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Book Review

Book Cover

In the Night Wood (Hardback)


Author: Dale Bailey
Publisher: Harper Voyager
220 pages
RRP: £12.99
ISBN: 978 0 00 832916 7
Publication Date: 07 February 2019

“Not fit for children, that book.”

HarperCollins Books publishes In the Night Wood, by Dale Bailey – available in Hardback, eBook and Audio formats. Charles and Erin Hayden are bonded by a deep-felt connection to the Victorian novel In the Night Wood, by one-time author Caedmon Hollow. Erin is his descendent and they move from America to Hollow House in deepest rural England to take over the estate. This is intended as a new beginning after the accidental death of their young daughter Lissa. However, neither of them are able to move on; Erin through grief and recriminations, and Charles because of root-core guilt and his former indiscretion. While Erin sinks into a stupor, seeing their dead daughter at every turn, Charles tries to carry out research into the myths surrounding the nearby ancient oak forest – including the history of the terrifying Cernunnos, the Horned King – supposedly for a proposed book. What he uncovers changes his entire view of the ‘real world’ and risks sending him into a spiral of a repeated past...

This is a ghost story of sorts. In fact, it’s closer to a pagan dark faerie tale, with myths based on reality. I love the references and allusions to literature and lore. In the normal body of the story (rather than at chapter headings) there are snippets of quotes from Dante’s 'Inferno' (from Divine Comedy), Edgar Allan Poe’s famous poem The Raven (Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”), Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Tennyson’s The Lady of Shalott, De Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, and Chaucer’s Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (to name but a few). As you would expect, existing myths also raise their heads. Herne the Hunter gets a mention, as does Icarus and Ouroboros, biting its own tail in a perpetual circle. Then there are concepts of science (or philosophy, if you like) such as Shrodinger’s Cat and Occam’s Razor. Rather than come across as pretentious, they offer what is essentially a Brothers Grimm-type tale a certain amount of credence. Graham Masterton has proved himself very adept at this concept of placing a frightening mythical creature in a contemporary setting.

It may be a contradiction in terms, but this story falls short because it is too long. I realise that supernatural tales are notoriously slow-burners; however, there are a number of repeated sequences, wherein the same problem or walk or chat takes on the aforementioned circular concept of the serpent Ouroboros. Erin is practically a superfluous character, spending the entire book sleeping, drinking or staring out of the window. She exists only as a reminder of Charles’s guilt. When writing about occupants of a small village, you are surely limited for scope, although I did find the old man in the pub a bit of a caricature and a cheap way of telling a backstory which could easily have emerged much earlier in the book. Aside from Cillian Harris, the other staff are ciphers, drifting around and not doing very much. There is no sense of any personality.

As you can see, there are good and bad points to this release. I have been sent the hardback book format, which is very nicely put together. The cover showing Hollow House, birds, foliage, skulls and a crown representing the Horned King (or the true wounded King of the Night Wood) is classy, following the format of an older tome. There is a good sketch before the title page of something looking through the leaves of an oak tree; in this manner it’s very reminiscent of the Green Man. Dale Bailey is no slouch, having written seven books. The End of the End of Everything story collection and his contribution to the excellent Masters of Horror TV anthology series perhaps being his most recognisable contributions. It’s competently written but, as the creatures in the wood do virtually nothing, I found it very ordinary in places. For a longwinded tale there is a lack of depth and no real edge-of-the-seat, nail-biting excitement.


Ty Power

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