26 June 2019

Review: Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver

Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver book cover
* Copy courtesy of Harper Collins *

Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver is a gothic mystery set in a fen in Edwardian Suffolk surrounded by folklore, superstition and legends. The ancient manor house of Wake's End near the hamlet of Wakenhyrst has been Maud's home for the past 50 years where she's lived as a recluse. Maud's story is closely connected with that of her father, historian Edmund Stearne and the mystery of the crime he committed in 1913.

The reader is taken back in time to Maud's childhood and her overbearing father's increasing obsession with 15th Century mystic Alice Pyett. A medieval Doom painting is discovered in the nearby Church and Edmund is affected by the artist's depiction of the Last Judgement. Maud discovers her authoritarian father's diary and we interpret the content along with Maud as she tries to figure out what's happening.

I can understand why some readers will find Wakenhyrst a slow read, but that's what builds the tension. Gothic tension takes time, and Paver does an excellent job of allowing the reader to see every single stage of Edmund's decline.

I enjoyed the overall setting of Wake's End, including the members of the household and the superstitions of the local people about the fen. Secrets and the sins of the past are also present, as is a feeling of otherworldly goings on. Paver does a brilliant job of setting the scene and I especially enjoyed the reference to Quieting Syrup on page 246:
Nurse hated her for pointing out that as Quieting Syrup is a mixture of black treacle and opium, it is hardly advisable to give it to a four-year-old.
I fell into Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver with immediate gusto, and the early chapters gave me the same bookish shivers I had at the beginning of The Binding by Bridget Collins. I love the cover art and animal lovers will enjoy knowing that the magpie on the cover has a role to play in the novel.

When we've reached the climax of the story and finally get back to the present, the ending seems hastily wrapped up in comparison to the slow burn of the rest of the novel. I found this quite jarring and wanted a little more time with Maud.

I thoroughly recommend Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver for fans of historical fiction and gothic suspense novels.

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!

P.S. If you enjoy gothic novels or want to find out what makes a novel gothic, check out my list of Gothic Tales To Read for more info.

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