The bestselling author of Dark Matter, Thin Air and the award-winning Chronicles Of Darkness, Michelle Paver, surely has another hit on her hands with her new Gothic horror, Wakenhyrst. The book begins in the 1960s, with a journalist trying to get to the bottom of the mystery of Wakenhyrst manor in Suffolk: an unexplained murder, an old man sectioned in an asylum who spent his last days painting mysterious figures, and a woman who might know something but has refused to divulge any details of what happened. Desperate to know what really took place, the reporter manages to track down Maud, the tight-lipped character at the heart of the story, and is invited to hear the story of her life.
Travelling back to 1906, Paver weaves together the conflicting tales of nine-year-old Maud and her bully of a father. Maud is all the things a young lady of her time is not supposed to be. Neither beautiful nor religious, she is interested in literature, nature and the mysterious fen that is located on the grounds of the manor house.
All of this is much to the displeasure of her father, whose strict and unwavering values firmly frame Maud as a thorn in his side.
While the central tension is between Maud and her father, the fen – a patch of densely forested swampland – becomes as much of a character as any of its human counterparts. It speaks to Maud in her time of need and it torments her father over the years the story spans.
As the tension between them eventually reaches breaking point, the question of “what happened?” posed at the beginning of the novel is finally answered, with equal measures of satisfaction and heartbreak.
Paver has chosen to write accented dialogue, so it can sometimes take a moment or two to figure out what a character is actually saying, although this is neither too frequent nor too distracting.
Wakenhyrst is many things all at once – a chilling Gothic horror, a coming of age tale, a story of madness and loneliness, and most of all an account of how one girl manages to look out for herself when no-one else will.
Paver successfully balances these themes as only a confident writer can. With fully realised characters and motivations, she draws you deeper and deeper into the story, even as the sense of dread grows stronger with every turn of the page. - Rhona Shennan
Book review: Wakenhyrst, by Michelle Paver, Head of Zeus, £14.99