R.I.P. Part II: Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver

A rainy and blustery Halloween here in southern England, with a second lockdown looming later in the week. I haven’t done anything special to mark Halloween since I was in college, though this year a children’s book inspired me to have some fun with our veg box vegetables for this photo shoot. Just call us Christopher Pumpkin and Rebecca Red Cabbage.

It’s my third year participating in R.I.P. (Readers Imbibing Peril). In each of those three years I’ve reviewed a novel by Michelle Paver. First it was Thin Air, then Dark Matter – two 1930s ghost stories of men undertaking an adventure in a bleak setting (the Himalayas and the Arctic, respectively). I found a copy of her latest in the temporary Little Free Library I started to keep the neighborhood going while the public library was closed during the first lockdown.

 

Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver (2019)

There’s a Gothic flavor to this story of a mentally unstable artist and his teenage daughter. Edmund Stearne is obsessed with the writings of Medieval mystic Alice Pyett (based on Margery Kempe) and with a Bosch-like Doom painting recently uncovered at the local church. Serving as his secretary after her mother’s death, Maud reads his journals to follow his thinking – but also uncovers unpleasant truths about his sister’s death and his relationship with the servant girl. As Maud tries to prevent her father from acting on his hallucinations of demons and witches rising from the Suffolk Fens, she falls in love with someone beneath her class. Only in the 1960s framing story, which has a journalist and scholar digging into what really happened at Wake’s End in 1913, does it become clear how much Maud gave up.

There are a lot of appealing elements in this novel, including Maud’s pet magpie, the travails of her constantly pregnant mother (based on the author’s Belgian great-grandmother), the information on early lobotomies, and the mixture of real (eels!) and imagined threats encountered at the fen. The focus on a female character is refreshing after her two male-dominated ghost stories. But as atmospheric and readable as Paver’s writing always is, here the plot sags, taking too much time over each section and filtering too much through Stearne’s journal. After three average ratings in a row, I doubt I’ll pick up another of her books in the future.

My rating:

 


My top R.I.P. read this year was Sisters by Daisy Johnson, followed by 666 Charing Cross by Paul Magrs (both reviewed here).

Have you been reading anything spooky for Halloween?

12 responses

  1. As you know, I tend not to do seasonal reading. Even less so just now. There’s enough spookiness and dismal doings in real life thanks 😦

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Indeed — real life is terrifying enough! Especially next week’s election. I never read anything properly scary (gory horror).

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I enjoyed Wakenhyrst, but liked Thin Air the most of her three novels.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I found all three to be super-quick reads, but somehow they never gripped me enough to scare me.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. As you know, I was a big fan of her two previous adult novels but I also found Wakenhyrst saggy and disappointing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There were elements I really liked here, but I didn’t think it all came together.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Same, I do like a good fenland novel 🙂

        Like

  4. I’m listening to the audio book of _The Heretic’s Daughter_ by Kathleen Kent and read by Mare Winningham, for a little Salem-spookiness this time of year!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I didn’t get into any spooky reading this year and I think it’s becoming a bit of a miss for me, even though I used to make a real point of it; maybe I should start planning now for next September, so I don’t miss out again. I’ve never read anything by Paver, but I’ve picked them up to leaf through on occasion and thought they seemed entertaining.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t gravitate towards spooky stuff in general, but I make a tiny bit of an effort in October. Paver’s books are very readable, quick reads, but I wouldn’t call them essential.

      Like

  6. […] a magpie on the cover, at least in its original hardback form, is Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver (reviewed for R.I.P. this past October). I loved that Maud has a pet magpie named Chatterpie, and the fen […]

    Like

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