The Ghost Woods by C.J. Cooke – Book Review

The Ghost Woods sounds like a pretty perfect read for Halloween week, right? And yes, it really is! This is a Gothic tale set in the 1950s / ’60s in an isolated house in the Scottish borders. We meet Mabel and Pearl, two young women who are sent to Lichen Hall as they are both young, unmarried and pregnant.

Opening sentence: ‘You’re going to kill me,’ he says with a whimper.

What lurks in the ghost woods?

Lichen Hall is owned by the Whitlocks, a couple who take in young, unmarried, pregnant women and organise for their babies to be adopted.

Although Mabel and Pearl come to Lichen Hall at different times, their paths do cross in a very satisfying way. Both women are very likeable, Pearl is more confident than Mabel but both end up trapped in a situation totally out of their control as things at Lichen Hall are definitely not all they seem at first sight…

It’s November, or mushroom season as Morven calls it.

An exploration of parasites

Parasite is such a horrible word but what The Ghost Woods does so well is use that to add to the unease and gore and draw links between unwanted pregnancies and other things with a parasitic nature, such as fungus. Mushrooms in their many forms are essentially another character in this book. It’s fascinating learning a bit more about them and they’re used very cleverly to create a terrifying tale.

‘It’s a zombie, you see,’ he tells me. ‘It’s alive, but also dead, and it does whatever the fungus wants it to.

Alongside the fungus, mix in the legend of Nicnevin, the local witch who lives in the ghost woods that surround Lichen House and you have a very spooky read on your hands indeed.

As with any great Gothic novel, The Ghost Woods makes some really interesting points that run deeper than thrills and gore. It explores women’s rights and repressed trauma really well, in a way that adds true depth and heart to this read.

Interestingly, The Ghost Woods is the second Gothic book with a fungus obsession that I’ve read. The other is Mexican Gothic, another excellent choice for your spooky reading TBR. And if you want even more Gothic picks, take a look at some of my favourites here.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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