Title: Starve Acre
Writer: Andrew Michael Hurley
Publishing House: John Murray
Date of Publication: October 31st 2019
Rating: 2 stars
”He says my name sometimes. He tells me to come to the tree.”
A young family moves to the moors, to a house where dreams and nightmares co-exist. The forest nearby hides secrets and strange apparitions. But the young parents are hopeful, away from the noise and threats of the big city. Soon, everything changes. A young boy becomes almost unrecognizable, his intentions inexplicable and violent. A tree appears at will and a presence, called Jack Grey, seems to have entered the boy’s mind and is there to stay. What happens when the house you have chosen has a heavy shadow? Too heavy for anyone to bear. How do you defend against a threat you cannot see? How do you cope when the greatest and most unbearable of ills haunt your every step?
This novel excels in the creation of the proper atmosphere for a novel that seems -and I stress the word ”seems”- full of mystery, a homage to the dark Folklore of the British forests. There are certain passages that can freeze your blood because the imagery described and communicated is so powerful, almost tangible. But the novel seems to rely on these features and never moves into something deeper. Yes, the story is definitely intriguing and the ambiguity surrounding the family and, particularly, the child is effective but it is nothing we haven’t seen before. I felt that it soon lost purpose and there were many threads that needed handling and closure. In the end, I thought that the novel was the personification of the phrase ”much ado about nothing.”
The characters are weak and uninspiring. Richard could have some potential but he is lost in the nightmare that is Juliette. I am sorry but I’ve seldom found such an irritating character in the pages of a book that wants to be taken seriously. She is plainly horrible long before the tragedy that befalls their household. And even this does not account for her obsessive, dismissive, ignorant attitude towards everything and everyone that doesn’t agree with her opinion and choices. She even attacks a psychiatrist because the know-it-all- goddess Juliette has already formed her personal diagnosis. I cannot imagine sharing the same house with such a shrew, not to mention her sister. Juliette has reduced her husband into a void presence, a stranger in his own house. So, he is one of the most patient characters I’ve ever encountered in a novel. And one of the most boring and unrealistic. One side, a snoozefest, the other side a bloody nuisance. I wonder how I was able to finish this book…
And yet, I know the answer. I finished the book because the prose itself was rather good and the scenery was brilliantly depicted. But these elements are not enough. Yes, I could use the adjectives ”atmospheric, complex, challenging.” It had potential, it could have been perfect. However, the characters were a disaster, the plot used Folklore elements without a purpose, lacking in depth and development, and the dialogue itself was uninspired, the themes repetitive and stalled. And don’t get me started on the closure. I was far from impressed and having The Devil’s Day on my upcoming reads, I feel the shadows closing in…Let us hope for the best…
Many thanks to John Murray Press and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.