“In the Night Wood” by Dale Bailey

Thanks to HarperCollins UK and NetGalley for the Advance Review Copy in exchange for an honest review.

First of all just look at that cover. LOOK AT IT. It is totally my aesthetic. If I saw it in a bookshop I’d buy it no matter what so, kudos to the designer.

This book follows the story of Charles and Erin Hayden. They move from North Caroline to rural Yorkshire upon receiving an old mansion as part of Erin’s inheritance. Cool right? Well…

This is one of these stories within a story type novels. Running throughout the main story is another, that of ‘In the Night Wood’, a book written by an enigmatic Victorian author named Caedmon Hollow (sidenote – best name ever? Yes or yes?) who is distantly related to Erin, thus the inheritance. The story of In the Night Wood plays a key role in the events of the novel.

The book evokes a mysterious and claustrophobic atmosphere and contains all the staples of a good gothic mystery – spooky old house, a creepy forest, mysterious visions and people going a bit doolally. The fragments of In the Night Wood peppered throughout the novel also help add to the mystery. The fae elements were done well although I wish they were explored a bit more instead of the personal drama of Charles and Erin.

My main issue I suppose was that it felt a bit like a book written by an American who doesn’t really understand England, particularly the North. The reactions of the townspeople didn’t feel entirely credible to me e.g. people in a rural Yorkshire community openly offering condolences/medical advice/emotional support upon a first meeting? That is simply not the British way. Also more than once in the novel the protagonist drives home from the pub drunk. I know driving after a few drinks isn’t considered necessarily considered a huge deal in the US, but it certainly is in the UK. It’s the little things like that which spoiled my immersion a little.

My other main issue was the unlikeability of the main character, Charles. For a man who has recently lost his child and has a wife struggling with grief and despair, he sure does spend a lot of time thinking with his todger. It felt strange to me that a man whose child died barely a year ago and who is apparently trying to rebuild his relationship with his wife would think this way. Maybe I’ve just read too many ‘angsty man with a dead kid’ novels lately but it all just seemed a bit meh.

Overall, I did enjoy reading this book despite some of the issues I had with it. The main themes of grief and loss are explored well and the spooky and uncanny elements were well done. However, I was left feeling rather like I’d prefer to just read the actual In The Night Wood story. A good book but didn’t quite make it to great for me personally.

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