Thirteen-year-old Martha Alexander has disappeared. She had been spending her summer at a girls’ camp, where she shared a room with a girl named Betsy. They were not friends, and Betsy didn’t know much about Martha. Yet after failing to see her for a few consecutive days, Betsy visits the camp leader and reports the disappearance. The staff call Martha’s home, assuming she has made her own way back to her parents, but her mother hasn’t seen her, and as a week has now passed since the girl’s disappearance, the camp leader decides to call the police.
What follows is a short investigation into Martha’s disappearance. It seems that no one in the camp spent any time with her – even amongst the staff – and as the investigation draws to a close, you begin to wonder whether Martha ever really existed.
The longer you reflect on the story of “The Missing Girl”, the more disturbing it seems to grow. Much like Jackson’s other works, particularly We Have Always Lived in the Castle, it doesn’t present itself as a horror story; it is not gruesome, and it is certainly not frightening. Yet there is something deeply unsettling about this story, for, like Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle, it questions the brutal realities of human nature. It suggests to us that there is something inherently wrong within all of us, and this, in many ways, is a much more powerful, unsettling threat than the supernatural elements present in many gothic novels.
Yet despite this unsettling nature of the story, I did feel as though it could have done more. The message was powerful, but it wasn’t presented in the best way. I particularly felt that, towards the end of the story, the writing became a little abrupt. I was given the distinct impression that the ending was designed to leave its audience in a state of horror, but it wasn’t overly successful. It stayed in my mind, but this was arguably because I wanted to make sense of it, and not because it shocked or alarmed me. I found myself rereading the last pages a number of times before I finally put the book down, and I do understand the message of this book – and it’s an incredibly powerful one – but I feel as though it could have been conveyed far more efficiently.