Wakenhyrst, the newest book by bestselling author Michelle Paver, sets high expectations. It is described as a "masterwork in the modern Gothic tradition" by HarperCollins. This book did not disappoint.
I'll be honest here: I'm not a very prolific reader of Gothic fiction, really only having touched the surface of some classics, like Phantom of the Opera. However, I think even those new to modern Gothic fiction will appreciate how skilfully Wakenhyrst is written. The book starts as a series of articles and letters (very Bram Stoker-esque) about a mysterious event that occurred at Wake's End, Wakenhyrst, several decades earlier. Such a great way to whet the appetite! This sets the stage for the suspense and tension that makes this book so gripping and 'unputdownable'.
The book follows Maude, primarily during her childhood in Edwardian Suffolk, where she lives in an opulent manor house with her strict and cold father, Edmund Stearne. The wild fens are a central feature of her community, and she's drawn to their beauty and the magic that's invoked by legends and folklore. This is not the case for her father. One day, it seems that a dark force has been let loose, and takes control of Edmund and Maude's lives. This holds the mystery surrounding the events foreshadowed at the beginning of the book.
I, for one, loved every bit of this book. Being a particular fan of mystery and historical fiction, especially when combined, this book hit all the right notes. It is undeniably Gothic fiction, and the tension and suspense that pervades the entire story gives it that driving force that keeps you needing to know more. There's also some feminist undertones, as Maude is constantly constrained by the rigidity of the religiousness and conservativeness of her small town, as well as Edwardian attitudes towards women.
The characters are the shining stars of the story, especially Maude. You can't help but grow attached to her, especially as the story progresses and she develops as a person, and you end up feeling like you know her so well by the end.
Wakenhyrst is a great read, superbly written, with captivating and complex characters. This is a mystery that has you darting to the next page.
by Michelle Paver
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand