In The Night Wood by Dale Bailey

37570474

Published by John Joseph Adams / Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

3 stars

Synopsis:

In this contemporary fantasy, the grieving biographer of a Victorian fantasist finds himself slipping inexorably into the supernatural world that consumed his subject.

American Charles Hayden came to England to forget the past.

Failed father, failed husband, and failed scholar, Charles hopes to put his life back together with a biography of Caedmon Hollow, the long-dead author of a legendary Victorian children’s book, In the Night Wood. But soon after settling into Hollow’s remote Yorkshire home, Charles learns that the past isn’t dead.

In the neighboring village, Charles meets a woman he might have loved, a child who could have been his own lost daughter, and the ghost of a self he thought he’d put behind him.

And in the primeval forest surrounding Caedmon Hollow’s ancestral home, an ancient power is stirring. The horned figure of a long-forgotten king haunts Charles Hayden’s dreams. And every morning the fringe of darkling trees presses closer.

Soon enough, Charles will venture into the night wood.

Soon enough he’ll learn that the darkness under the trees is but a shadow of the darkness that waits inside us all.


 

This book is an interweaving of Charles’ story and that of a Victorian fairy tale (one that only exists within this book as far as I know) – it draws parallels between the events of Charles’ life and superstition, leaving you as the reader to decide what’s real and what isn’t.

It’s a very atmospheric book, featuring a grieving couple that have moved from North Carolina to a rural village in the UK. It has some wonderful cliches on the move, which are classics for a reason! The gothic fairytale style is prevalent throughout the book, which binds the past, present and fictional together – it’s a beautiful writing style but wasn’t really enough to keep me interested.

The main character, Charles Harvey, is an unlikable man. His own personal failings as a father and husband are lip-curlingly disappointing, he then bounces between self-pity, indifference and general selfish apathy when it comes to trying to redeem himself. Maybe I’m just being a bit mean spirited towards him, but I don’t think he really deserves redemption (ok, no maybe about it, I’m totally being mean spirited).

The overall feel of this book is very sad, it’s mostly about the grief of two parents and the author quite aggressively holds back on the backstory which is then fed in chunks every so often. I prefer either a more subtle approach to plot reveals or starting off with all the information to hand and then see where the narrative takes me.

If you’re a more forgiving person and reader than I am, with a love of gothic fairy tales and classic celtic mythology, give this book a shot!

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