8th October, 2019

Review: In the Night Wood by Dale Bailey (Harper Voyager)

This is a book that left me wondering at night. It's been a while since I've read such a brilliant combination of rich imagery and heartwrenching grief.

Erin and Charles have fled to the UK from the States after the tragic death of their six year old daughter Lissa. As a result of their loss the marriage is in shambles and both characters have drawn back into their own little worlds. Charles hopes to find solace in the writing of a biography of Caedmon Hollow, an obscure Victorian author, whose book Charles first came across as a child and for whom he has held a strong fascination ever since.

The couple settles in at Hollow House, a remote Yorkshire mansion, but soon things become positively creepy. Ancient powers are stirring, both Charles and Erin see the ghost of their daughter and are haunted by the horned figure of the fairy king in their dreams, while the woods seem to be growing denser and drawing nearer by the day. 

In the Night Wood is essentially a fairy tale but it is also full of raw, gut-twisting grief. Even though I had obviously read the synopsis before starting the book I was not entirely prepared for the debilitating emotions that are cursing through its pages. I'm aware that this is probably because our son is of a similiar age as the protagonists' daughter. As a parent, experiencing even just a fictional portrayal of such pure despair is hard to stomach. So take this as fair warning and be prepared for "all the feels". 

What I loved about the story were the rather traditional folkloric and mythical elements. As someone who grew up with stories of 'Herne, the Hunter' I found Bailey's book to be an interesting take on the legend. The setting may be a bit of a stereotype (partly derelict, haunted house and all that jazz) but at the same time Bailey does such a wonderful job in evoking the landscape around Hollow House that it is near impossible not to be drawn in. You can almost hear the wind rustling through the leaves and smell the moss on early summer mornings. Even though the characters are not exactly likeable, I found myself feeling deeply for them. I also did want to slap them, however, and not infrequently.  ;-)

Another perk of the book are the numerous intertextual references and allusions. Some of them are directly connected to their source but others are simply strewn in. I'm a nerd, so I loved this little "spot the quotation" aspect of the story. 

The ending becomes somewhat predictable as the narrative progresses but even that didn't take much away from my enjoying it. This is a quick read full of atmosphere, perfect for a stormy night. 

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

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