WAKENHYRST by Michelle Paver, read by Juanita McMahon

Audio Version showing Maud’s pet starling Chatterpie.

I don’t read Horror, so I have no basis of comparison for WAKENHYRST. Perusing other reader’s comments, I see that they are disappointed that this piece doesn’t really fall into the Horror genre, but is more a coming-of-age story about repressed 16-year-old Maud growing up in the Fen Country of Suffolk.

Perhaps that is why I liked it.

The story covers the years 1906 to 1913, just before the Great War exploded, and it has that flavor of eerie peace. Poor Maud is left too much to herself. Her slightly younger brother Richard, who is rude and obnoxious in a way that is typical of entitled males is thankfully absent at boarding school. Her youngest brother Felix is too young, at four years old, to be a companion to her. Her mother is dead. And her father doesn’t trouble himself to introduce her into society, find suitable friends for her, or even a governess to further her education and train that excellent mind.

Paperback version showing the Old House where Maud lives with her father.

Maud, far too astute for her own good, sees too clearly that her mother’s tragic death is the direct cause of her father’s insistence on marital relations every night. The poor woman spends most of her time pregnant, and (of course) eventually dies.

And so Maud hates her father for his selfishness and his male entitlement. Yes, he enjoys sex, believing that it is essential for his health. But he doesn’t much care for the products of his nightly “connection.” Maud, despite her obvious intelligence, he dismisses casually, because she is female and therefore suspect on a number of accounts. In his typically myopic way he tells himself that his daughter lacks imagination and has no capacity for understanding, or even deep feelings.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

As her father’s reign becomes harsher, as he kills her pet bird (which annoys him), as he destroys the vines which embrace the old house, as he threatens to destroy the fen – the only place where Maud can be herself – Maud begins a campaign of retaliation. She puts eels in his washbasin. She opens the window in his bedchamber so that the dank fen air he so detests can wander in. She even puts water fronds on his pillow.

Flatford Mills in the Suffolk Fen Country. Photo 102233347 / Suffolk Fens © Callum Redgrave Close | Dreamstime.com

To any balanced man, these would just be harmless pranks. Unfortunately, Maud’s father is a man with a considerable imagination who lives every day with a few guilty secrets of his own, connected to the fen. And so the eels, the air and the water fronds trigger a bout of paranoia, hallucination and monomania.

I won’t say what happens next, so as not to spoil it for those of you who have not yet read this volume. But for me, it was plenty horrific.

I give this novel 5 stars, for its wonderful depiction of the fens, its vivid characters and its sensitive portrayal of a young woman trapped by the male-dominated society of early twentieth-century England.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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