Writer: Michelle Paver
Publishing House: Head of Zeus
Date of Publication: April 11th 2019
Rating: 5 stars
‘’The reeds stood tall and dead: I had the oddest feeling they wanted me gone. The light was failing. I caught a swampy smell of decay. Behind me something rustles and I saw the reeds part for some unseen creature. I thought: No wonder Maud’s mad.’’
Hold this beautiful book in your hands. Let your eyes feast on the haunting magpie and the blood-red stains. Concentrate on the images that will – no doubt- start flooding your mind. Εach and every thought that visits you becomes real once you start reading this novel. It is haunting and ruthless and its cover speaks more eloquently than any blurb. Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver might be the best book of 2019. But be aware: it is not for the faint of heart but for the readers who embrace darkness…
‘’Those who make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.’’ Voltaire
Our story begins with a stranger. 1967. A young art historian visits the daughter of Edmund Stearne, a scholar and painter, who has left a strange body of work behind him. Maud takes us back in time, in 1913. Through letters, articles, pages of diaries and our heroine’s own thoughts, we find ourselves wandering in the fens, ‘’the forbidden realms of magical creatures’’, in the darkness. Darkness that suffocates the members of the Stearne household, so thick and muddy and twisted that no moonlight can light our way. Enigmatic and terrifying like the woman in a long, black dress that appears on Edmund’s paintings, secretive like Wakenhyrst and its residents. Suffocating like the sets of rules set by Edmund, a cruel and sadistic man. Or is he?
‘’I know what you did. It is only a picture. It won’t do me any harm…a high thin cry on the fen…’’
The sins of the past is a recurring motif in Gothic Fiction and here it is used to absolute perfection. The fullness of time has come and the house itself has become a character, the fens have paved the way for retribution. Maud becomes the hand, the one who wants to break free. Paver creates atmosphere in such a powerful way, creating a novel that would find its proper depiction as a Bosch masterpiece. Strange findings, dark omens. Traces of witchcraft, owls, moonlit nights that hide terrible secrets. Children are playing in the cemetery, knocking off the wings of angels. Will-o’-the-wisps and dark fairies. Ghosts. Foreboding thoughts that seem to call for Death. And Death is everywhere.
‘’One for the rook, one for the crow, one to rot and one to grow.’’
In Edmund’s mind, the Devil seems to have taken control over his life. Paver uses a perfect combination of literary and raw language to depict the havoc in the man’s life. Jesus said that there are those who think they are righteous because they say ‘’yes’’ to God. Edmund embodies the hypocrisy of the ones who pretend to be devoted when in fact they are worse than the very thing they fear. Art is also used as a symbol of knowledge and a constant reminder of the pagan past that Edmund hates. A depiction of the Doom brings disarray in the community and the discovery of a Green Man haunts Edmund. The hidden messages, the symbolisms, the soul of the artists form a menacing danse macabre and taunt him mercilessly. Paver uses the magpie as a symbol of obsession and temptation along with a multitude of the customs of the countryside that make the novel such a rich read.
The winter is bitter, frosty. Arctic winds are blowing. The haunting sound of the ice, breathing through another winter. In an atmosphere of mysticism, superstition and tradition, you will feel your heart pounding and breaking. You will experience the fear of looking at yourself in the mirror, the dread of looking out of the window in a stormy night. This reminded me of Sarah Perry’s masterpiece Melmoth. The house seems to have acquired a life and a will of its own, becoming a nest for troubled spirits and confused human. And at the centre of everything that takes place we find Maud.
‘’The woman at the heart of each one is a witch. The creatures swarming around her are her evil familiars. And the witch is Maud.’’
Maud is a woman who isn’t interested in saints but in the demons and monsters that have been defeated. Who will narrate their stories? She twists every prejudice against women and throws them back at those who deem themselves superior. She is an outstanding character. Resilient, firm, wise and realistically shady. She is not afraid to punish those who think they are entitled to diminish her and is ruthless enough to fight for what is right. Her views on religion reflect certain thoughts that have crossed my mind over the years. Maud is one of those characters that are so vivid you can even ‘’hear’’ their voice in your mind. You know how they speak, how they walk and behave, what they look like. She is the heart of this superb novel.
Read it, friends. That’s all I can tell you…
‘’It is God who made me order the Doom to be torn down, thereby setting the demon loose. And now it is God who commands me to go into battle.’’
Many thanks to Head of Zeus and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.