Book Review: In the House in the Dark of the Woods

In the House in the Dark of the WoodsTitle: In the House in the Dark of the Woods by Laird Hunt
Pages: 218
Publisher: Brown and Company, Little
Publication Date: 16th October 2018
Rating: ★★★½

In this ingenious horror story set in colonial New England, a woman goes missing. Or not missing–perhaps she has fled, abandoned her family. Or perhaps she's been kidnapped, and set loose to wander in the dense woods of the north. Alone and possibly lost, she meets another woman in the forest. Then everything changes.

On a journey that will take her through a wolf-haunted wood, down a deep well, and onto a living ship made of human bones, our heroine is forced to confront her past and may find that the evil she flees has been inside her all along.

I had a strange experience reading this book – I think ‘strange’ is the most accurate word for it, anyway.

It is a slow, slow read, taking its time descripting the sights and sounds and feelings experienced by our protagonist, Goody, when she finds herself lost in the woods one day. At the time of reading, I know I wanted the story to move along faster, but looking back, that leisurely pace just mimics Goody’s floating, carefree personality. She is soft and simple and feminine – of course the birds help her find her way, of course the unusual people of the wood are there to protect her.  She is fragile, she just wants to go home, back to her unpleasant husband and young son.  As the reader, you begin to long for her to stay in the woods, as home begins to sound more frightening than the unknown.

It’s a book that deserves patience, for sure; it builds ever so gently, lulling the reader along, with nothing too peculiar really happening for much of the book (I’ll admit, I considered not finishing it, as I was so thirsty for the horror elements that an undeniably spooky title like that demanded).

Then, we meet the turning point, without which I wouldn’t be here reviewing it.  The world that has been built for the reader crumbles, and new questions arise. Do we have an unreliable narrator on our hands? Is every character not how they first appeared? Is anything real, and how do we believe anything we read from now on, since the reality we thought we knew has been poisoned?

I don’t recall a book ever making such a drastic turn before.  From absent-minded sentence skimming, I was suddenly hanging onto every single word.  From reading this slouched alone on the sofa, I suddenly tucked myself up in bed and made sure the lights were on, with the dogs nearby. Because having the ground removed from under you makes you feel vulnerable, even as an outsider looking in.

I finished the final pages with a knot in my stomach. I fell asleep imagining the feeling of the thick stagnant water of a deep well, of unknown things standing just out of sight, and of horrifying secrets hidden away in closed cellars.  This book does a spectacular job of conjurying up the feeling of terror in the reader – suddenly that steady-paced writing of the first half is used to draw things out from our nightmares at a painful pace.

I think the writer does a beautiful job of creating a world of fear and violence, and making it juxtapose so well with the whimsy of the woods. However, as brilliant as I found it by the end, I can see why a lot of people would give up reading this book early due to the pacing, and that has resulted in my 3.5 star rating.  I would say hang in there though, it is worth the journey.

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