Wakenhyrst

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 23 Apr 2019

Member Reviews

Yes enjoyed it .....not always keen on historical novels but this is more intriguing than the usual.
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Wakenhyrst is an excellent gothic novel set mainly in the marshy fenland of eastern England in Edwardian times.  The central character is Maud, a lonely teenage girl whose mother has died and whose father is a tyrant.  She takes refuge in the natural world around her.
Her father is an historian researching the writings of a medieval mystic but he has a dark secret from  his past.  When a medieval painting of Hell is uncovered in the local church, this triggers his descent into madness, with a terrible outcome. 
This novel is so atmospheric and filled with the folklore and legends of the fens.  It is a great read and I highly recommend it.
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#WritersReview: Wakenhyrst
Posted on January 3, 2020	

Cover of Wakenhyrst shows a magpie and bloodspots

Wakenhyrst written by Michelle Paver

published by Head of Zeus in April 2019

368 pages in hardback

HB jacket and interior art by Stephen McNally.

 

murder, marshes and malevolence

 

Summary from author’s own website

In Edwardian Suffolk, a manor house stands alone in a lost corner of the Fens: a glinting wilderness of water whose whispering reeds guard ancient secrets. Maud is a lonely child growing up without a mother, ruled by her repressive father.

When he finds a painted medieval devil in a graveyard, unhallowed forces are awakened.

Maud’s battle has begun.

She must survive a world haunted by witchcraft, the age-old legends of her beloved fen – and the even more nightmarish demons of her father’s past.
One reader’s view:

If you have read either Michelle Paver’s Dark Matter or Thin Air – you will know she is a mistress of creeping malevolence.The disturbances and unsettling details build on each other to create dreadful/delicious tension.

In both these earlier works, each place has an active presence: Arctic wastes; snowbound mountains, and this time, mysterious fenland. These are both convincing portrayals of particular locations, and creators of the uneasy atmosphere.

Wakenhyrst is a decidedly Gothic take on the ‘whydunit’: we know from the start what Maud’s father did, but the reasons for such a dreadful crime still lurk in the swampy past. Fragments of this horrifying puzzle emerge like broken glass in an excavation, or a wall-painting from protecting whitewash. Uncertainty and supposition linger to the end.

Some readers will know Michelle Paver for many novels set in prehistory. This work largely inhabits the Victorian & Edwardian era, but includes medieval elements and an early foray into the ’60s. Each is handled with skill, and her love of conveying the past shines through without unnecessary glare.That said, I’d recommend it for experienced readers as the story is not laid out chronologically.

Similarly, there’s violence and a long powerful building-up of threat. Not for the sensitive – as you might expect from something with such a strong folk horror vibe. Indeed, it could well be the basis for a TV miniseries with music by The Unthanks and probably involving Mark Gatiss.

There’s a strong feminist strand to Wakenhyrst and I felt Maud had kinship with Faith in Frances Hardinge’s The Lie Tree. So I was gratified to see Wakenhyrst recommended for YA readers in The Big Issue. They are distinctly different works, but growth from child to young woman is powerfully shown in both.

Highly recommended for those with a taste for the dark.

Paperback cover
Comments from a Writer and Editor (spoiler alert)

Look out for –

    a complex mix of third person, epistolary and other ‘extracts’ which invites the reader to investigate
    shifts in time deftly handled
    convincing tone in the different forms of writing – yet the tension is maintained
    the natural world and folklore used with care and precision
    expectations are set up beautifully – but the end music may not be what you’d expect . . .
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This book starts in 1967 when a journalist contacts Maud attempting to lure her into selling her story about her infamous father, who brutally murdered someone in 1906. Following his inprisonment Edmund Stearne became a master painter and his art is highly sought after. As Maud is in a financial bind, she agrees to selling her fathers notebooks and story and we delve into Edwardian Suffolk when Maud was 14 and had just lost her mother to childbirth.

Desperate to please her father she tries to help him in any way she can. Her intellect impresses her father, but he is dismayed at the fact that it was not one of his young sons that inherited the studious genes (and must suffer his daughter even though she is the weaker sex). At first Maud believes her father is disconnected from her as he is grieving the loss of his wife. When she finds one of his notebooks, she secretly reads in hoping to understand his loss. When she finds that not only is he not suffering, he's relieved that her mother has died, Maud's compassion turns to stone. Maud also learns that Edmund has become obsessed with his recent finding in their church. A painting called 'doom' depicting hell in all its horror.

Edmund starts to hear things in the house. The smell and dampness of the fens he lives on seems to permeate everthing he owns, even though he imposes strict rules about leaving all the windows closed. Then he starts to hear constant scratching...almost like something with claws is walking the wooden floors...

I really enjoyed this book. I know it has split opinions where folk have either really liked it or really haven't but Paver is a master at the gothic writing. She manages to build up the tension to a crescendo that left me with my shoulders all tense waiting for the end!

This is very much a character piece, which isn't so much as action driven, but if you like delving in to the psyche of your protagonists then you will thoroughly enjoy it. The setting of Wakenhyrst and the fens are almost characters of their own as you become so involved in Maud's world that you can just about feel the dampness of the fens settle in your bones.

Ultimately this is a book about a young girl watching and reading about her father descending into insanity. As Maud is 'only a girl' and therefore holds no power in the Edwardian era she can do absolutley nothing about it. Any attention and help she tries to seek is to her own detriment as she is seen as the hysterical and emotional one. The anger and frustration she feels is palpable and I felt it right along with her.

A 4 star read for me.

I would like to thank Netgalley for a copy of this book in exchange for a review.
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I first read one of Michelle Paver’s novels seven years ago. I can’t remember how I came across Dark Matter but I could still describe the plot to you and I still vividly remember how it made me feel. I read it in a single sitting on a gloomy weekend day and it remains one of my absolute favourite ghost stories. Since then, I’ve kept an eye on the release of Paver’s novels and although none have quite lived up to that first experience, I’ve enjoyed every one of her ghostly offerings.

It will come as a surprise to nobody then that I loved Wakenhyrst. The story follows Maud as she grows up in Wake’s End, a crumbling old manor house (obviously) sitting on the edge of the Fens. We start the novel knowing that Maud’s father, Edmund, ends up in an institution painting images of demons, having apparently suffered a mental breakdown and killed a man in a horribly violent attack. Maud has remained resolutely silent on what really happened until, as the novel opens, she finds herself in dire financial straits and decides to sell her story to fund much needed repairs to Wake’s End.

Wakenhyrst alternates between Maud recounting her story in her own words and Edmund’s diary entries, which Maud is reading in an effort to get to know her father (at least initially…). I love a good diary entry in a novel anyway but the way they’re used in Wakenhyrst is just brilliant. We first see Edmund early on through Maud’s eyes as a child, then as she grows up and finds him increasingly difficult to live with, she hunts out his diary to try and learn more about him. Often if authors include diary entries, it’s to give readers an edge over characters; Paver uses them to put us firmly on Maud’s side and to let us share in her frustrations and fears. The characters are all so well drawn and so well balanced but Maud has a special place in my heart. By the end, I was so firmly attached to her that I cried as some of her secrets were revealed.

What I adore most about Paver’s writing is how she balances the hints at supernatural with the personal struggles of her characters. In Wakenhyrst‘s case, the uncertainty sits around Edmund and whether he is losing his mind or whether the phantoms that he sees are something darker and more real wafting in from the Fens. It also plays on the religious ideas of the early 20th century and the demons that so many believed might lurk around every corner, and naturally on the folklore surrounding the Fens. The atmosphere is damp and oppressive and looms over everything. Perfect for getting consumed by during the winter.

“Death freezes everything. Whatever you did or didn’t do, whatever you said or left unsaid: none of that is ever going to change. You have no more chances to say sorry or make things right. No more chances for anything except regret“

All of which isn’t to say that I think Wakenhyrst is perfect. If I’m being picky, it felt a little longer than it needed to be to me, a slight flaw that means I’ve given it 4.5 rather than 5 out of 5 stars. Some of the extracts from Edmund’s diaries run long and can feel repetitive. It works in places, particularly later on in the novel when it really highlights the tangled and dangerous patterns of Edmund’s mind but I was less keen early on when there’s a lot of religious fervour and general academic ramblings. The ending more than makes up for the occasional lull in pace but the lulls are there all the same.

Overall: Who doesn’t like a sinister story set in a crumbling old house with supernatural undertones and secrets galore in the winter?! I’m not sure that I’d go so far as to call it a ghost story but if you like ghost stories, I’m sure you’ll love this.  And if you do pick this up and love it, make sure you also keep an eye out for Dark Matter, because it is perfection and it makes me sad that it isn’t more popular. Two recommendations for the price of one!
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I love a good historical novel. I also love ghost stories, folklore, and a good dose of the gothic. Michelle Paver's latest novel, Wakenhyrst, ticks all of these boxes and, needless to say, I adored it. 

With a narrative that spans over five centuries, taking in 14th-century superstitions, a chilling Edwardian crime, and a 1960's-set reckoning, it would be easy for Wakenhyrst to become a sprawl of a novel. But the narrative is kept tight by keeping the central character, Maud, at its heart.

Curious and intelligent, Maud is constrained by her life at Wake's End, and by the many rules that her father - and society - place on what a young lady should be and do. When we first meet Maud, she is an anxious child. Growing up without a mother, she is both entranced and repulsed by her cold yet brilliant father, a historian whose obsession with a 14th-century mystic called Alice Pyatt will soon prove dangerous for them all. 

The narrative is alive with folklore and superstition. Salt is sprinkled in doorways, a wise woman sells love potions to young women, the New Year is let in the front door as the old one is whisked out the back. You really get a sense of the community, the time and the place. Wakes End seems to live and breathe on the page, and I could picture the small community of Wakenhyrst in my mind's eye as I read. 

And, at the centre of it all, is the fen. Drawn to the fen, Maud is entranced by its ever-shifting nature. She loves the starlings that circle overhead, the creatures that make it their home, and the sound of the wind through the reeds.

Her father, in contrast, is terrified by it. All windows facing the fen are shuttered, and he forbids the household from entering. But what terrible secret lies at the heart of the fen? And what does it have to do with Edmund Sterne's research into Alice Pyatt? Or the uncovering of a long-lost Doom in the local church? 

To say any more would be to spoil the twists and turns of this gorgeously intricate novel. But, as the various threads weave together, the fen is always at their heart. This is a novel about permanence. About love and lies and loss. About angels and demons and old, old tales. And about the things that we must face in order for us to be free. 

Beautifully told, this is the perfect novel for curling up with by the fireside on a cold winter's night. Maud is an engaging, intelligent narrator and her narrative, contrasted with that of her father's, makes for compelling reading that will have you staying up long into the night. 

Wonderfully atmospheric, Wakenhyrst is modern gothic at its best and deserves a place on the TBR of anyone who already enjoys the tales of Neil Gaiman, Laura Purcell, and Sarah Perry.
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I really enjoyed this book - I found the setting interesting and the history interesting. There were a lot of different interesting characters which kept the story flowing. I would definitely recommend this book to others.
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After loving Thin Air by Michelle Paver, I was really excited to read this one. However it just didn’t grip me in the same way as Thin Air. I found the language quite hard to read and it was tough to get in to.
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Michelle Paver’s ghost stories (Thin Air and Dark Matter) have been on my teetering to-be-read pile for a while. So when I decided to write a Halloween blog post about scary stories, I knew exactly which author I wanted to try. Wakenhyrst isn’t a ghost story but its mix of spooky ingredients makes it perfect for Halloween. Being a Victorian gothic thriller set in a crumbling mansion house amongst the Fens, we encounter demons and witchcraft, madness and grief, ice and darkness, as young Maud feels her way between religion and local superstition to solve a mystery that threatens to destroy the natural world of the Fen, that she holds so dear. It’s a beautifully written, creepy mystery; the perfect companion for darker evenings.
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A fabulous book. A gripping gothic tale crammed with mystery and suspense. Jane Austen would have loved it. A must-read, and an up and coming lifetime classic.
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I absolutely LOVED this book!!

I love books that fall under this genre and this one was very well written, had a gripping storyline and I loved the pace of the book.

The characters were excellent and I loved the setting for the story and the location of the book and time period made it a brilliantly atmospheric story.

This is very well written and I really felt as though I was being drawn in to the story. It was a real page turner for me, although at times I did question why I chose to start reading it before bed- I had to stay up late to finish it off as I needed to see how it would end and what would happen – and I have to say that I loved the ending!!

Five stars from me for this one, a brilliant story that had me hooked and enthralled from cover to cover, at times I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough – so atmospheric, I loved it!
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At the turn of the 20th century, Maud is a child growing up with her historian father who cares for no-one but himself and considers her too female to be bright enough to worry about.
Over the years, her father starts becoming more obsessed with his work and starts to suspect that their large house and estate may have a devil possessing it - or the inhabitants.

The story mostly stays with Maud as a child, but we do get the occasional look into her future when she is in her 60s. Although I found this an easy enough book to read, I kept expecting more.  A little more mystery and suspense would have worked well, but I felt in the end that part fell flat and instead it was more just an account of what happened.

Perhaps a book best for those who like descriptions of Gothic mansions and strange happenings and are satisfied with things being left as unknown.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.
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At the risk of repeating myself I do like History, Myth and Mystery in a book. Add in East Anglia and I’m even happier. Wakenhyrst has all these things, it takes place in the landscape of my childhood in the time of my grandparents. Wakenhyrst will have the prickles on the back of your neck raised whilst you feverishly turn the pages to find out what happens next. When I next go home I am going in search of wall painting in churches.
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I have loved Michelle Paver books from when she did the chronicles of ancient darkness, and I love this book as well.
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Another excellent tale from Michelle Paver. A gripping read and while not  as creepy as the ghost stories - "Dark Matter" and "Thin Air" - still truly  unsettling. This is a study in madness and hypocrisy rather rather than a straight down the line haunting, and reminded me of Sarah Perry's The Essex Serpent - that may have been its fenland, otherworldly setting.  Everyone seems trapped in this house by the fen, thier stories woven around it. 

Written in two voices - bright, intelligent yet repressed Maud and her father Edmund (though his part is told through journal entries read in secret by the duaghter) the story unfolds in unexpected ways. Edmund is obsessed by the life story of a 15th century mystic (Alice Pyett, who is based on Margery Kempe) and with own his sense of self  importance (all the men in this story in fact, apart from the household staff are astonishingly arrogant, but I guess was normal for the early 20th Century).  Paver has created a world of secrets and lies, and the affect these have on a household, it reverberates down through time until we find Maud find some freedom much later in life. It's a great read!
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I wouldn't say this was particularly gothic, but I enjoyed it nevertheless.

Wakenhyrst takes us on a journey through the diaries of a father and daughter to unravel why he murdered someone. To be honest, the explanation isn't that shocking and the tone makes it confusing over when exactly the story's set, but there's something compelling here which sucks you in and keeps you reading.

Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC without obligation.
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I received a copy from Netgalley.

I love gothic horror mysteries and that premise was what attracted me to this book immediately. However, this book didn’t really fulfil my personal idea of a gothic horror mystery. That being said, the mystery aspect was really good and I really enjoyed the story. 

It starts in 1966 and tells through news articles of a report granted a visit to a once grand house and the lady, Maud, who owns the property. The lady is a recluse and as a child witnessed the descent into madness of her father. No one really knew what happened (this was back in 1913) and the house seems to have remained in a similar state since. The reporter has been digging into the history of the father and the mystery surrounding the demise of a once prominent and respected man from a highly well to do family. There’s rumours of witchcraft and devil worship and all sorts of superstitious things. 

The lady retells the story as she remembers it and her father growing up from when she was a small child to when she was a teenager and when the incident happens.  The story tells of Maud’s troubled adolescence - she’s an intelligent child who wants more out of life than what her station will allow. Her father is a tough man to please – a historian. As she grows up Maud eventually manages to convince her father to allow her to use his library also helping with his translation of an old text with a religious theme. 

We see passages as well from the father’s notebook, detailing his inner thoughts as the situations occur, with Maud, with his research and a secret from his childhood which haunts him and is driving him to the brink of madness. There’s a definite religious overtone to the father’s inner journals, demons and sins and secrets and penance and so forth. Though it’s well handled without being overly dramatic and overly preachy. 

Maud discovers her father’s journals and begins her own investigations. It’s really quite fascinating and once you get used to the style of writing hard to put down. I’m not recapping a lot of the plot as it would be very spoilery. Maud was a really likeable heroine, strong willed and sensible, her voice was very easy to follow and as the novel evolves as a reader you really want her to succeed in her tasks. 

There was nothing remotely scary or chilling about it so it didn’t hit the horror mark for me, but it was quite atmospheric.  The mystery was really good and it had a satisfying ending. I really enjoyed the book and would definitely read something by this author again. 


Thanks to Netgalley and Head of Zeus for approving my request to view the title.
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‘Wakenhyrst’ by Michelle Paver is a creepy atmospheric novel that has been described as a ghost story, but the only ghosts in it are in the minds of the people. Which of course makes them enormously powerful and frightening. I found myself eager to return to this book, resenting time away from it. Paver is a skilled storyteller and I am coming to anticipate her new books with relish. If you haven’t read her adult novels, you are in for a treat.
The story starts with a newspaper article written in 1966 entitled ’The Mystery of Edmund Stearne’. The journalist, who has spoken to Stearne’s daughter Maud about the conviction of her father for murder in 1913, casts doubt on Maud’s version of events. Could Maud be the guilty one? The story is set at Wake’s End, a country house at Wakenhyrst, a village beside the Guthlaf’s Fen in Suffolk. Paver creates this setting with all the intensity and atmosphere with which she created the Arctic in ‘Dark Matter’ and the Himalayas in ‘Thin Air’. The fens haunt every aspect of life at the house and on bad days, when the weather closes in and the mind is in turmoil, the fens invade the rooms too. The rotting stench. A scratching at the windows. Damp and infection. Edmund hates the fens and forbids Maud and her older brother Richard from crossing the bridge; Nurse too is full of scary stories of ferishes and hobby-lanterns that entice people to their death. Others are more pragmatic, depending on the fens for their living and for food.
When Maud’s mother dies in childbirth everything changes at Wake’s End. Richard is sent away to school and thirteen-year old Maud becomes housekeeper and then secretary for her father who is a medieval historian. Edmund’s odd behavior begins when he uncovers an ancient painting in the graveyard of local church St Guthlaf’s. He imagines that the eyes of the Doom, the painted devil, are staring at him with purpose, that the devil knows his secret. The Doom is restored and hung again in the church, but in a locked room. When Edmund kills Maud’s favourite magpie, Chatterpie, her dislike of her father becomes a mission to fathom the truth of his odd behavior.
This is a thoughtful mystery rather than a thriller, the danger and threats unfold at a steady pace and the questions continue until the end. What was Edmund’s crime and how far will he go to hide the truth? Why does he hate the fens so much? How exactly do the strands of waterweed appear on his pillow? Not so much a ghost story as a mystery of rational understanding clouded by folktale, medieval legend and tales of ancient witchcraft and superstition.
The story unfolds through Maud’s eyes and the excerpts she reads of her father’s diaries, plus Edmund’s translations of a medieval mystic Alice Pyett and ‘The Life of St Guthlaf’. Although Edmund is an unsympathetic character, I did pause at one point to wonder the reliability of Maud’s account. Maud is an impressive character; denied education because she is a girl she reads secretly and resents her father’s nightly use of her mother, multiple pregnancies which eventually lead to Maman’s death. Paver is good at drawing a picture of the community; fen-dweller Jubal Rede, assistant gardener Clem Walker, servant Ivy, rector Mr Broadstairs, Dr Grayson and village wisewoman Boddy Thrussel. Modern medicine beside folk remedies. Church of England beside centuries-old folklore. 
So creepy is the story, so isolated is this house beside the fen, that the setting feels older than Edwardian England. It could easily be set in the 19th century, excepting the references to trains and telegraphs. The isolation of the community is key to the crimes committed; truth may disappear, be disguised and denied, but someone always sees, someone always knows. The fen holds the answers.
Excellent.
Read more of my book reviews at http://www.sandradanby.com/book-reviews-a-z/
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This was a pretty atmospheric read that had an incredibly well defined sense of place. It tells the story of Maud, a young girl living with her widowed father as he becomes increasingly more unhinged in his belief that he is being haunted by a demon possessed individual. While many of the story beats here were quite obvious, what I thought Paver did fantastically was make the Fens a character in their own right. The landscape encroaches on the narrative constantly, sometimes oppressive and sometimes comfortingly, but always present and it was this that impacted upon me the most. In truth, the characters are pretty stereotypical in many respects, but the structure of the narrative, with its reportage and diary entries was interesting, which I appreciated. Overall, this is a well constructed, supernatural tale whose true strength lies in the atmosphere evoked by the landscape.
I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.
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his book has helped me realise that the older I get the fussier I am with the gothic stories that I read for fun. I love the gothic genre as a whole and I have really enjoyed studying it over the years, but I guess when I read one for fun my bias for certain things shines through.

What I Liked…
Michelle Paver is a strong ghost story writer and I enjoyed two of her previous novels, "Dark Matter", and, "Thin Air", and found them to be strong haunting reads. I felt Paver was able to handle the fierce and intimidating environment and that she juxtaposed that nicely with the scares.

For her new novel, Paver has moved from the terrifying heights of mountains and deadly sub-zero temperatures to focus on a domestic setting.

Domestic gothic is one of my favourites especially ones that include isolation and madness. Plus a painting depicting Hell? I was on board.

Paver has the ability to make the most natural of settings feel unnatural and here she wields those skills to great effect with the fen – the wetlands that is part of our protagonist’s land – making us wonder what myth or monster is lurking just beyond.

The novel opens with a reporter seeking out Maud to discuss her father and we learn the story’s climax – a solid narrative technique that allows the story to then begin slowly as the reader knows what is coming, building tension over the course of the plot.

I liked Maud as a character and felt her growth from an curious, but frustrated bundle of energy as a child, to an intelligent, questioning, but no less frustrated young woman was one of the novel’s strengths.

Thing I Didn’t Like…
Structuring the narrative around Maud’s point of view and then splicing it with extracts from her father’s journal did work for the most part, as it did show his mental unraveling. But I found that over time it sucked some of the tension out of the story.

Maud was finding and reading his journal easily with seemingly no worry about him finding out. Then it felt like Maud’s story ran out of steam and it was just a case of waiting for her to read what he had been up to before the plot could move any closer to the ending that was promised at the beginning.

And that was also slightly disappointing. Usually when a novel presents you its ending from the outset, the enjoyment is following the twists and turns until you reach it and often there’s more to it than first shown. I’m not saying I was expecting the rug to be pulled out from under me, but some more details or small surprises would have helped round off the plot.

Moving on, this is where my personal preferences come into play. I found that despite the great detail of the fen and the way Paver builds it as an imposing presence, I found I just didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would. That’s when I realised I prefer my domestic gothics to focus on an imposing presence of a house/manor.

No matter how much the presence of the fen seeped into the house or the character’s lives I just didn’t feel as engaged. Arguably this could be because no matter how paranoid and terrified the father was becoming, Maud always found comfort in the fen – conveying mixed messages to the reader overall.

TL;DR
Personal preferences aside, Michelle Paver’s "Wakenhyrst" is a delicious venture into the gothic, where her skills for incorporating natural surroundings into scares works well. The narrative structure reduces the tension and slows the plot, but the tightrope walk between supernatural and madness is well balanced.
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