REVIEW: In the Night Wood, Dale Bailey

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Charles Hayden has been fascinated by a strange Victorian fairy tale, In the Night Wood, since he was a child. When his wife, Erin – a descendant of the author – inherits her ancestor’s house, the couple decide to make it their home. Still mourning the recent death of their daughter, they leave America behind, seeking a new beginning in the English countryside. But Hollow House, filled with secrets and surrounded by an ancient oak forest, is a place where the past seems very much alive. Isolated among the trees, Charles and Erin begin to feel themselves haunted – by echoes of the stories in the house’s library, by sightings of their daughter, and by something else, as old and dark as the forest around them.

In the Night Wood falls down in the one area that is the most important to gothic fiction: its sense of place. Rather than depicting the draughty uncertainty of an old mansion in a closed-off Northern English town, it pulls class and village dynamics from another age to mangle what could have been a rather atmospheric tale. And sure, maybe it will do well on American and International markets (ones who watch too much Downton Abbey and still think the social structure of the country has not moved on since the end of the war), but I can already imagine that this obstacle preventing suspension of disbelief and true immersion in the mystery of the novel, will repeatedly occur in the experience of many of its British audience.
Because, the fact is, whilst reading the novel, all that can be focussed on (no matter how much you try to push your thoughts away from it and focus on other things) is the fact that In the Night Wood is so utterly England from an American’s point of view. Oh, I just wish he had visited. And if he has, I wish he had not been so romantic and so blind.
Instead, the book reads like he read some novels by the Brontes and still thinks that is what Yorkshire is like in 2019. Yorkshire in 2019, instead in actuality, is deprivation, casual racism and the occasional cobble-stone street. It is not servants worrying about crossing social boundaries by talking with their 'mistress' for too long.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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