154k followers
April 17, 2021

i may not remember you, but i cannot forget you. i poke my finger a little further underneath the scab...
Iseult Wince is a young(ish) Victorian woman (aka still young by our standards and a painfully unmarriageable age by Victorian standards).

And so her father decides enough is enough, she will get married...or else.
The lace collar crawled to the top of her throat...
And there's a lovely(ish) man who has a peculiar skin condition who is willing to look past Iseult's age and other oddities.

But there is one desperate secret Iseult's father is hiding from the future groom - the mother.
You poor poor lamb, poor dear poor darling. Poor motherless nobody, poor changling with no one to look after you.
For ever since Iseult could remember, her mother lived inside her. Like physically located inside her.

Iseult hears her mother most often whispering from the scar on her shoulder - sometimes motherly advice, sometimes horrifyingly cruel words.
is that all i am to you? pain?
Iseult has a way to control her mother - through self-mutilation.

Every time she does it, her mother comes back stronger, and Iseult needs to use more force the next round.

Hiding her mother's voice was never an option...but there must be a way to silence her forever...

I really, truly thought I would LOVE this book. The creepy, Victorian atmosphere was fabulous.

The initial whispers of the mother really intrigued me to the plot.

However...there was so much emphasis on graphic self-mutilation and so little care to the plot that I really had a hard time pushing myself through this book.

I have literally NEVER physically cringed away from a book so hard and so often.

I don't think I have too weak of a stomach - I love watching vet surgeries on YouTube and gory movies - but when she slips the needle into her heel and swishes it around? (and that was the tip of the iceberg) - it was too much.

It was so graphic and also it felt like unnecessary gore and cringe. Every few pages she was stabbing herself, sticking her finger under her skin and so much more.

Again, I think underneath all the mutilation, there was a really good story...it was just so present that it really threw me off and affected my enjoyment of the book.

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Profile Image for Olive Fellows (abookolive).
567 reviews4,599 followers
September 20, 2020
The below review originally appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Most of our mothers would be proud to think that their voices remain in our heads long after we leave the nest, providing us with guidance as we ponder how best to handle tough life situations. Such an arrangement is most productive in the figurative sense, with our mothers’ wisdom only being employed on demand, and when necessary. Iseult, the haunted heroine of Molly Pohlig’s gothic Victorian novel, “The Unsuitable,” has no choice in the matter. The voice of her mother is ever-present in her head and very, very literal.

Iseult Wince, as drab and pinched as her name suggests, is knocking on spinsterhood’s door at 28 years old. She routinely chases off suitors chosen by her cold and distant father when she blurts out the fact that she has regular contact with her long-dead mother. More than that, she believes her mother’s ghost resides in the large and painful scar on her neck. As the story goes, the midwife delivering Iseult made a critical error, causing a bone to protrude from the child’s neck during birth, and, as a result, her mother hemorrhaged.

As such, Iseult never met her mother, Beatrice; she knows her only through the nagging, often contradictory conversations that they’ve had inside her head for as long as she can remember. The voice began in her childhood, providing companionship in a lonely early life, but grew to become the chief reason behind her isolation from others. Iseult doesn’t just hear her mother, she responds aloud to her. We can guess, especially given the Victorian setting, this would be seen as clear evidence of madness to anyone within hearing range. Our main character’s father isn’t the only one keeping her at arm’s length.

The reader, however, can hear Beatrice’s voice as clearly as Iseult does. Her chatterings to her daughter are stylized in italics and drop punctuation as they become more and more manic. Beatrice is frequently nurturing and speaks kindly to her child, while at other times, she makes inflexible demands and even threats. It is in these latter moments that Iseult turns to inflicting harm upon herself, simply to drown out the noise in her head with the distraction of pain. Between her relentless pessimism and her willingness to dip a toe into the waters of her dark impulses, there is a hovering sensation that Iseult is a danger to herself.

Absent one parent, one would hope that the other would step in and fill the void, but Mr. Wince has precious little interest in his daughter. He wants her off his hands as soon as possible. When countless would-be suitors lose interest in Iseult upon hearing of her relationship with a ghostly maternal figure, one man has a special glint in his eye. Or, rather, a tint to his eye.

Jacob Vince is silver. His skin and eyes carry the hue as a result of a needed medication containing the metal, dyeing his body permanently. It is a rare skin condition now known as argyria and has caused him to feel like an outcast for the majority of his life, much like our heroine. Their uniqueness draws them together, but as talks of a wedding gain volume, so too does Beatrice’s voice. Her confusing demands about the courtship usher in an uncomfortable question: Is the ghost of Beatrice truly concerned for her daughter’s welfare, or, as is true in any parasite-to-host relationship, is she only concerned that her vessel remains viable? Asking such a question, however, assumes that the reader believes her mother’s ghost is indeed real, as opposed to a personification of Iseult’s frantic and tortured inner voice.

Although it houses an oddness that makes it compulsively readable, “The Unsuitable” has far more premise than plot. The tension of Iseult’s plight could have continuously twisted and writhed, but instead, it unsatisfyingly eases as the book’s events become increasingly repetitive. The gray-tinted claustrophobia that is strongly solidified at the start of the novel fails to maintain the reader’s interest as the dreariness of Iseult’s daily life drags on; even her physically self-destructive habits start to lose their shock factor as they, too, seem to become routine. By the book’s end, many psychological avenues have been left unexplored, and a general sense of missed opportunity becomes apparent. In her debut, Ms. Pohlig paints an outline of an intriguingly dark picture that, without sufficient detail, remains cloudy.
Profile Image for Chandra Claypool (WhereTheReaderGrows).
1,537 reviews317 followers
April 15, 2020
This is quite the interesting read. I'm utterly fascinated with books dealing with mental health and how it was dealt with in history. And as we all know, times have changed drastically in this field. Pohlig brings us Iseult (I STILL can't figure out how to pronounce this so my mind kept pronouncing it a bit differently each time). Iseult lost her mother before she could ever meet her but feels she lives in this scar in her neck as she hears her voice on the daily. The run on sentences in these internal conversations are HARD to read - it takes some getting used to and to be quite honest, I didn't care for it even after I got used to it. However, I do understand why it was portrayed this way. Madness.

Here's the thing - this is more a character read than a plot driven read. Iseult is considered a spinster at her age and her father is trying desperately to marry her off but her "condition" doesn't bode well to make this a proper goal. The hard part is seeing how people treated her because at this time, no one could understand a woman claiming to carry her dead mother with her inside. We get the inside of Iseult and everything she is going through. It's a bit of a tough read at times because of this.

Full disclosure, despite the subject matter, this writing style is typically not the kind of book I usually like. I usually need something more plot driven. However, in this case, the continuous grumbling of Iseult and what she has to endure is psychologically fascinating. And that ending, while not unexpected, still gave me pause. What are we actually reading about here? Iseult and her mental illness? Or is her mother truly a part of her and haunting her? I don't even think Iseult truly knows.

This book definitely won't be for everybody. I'm so curious what Pohlig will bring us next.
Profile Image for Justin Chen.
382 reviews337 followers
December 27, 2022
3.75 stars

Not for the faint-hearted, taking Gothic horror to the extreme, The Unsuitable is the least 'fun' novel I've read in recent years. Still, I applaud Molly Pohlig's craftsmanship at depicting such despair and dread in vivid detail — think the short story The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, but with amplified bleakness, and gore.

A recurring cycle of destructive behaviors: the female protagonist resorting to self harm in order to dampen her untreated schizophrenia, while the nonsupporting family completely dismissing the matter at hand. This is a full-on downer of a story, if you are sensitive to depiction of self-injury, mental illness, and toxic family dynamics, I would strongly discourage you from picking up The Unsuitable.

With that being said, I understand the absence of optimism in this story—probably more time period accurate to how such conditions were misunderstood and left untreated. I do think The Unsuitable could've been more potent as a novella; as much as I appreciate the claustrophobic, yet delicate writing, the glacier-like pacing is a huge commitment, especially when knowing the book will surround you in a cloud of sadness every time you pick it up.
Profile Image for amanda.
351 reviews26 followers
September 17, 2019

This was…a lot of somethings.

I’m going to just throw a bunch of trigger warnings on it now.

Trigger warnings: self mutilation, suicide, blood.

This is Gothic Victorian Horror with lots and lots of self mutilation. If you are in any way uncomfortable with that, please do not read any further. Thank you.

This is the story of Iselut Wince. A 20 something year old in the Victorian times whose father seeks to find a proper suitor for her.

Just a couple of issues.

She’s 28 so nun age in those times, her father despises her to the point he can’t even look at her, and Iselut’s dead mother lives inside her body.



Right inside the scar tissue of her neck and Iselut communicates with her quite frequently.

Such a happy home. A normal little family.

So you see, because of Iseleut’s mother living inside of her and her talking to and then fighting quite a bit this tends to cause issues…People talk and talk leads to rumors and who would want a woman who believes she’s inhabited by a dead corpse married into their family?

Desperate to get his crazed daughter out if his house, Mr. Wince has one last resort. He introduces Iselut to a man with silver skin. It is then that Iselut begins to experience something other than obedience for the voice in her head and learns about herself and her own family’s dark past.

Obviously, this book is dark. Very, very dark. The main character is literally cutting into her neck every other chapter and it pains me to write that and it pains me to read it. There is a reason why she does it but it does not make it any less unpleasant.

I honestly found the emotional treatment of her so much worse. It hurt to see it happen to her. She did absolutely nothing wrong. Yes, she was odd. Yes, she talked to herself but did she deserve this foul treatment. Not at all. I felt that deeply because I’m at this point in my depression where I feel so on the edge that anything could tip me over so at huge moments in the book I had to take deep breaths and walk away.

This all played out like a dark fairy tale and read very much like the Brothers Grimm. I’m still sick so I’m not even going to try to go deep diving for some profound meaning or vision but I’m sure there are many! What I got from it mainly was:
Be kind to others.
Be kind as life is way too harsh and too short already.
You never know what anybody has gone through so why make it that much harder.

There were some confusing bits in the book. The disjointed voices especially between Iselut and her mother. The pacing was a bit slow in the beginning as well. But overall I enjoyed this read. I wish we got to know more about the other characters besides Iselut and her repulsive father. I really enjoyed the cover. It’s cool! Look at those big Clock Tower esque scissors!

This was dark through and through and there was no light but sometimes that’s just how life is. Dark and unforgiving. Grim, a reminder that we don’t always have to listen to that little voice inside of us. Or maybe sometimes we could strain to hear a little bit better.


Thank you very much to Netgalley and the publisher for this ARC. All opinions are my own.

Please check out my blog aelilyreads for this review and more like it.
Profile Image for Janelle Janson.
691 reviews422 followers
July 3, 2020
Thank you Henry Holt for my free copy.

THE UNSUITABLE is a bloody, outlandish gothic tale set in the Victorian era. It’s full of dark scenes and even darker thoughts.

Iseult is twenty-eight, a spinster, and her father is desperately trying to marry her off. Even though her father is a cruel man, she resists the idea of getting married and keeps a black book detailing her unsuitable suitors. Iseult has another problem: she is haunted by a voice in her head. Her mother died during child birth leaving a considerable scar on her neck. And although she never met her, she believes her mother’s ghost resides in this scar, dictating her ever move.

As you can imagine our narrator is unraveling and perceived as mad by those around her. She practices self-harm as a way of dealing with her instability and since the story is told completely from Iseult’s perspective, the scenes are graphic. Pohlig wrote a brilliant debut that straddles the line between horror and humor. Although I will say if I had to choose, it’s the side of horror that wins the prize. The writing is creative and the prose is sharp and deliberate. I devoured this debut in one sitting.

As an aside, I am a serious fan of genres that include aspects of mental illness or any psychological component. The human mind fascinates me to no end and my senses perk up immediately when hear about a book such as this. I not only enjoy going on the nebulous roller coaster of a ride with the narrator, I relish it.

THE UNSUITABLES is an exquisite book with fantastical elements, full of vivid, disturbing imagery and a precarious mind.
Profile Image for Sheila.
940 reviews84 followers
June 3, 2020
3 stars--I liked the book. Content warning for self harm/body horror.

There's a new trend of adding gruesome horror to gothic stories, and I love it! This novel goes one step further and adds some dark comedy--at least until the end. (I'm being vague here to avoid spoilers.) I enjoyed the book but the ending was rough. In retrospect, the story couldn't have any other conclusion, but still--depressing.

I enjoyed the Yellow Wallpaper references. I wish the characters used more historically accurate speech patterns.
Profile Image for Tiffany PSquared.
494 reviews87 followers
April 25, 2020
Wow. Will I ever be clear about anything that happened in this book? Hard to say, but it's definitely one that I'll remember. I mean honestly, it's hard to forget about a story where the main character's mother lives in a scar on her neck. After you know that, how can anything else that happens turn out to be good?
My overall takeaway from this story is that madness is maddening.
Profile Image for Bandit.
4,459 reviews445 followers
August 19, 2019
This is a story about a young woman whose mother lives in her neck. That’s actually how the author herself pithily described the book in her afterword. But, obviously, there’s more to the story than that. The thing is, though, not that much more. In fact, it probably would have made a much more potent short story or a novella. On the novel canvas, it seems somewhat stretched out quite thin. The young woman does indeed have her mother with her at all times as it were in a most unusual fashion of a voice emanating from a childhood collarbone injury, resulting in, quite literally insults added to injury. To deal with both the young woman frequently resorts to self mutilation.There isn’t much she can do otherwise, for these is a proper gothic novel, wherein the ladies are delicate and fairly useless and are treated as such. At 28, Iseult is nearly a spinster, considered too odd by many and combined with natural pickiness, she has no one in her life but a distant, emotionally abusive father and a kindhearted servant. The catalyst for the novel comes when a plausible suitor is finally found, a lovely young man with silver skin. Yes, silver skin, because, you know, disembodied voices of long dead mothers aren’t enough. So the wedding plans are on the way, the drama gets heightened as changes are wont to do and once the family secrets start getting revealed, it’s curtains. Morbid ending as expected. Interesting novel, but didn’t quite work for me. Took a while to get into, the first chapter is actually fairly offputting in the same way incessant disembodied voices can be. The dead mother is no delight, but then again neither is Isuelt herself and that’s much more significant, because the entire novel rests on her delicate lady shoulders. In fact, the only genuinely likeable character is the silver skinned suitor. The story seemed quite thin somehow, not enough meat, mostly bones…then again that’s pretty appropriate for a gothic genre. Some things worked well, the atmosphere held up nicely and the father was as evil and horrid as an evil horrid father figure can be. The writing was quite good. The pacing, once you get used to the inner dialogues, sped along nicely. And the ending was very effective. So something of a mixed bag. Fans of gothic fiction should get some enjoyment out of this one. It was a very quick read for the page count, but didn’t quite engage. Some readers, certainly, should find this one more suitable than others. Thanks Netgalley.
Profile Image for Vonda.
318 reviews106 followers
March 2, 2020
Very darkly disturbing and probably the strangest thing I have ever read! The main characters mother died in childbirth having her, the baby shot out , umblilical cord around her throat and dead. She was saved by the nurse. Years later her deceased mom talks to her and harasses her from the scar. There is very disturbing suicide attempts , self harm and abuse. Her father tries to marry her off to no avail. A man whose skin is silver and comes along and offers to marry her. It's not an easy read but an odd, original Victorian ghost novel. It flowed and was a fairly quick read. I recommend it to those that the trigger warnings don't bother.
Profile Image for Jessica Haider.
1,791 reviews239 followers
October 29, 2020
Set in the Victorian era, this novel is about a young woman named Iseult Wince. She lives with her unpleasant widower father who is intent on marrying her off. Her father brings one unsuitable suitor after another before her but she scares them all away. You see, while her father is a miserable man who is horrible to his only child, Iseult is not the ideal young woman...she is plain, awkward...and she seems to believe that her dead mother haunts a scar in her neck. The story goes that Iseault's mother, Beatrice died during childbirth and that when Iseault was yanked out of her womb, one of her bones was broken and poked through the skin, resulting in a horrible scar....Iseult is constantly talking to her dead mother Beatrice. She also pokes at and even stabs at her scar with various sharp implements to try to quiet her mother.

So, this was an interesting premise. I was hoping for a bit more from it than what I got. The story was bizarre (as expected) but I found it uneven and not super compelling. I just didn't like any of the characters very much. And while I felt bad for Iseult and the circumstances of her life, I just wanted to shake some sense into her.

I won a copy of this book in a goodreads giveaway.
Profile Image for Audra (ouija.reads).
738 reviews250 followers
April 15, 2020
Now available!

A grim tale that you can’t look away from yet are afraid to probe too closely, much like a crushed car on the side of the road. Why is it that we cling to the things that scare us? Perhaps mostly because it reminds us that we are still alive, that we are lucky to have survived another day.

In The Unsuitable, Iseult is trying her best to survive too. She is twenty-eight and basically a spinster, since her horrible father can’t seem to marry her off. And why doesn’t anyone feel inclined to ask for her hand? Well, she comes off as quite mad, claiming that her dead mother lives in the scar in her neck.

The story is told from Iseult’s perspective, and she is unusual to say the least. She is constantly at battle with the voice in her head and its demands on her, at times supportive and at others abusive, gaslighting her into thinking or acting certain ways. She attributes the voice to her mother, a woman she never knew. Beyond that, or perhaps because of it, she has many dark thoughts and is constantly self-harming.

I loved the way Iseult conversed with her mother—their unpunctuated dialogue takes some getting used to, but it was wonderfully evocative and carved each of the characters very clearly for me, even though Iseult is really the only tangible character.

The real question of the book though: is Iseult mad or does some piece of her deceased mother truly live inside her? Is this a ghost story or one that exemplifies the crushing weight and expectation that was placed on women in the Victorian age? I like to think it is both, in the same way that it maneuvers between dark satire and true horror.

Pohlig’s writing is immediate, painting each scene with striking clarity, but it is also beautiful enough to savor. I look forward to reading more of her work.

This is a masterful novel, contemplating themes of mental health and the perceived role of women. Iseult is a wonderfully complex character, and I loved getting inside her dark and unstable mind.

My thanks to Henry Holt for my advance copy of this book to read and review.
Profile Image for Melissa.
487 reviews
December 10, 2019
**Trigger warning: self-harm, cutting, suicide**

Iseult Wince is awkward and plain. Her dad is determined to marry her off, but Iseult keeps running them off. Her mother died in childbirth and Iseult believes that she lives in the scar on her neck, a scar that is a constant reminder of her part in her mother’s death. When her father finally finds her a suitor that will marry her, her mother becomes more vocal and violent and drives Iseult to do the unthinkable.

Iseult is probably the most interesting character that I have encountered in a while. She’s very shy and self-conscious and unable to function on most days. You can’t help but feel bad for her though. She was raised by her father who despised her and never had a female role model. It’s sad that Mrs. Pennington, her housemaid, didn’t try to teach her more. I do blame her father for that. I believe that Mrs. Pennington was afraid of him. His words toward Iseult angered me and I can see how she would fear him.
Jacob Vinke is the sweet gentleman who agrees to marry Iseult. Although his skin is silver due to a treatment for a skin condition, he is still kind and thoughtful. He has lived shunned by society like Iseult, but has handled it much better, possibly because he has both parents who have helped him. I really liked Jacob. I think he really liked Iseult and he treated her so well. He never talked down to her or made comments about her odd behavior.
The ending has a shocking twist and a sad outcome. It wasn’t rushed though. The scenes played out and explained many things.
The only issue I had with the book, and I hope it gets fixed before final printing, is the conversations between Iseult and her mother. The dialog was choppy with no punctuations. It really made it hard to read. I do like how the author changed the font during the conversations so the reader knew who was talking.
(Advanced Reader Copy courtesy of Net Galley)
Profile Image for CloudOfThoughts_Books Keirstin.
388 reviews18 followers
August 12, 2019
The Unsuitable by author Molly Pohlig is so far a GREAT fiction! I will update review in full closer to release date. The Unsuitable releases next year in April!

Thank you Netgalley and the publisher for an arc copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for TraceyL.
988 reviews134 followers
June 4, 2020
In a similar vein of Han Kang's The Vegetarian, this book is about a woman self-destructing in an attempt to gain some control over her life. Living in a manor house with her controlling father and his staff, she is tormented by the voice of her dead mother and acts out by self-harming. While I wouldn't call this book scary, I would say there's a fair amount of body horror, so it's not for the squeamish.

I wish this book was even more bizarre. It hinted at being paranormal, and at times I felt a steampunk vibe (there's literally a silver-skinned man), and I wanted more of that. I guess the author wanted to keep readers guessing as to whether this is a realistic story, or a fantastical one. I think I could have really loved this book if it took place in a more fantastical world.
Profile Image for Angel Hench.
482 reviews9 followers
December 9, 2021
And the 2020 award for the most heartbreaking, beautiful book goes to The Unsuitable by Molly Pohlig.

Iseult's mother is dead. Her father dislikes her. The housekeeper has to work hard to keep her safe from herself. And if she keeps sabotaging her father's attempts at matchmaking, she'll be joining the ranks of spinsterhood at the ripe age of 28.

Also, her dead mother lives in her head.

If you are a fan of body horror on the level of The Troop, then you might just want to check this book out. Whew. (Trigger warnings for self-harm and suicide.) Honestly, there were passages I had to skip because I could not deal.

But I LOVED Iseult so much, with her quirky, unlovable, humorous, dark self. I would have followed her anywhere. And then she broke my heart.

Read this. It's great.
Profile Image for Marathon County Public Library.
1,451 reviews42 followers
January 12, 2021
Victorian, Gothic, Dark Humor.

Iseult Wince is getting too old. Soon, she’ll be a spinster, which everyone knows is the worst fate of all. Iseult is a bit odd, and her father dislikes her. His goal is to find her a suitable husband (i.e. any man who will take her). Iseult believes her mother died while giving birth to her, resulting in a scar on her neck, that her mother lives in. Speaking to her dead mother, moving more like a puppet than a person, and an overall frail body make Iseult far from an ideal wife. With the internal and external threat of institutionalization, Iseult makes an effort to behave, to refrain from saying things she should not know, observations she should not voice. Her father finds a perfect match for her, one of the few men left she hasn’t rejected or frightened off.

He’s perfect. He is also silver.

The more Iseult gets to know her silver beau the more volatile and manipulative her mother becomes. Will Iseult have to live with her mother’s overbearing and often violent voice in her head, or can she somehow be free of her?  How do you break free of someone who hears your every thought and refuses to let go?

This book was rather graphic but highly entertaining. The humor is dark and clever. I learned colloidal silver can in fact tint your skin silver if taken in high doses or for a length of time, and any book that teaches me something is worth reading. "The Unsuitable" is about complex familial relationships, making your own choices, and claiming who you are.

Hannah D. / Marathon County Public Library
Find this book in our library catalog.
Profile Image for Kirsty.
89 reviews19 followers
April 19, 2020
(Advanced readers copy from the publisher via net gallery)
A disturbing and daring debut. Iseult is the most disturbed character in a Gothic novel in history. The feel of the book is a cross between Ibsen’s ‘The Doll House’ and Henry James’ ‘The Turn of the screw’. The novel did seem a little uneven at the start but it made up for it by being full of surprises towards the end. Not an easy read in subject matter or plot.

An interesting new voice to the world of historical fiction, may Pohlig continue to create interesting and more importantly challenging new fiction.
Profile Image for Addie BookCrazyBlogger.
1,149 reviews35 followers
March 22, 2020
I’m a huge fan of horror movies but I feel like this book takes horror to a brand new level. I genuinely couldn’t tell if I was dealing with a possession, a ghost or a really bad case of schizophrenia. Iseult is a Victorian age spinster (28) who lives at home, claiming that her mother lives in her neck. Her mother allegedly died via childbirth when the inexperienced midwife pulled Iseult out by her feet, causing Iseult’s collarbone to snap inside and her mother to bleed to death. Her father despise this child and lives to see her married off. Iseult, in a desperate attempt to quell the constant speaking of her mother inside her head, continually self-injures herself. Things come to a peak when Iseult is to be married off to a man with silver skin. I genuinely have no idea what in the Sam Hill I just read. It honestly didn’t really feel like much of a story to me. I felt like I was just reading about a girl who kept hurting herself but it doesn’t delve into the psychology behind that or delve deeper into Beatrice’s story or her father’s story. It was just about pain. So if you like stories that feature lots of blood and barely any plot, then this is the story for you!
Profile Image for Samantha.
1,632 reviews78 followers
November 9, 2019
Whee! This was weird and super gross and also kind of hilarious in a way that made me feel a little guilty for laughing yet unable to stop myself.

Labeling this book gothic horror is a bit misleading. It’s a good deal more visceral than standard gothic. Stabbing oneself in the neck with sewing scissors is a good deal more, um, modern in its brand of horror than the typical Creepy Thing Stalking Around in Attic motif of the genre.

Still, that’s a publisher’s error, as I don’t think the author intend to write a straight gothic horror novel, but rather to play on the tropes of the genre to put together something more unique.

Weird and oft icky as this was, I enjoyed it and found the slightly wry tone to be an amusing counterbalance to the gory breed of violence involved.

Fair warning: I didn’t find the violence in this to be of an upsetting nature, but I don’t recommend this book if you have a self harm trigger, as some form of it takes place in nearly every chapter.

*I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.*
Profile Image for Juan.
174 reviews15 followers
August 8, 2020
I don't feel like this is made clear at all in the description so:

If you choose to read this book know that it contains very graphic self-harm, and these self-harm scenes take up a good chunk of the novel. Like, at least a third of all the pages in this book are about self-harm.
Profile Image for Mitra Mustafa.
85 reviews38 followers
April 15, 2020
Thank you HenryHolt USA for sending me the E-ARC of this book via Net-Galley in exchange for an honest review.
Iseult is a 28 years old Victorian girl, who believes that the ghost of her mother lives in her neck, her father despises her for her odd behavior and for being a laughingstock in the society, he is trying to marry her off but Iseult always frightens away her Unsuitable suitors. In her mind Iseult keeps talking to her mother who always confuses her and makes her do things that Iseult hates. Iseult tries to stop her mother from confusing and disturbing her by inflicting self harm, she uses pins and knives and scissors to physically wound herself. Her behavior is more of a mentally I'll person than a haunted one. Her house keeper Mrs. Pennington is the only person who takes care of her and who truly loves her.
When Iseult's father Mr. Wince finally finds a best match for her in Mr. Jacob, who has silver skin due to some skin disease, their wedding is arranged. Iseult has only two choices available to her, marry Jacob or go to convent/asylum. She choses to marry. But her mother Beatrice's ghost becomes frantic and starts physically harming her. And on her wedding day Isuelt makes a decision that ends in a tragedy.
Told from Iseult's point of view, it was a very grim and dark story. It is a little slow paced but well written in terms that it is focused on the character's mental health and behavior, its consequences, and its effects on the people around. Iseult's self-harming behavior is quite disturbing and nauseating. But I can't help but pity her and feel sorry for her because she hasn't done anything wrong, instead, others wronged her and pressurised her into things she didn't want. And her end was really tragic. Her story reflects on the status of women in the Victorian Era and how they were treated. And in my opinion her story is basically about the mental illness and extreme anxiety and how this all affects a person's life and the lives of the people around them.
I'd recommend this book to anyone who likes to read dark stories and the stories that deal with mental health issues.
Trigger warnings ; Self-harm, blood, suicide.
Profile Image for Natasja | natasjalovesbooks.
165 reviews62 followers
April 28, 2020
2.5 stars

This was a weird book. I couldn't really get into it. The premise excited me (a gory blend of Gothic fiction and a Victorian novel of manners, yes please), which is why I said yes when I was approached to review it, but I was ultimately disappointed by it. The characters were very underdeveloped and the story felt stretched. This could probably have been a really interesting novella, but as a novel, it was just way too long as nothing much actually happened. This is pretty much just the story of a woman that self-harms a lot (described in gory details) and believes that her mother lives in the scar on her neck. Nothing is ever really explained, there is no delving into the psychological aspects of Iseult's problems, and I have no idea what was actually going on throughout this story. The ending (and the slight twist) didn't surprise me and actually annoyed me a little bit. The writing was pretty good, though. Fans of horror stories might enjoy this book for what it is, but it wasn't really for me in the end.

I received a copy of this book by Henry Holt & Co in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Danielle Trussoni.
Author 12 books1,144 followers
May 29, 2020
Iseult Wince, the heroine of Molly Pohlig’s Victorian-era psychological novel The Unsuitable is a “drab and faded” woman on the verge of spinsterhood and is haunted by her mother, Beatrice, who died in childbirth. Now, Beatrice has burrowed herself deep into a scar on Iseult’s collarbone, left when “she was born and killed her mother.”

In snippets of dialogue woven throughout the novel, Beatrice harangues her child about everything from killing her to Iseult’s choice of suitors. Their bickering, and Beatrice’s run-on, boldface sentences, create a frenzied counterbalance to the deathly drone of Iseult’s daily life as it plays out in her large, lovely, airless Victorian home.

Pohlig’s descriptions of Iseult’s struggles are riveting, and will unnerve anyone who has battled an overbearing mother. The twisted intermixing of their lives often leaves one feeling as constrained as a lady laced into a bone corset. Indeed, their relationship is so close, so claustrophobic, that there were moments I needed to put the novel down, step to the window and get some air. The ending, both terrible and inevitable, was hard to stomach, but then again, the best horror is meant to leave you gutted, gasping for breath, straining to flee the dreadful voice echoing in your mind.
Profile Image for Adrienne.
64 reviews20 followers
April 20, 2020
Unnerving. Unsettling. Strange. Grim. Bloody. Elegant. Disturbing. Delicate. Macabre.
28 year old Iseult believes her dead mother (who she killed) lives in the gruesome scar on her neck. This unusual and strange and twisted story is not for the faint of heart. It deals heavily with grief, eating disorders, depression, personality disorders, and much more. (This is not a tale of healing or happily ever afters.) For me, this tale ticks all of the boxes for a classic psychological Victorian gothic story. And the cover is perfect! Someone call Guillermo and tell him to get the adaptation started. Thank you Allison at Henry Holt for sending me the eARC!
Profile Image for Sarah.
599 reviews45 followers
July 10, 2020
At first, I struggled with this book, because of the inclusion of self-harm, which I was unprepared for. However, as the story progressed, the tension gripped me and I held my breath as I waited to find out how it would end. The entire book is discomforting: all of the food is congealed and unappetizing, the description of self-harm forces the reader to wince in empathetic pain, and all the relationships are terse and secretive. All of this makes for a good horror story.
My one complaint would be that the arrival of Jacob, a man with silver skin, seems very out-of-place in this plot; it is too fantastical in an otherwise straight-forward Victorian ghost-story.
Profile Image for Caryn - iam.caryn.
729 reviews85 followers
April 11, 2020
I grew up loving gothic ghost stories. It’s basically the number one genre in my heart. Books containing stories like this are few and far between, so I was itching to read this.

I’m sad to say that the writing of The Unsuitable didn’t click with me. It was a bit choppy and felt incomplete. I had to DNF it because it wasn’t holding my attention.
Profile Image for Geertje.
694 reviews
December 29, 2022
From other reviews, I understand that this wasn't everyone's cup of tea. And I get it; at times, The Unsuitable is a bit repetitive, and at other times, it's horrifically graphic (big TW for self-mutilation/self-harm and bodily gore). But it's also suspenseful, vividly drawn (the eye to Victorian society is great), creative, original, and delightfully dark. I like weird creepy books, and for me, this was exactly the right kind of weird and creepy. I hope Pohlig publishes another book soon, because I can't wait to see what she comes up with next.
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