Review: Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver

Gothic is a genre that I can just devour. I love, love, love these stories – of which Wakenhyrst is one. A brilliant one. I was immediately transported into Michelle Paver’s story and loved every page.

Opening sentence: (As a newspaper feature): The Mystery of Edmund Stearne by Patrick Rippon / Only in The Sunday Explorer Magazine. Like a witch’s lair in a fairytale the ancient manor house crouches in its tangled garden.

Wakenhyrst opens in 1966 and tantalisingly tells of a gruesome event that happened in 1912 at Wake’s End – a grand country house – and ended up with the master of the house, Edmund Stearn, in an insane asylum. Narrated by Edmund’s daughter Maud, who was 16 when he murdered a seemingly random man and was committed to an asylum. The story unravels so we can discover what happened, then book takes us nicely back to the 60s at the end of the story.

Tick the Gothic boxes…

So, we have our isolated setting – Wake’s End in the Suffolk countryside, surrounded by a fen. We have our strong-willed, 16-year-old heroine – Maud. At a time when women had no voice, even as an upper class lady, Maud was destined to become a baby-making machine, just like her mother. There is a strong feminist reading of Wakenhyrst – Maud had no intention of subjecting like her mother did – the treatment of women being a horror story all of its own.

This was no nightmare. This was real. Hell is real. Hell exists.

It’s all in the detail

Wakenhyrst is eloquently written and brilliantly researched – from old folklore references to saints’ days, fifteenth century religious zeal about devils and paintings. Edmund Stearne becomes obsessed with a painting recovered from the grounds of the local church, forebodingly called The Doom. This is when his grip on reality becomes hazy and it’s the people around him that face the consequences of this. Thank God then for Maud. Our narrator and heroine is strong-willed, likeable and a character you really care about.

If you love a Gothic read, or fancy trying the genre for the first time, Wakenhyrst is perfect on both counts. It has everything you want from a Gothic story, while giving us a unique and riveting story.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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