by Elliott Gish
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Pub Date 09 Apr 2024 | Archive Date Not set
A subversive literary horror novel that disrupts the tropes of women’s historical fiction with delusions, wild beasts, and the uncontainable power of female rage
The year is 1901, and Ada Byrd — spinster, schoolmarm, amateur naturalist — accepts a teaching post in isolated Lowry Bridge, grateful for the chance to re-establish herself where no one knows her secrets. She develops friendships with her neighbors, explores the woods with her students, and begins to see a future in this tiny farming community. Her past — riddled with grief and shame — has never seemed so far away.
But then, Ada begins to witness strange and grisly phenomena: a swarm of dying crickets, a self-mutilating rabbit, a malformed faun. She soon believes that something old and beastly — which she calls Grey Dog — is behind these visceral offerings, which both beckon and repel her. As her confusion deepens, her grip on what is real, what is delusion, and what is traumatic memory loosens, and Ada takes on the wildness of the woods, behaving erratically and pushing her newfound friends away. In the end, she is left with one question: What is the real horror? The Grey Dog, the uncontainable power of female rage, or Ada herself?
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Average rating from 120 members
Buckle up Buttercups, you’re in for something uncomfortable.
Set in 1901, an almost 30-year-old and unwed Ada is removed from her teaching post and given a second chance in a small, isolated farm town. There is a bridge that divides the town in two: the good side and the bad side. A modest, God-fearing couple with no children of their own provides Ada with room and board while she keeps employment at the small, humble school. She even finds unexcepted friendship with the minister’s wife. The children enjoy learning from her favorite teachings about natural history. Everything seems to fall into place, as it should, keeping her secrets hidden.
That is until she starts to experience strange sights and sounds that threaten to expose her past. No one else can see or hear the things that send Ada off in a tizzy. Ada takes up an unapproved friendship with an outcast widow on the bad side of the bridge. The townspeople begin to question her sanity, calling her a heathen. Is Ada unwell? Is this a case of a woman gone mad and in need of a strait jacket and a padded room? Or is there really something more sinister out to get her? Or is it meant to liberate her instead?
Fans of the movie Midsommar and the Edwardian/Puritan era will enjoy this. The writing is so rich, layered eloquently with prim and poise, everything that would be expected of a well-mannered woman in the 1900s. In drips and drabs comes the uncomfortable poking; an indentation of a finger seeking to touch that spot you fear the most. The tension slowly builds until rage, female rage, is no longer containable.
The story is a bit slow at times, but in my opinion, in a good way. It’s a nice, long walk on a heavy, overcast day, through the woods. You’re enjoying yourself, until you’re not.
If Pride & Prejudice and Midsommar had a baby, it’d be Grey Dog. Absolutely brilliant!
Thank you to @NetGalley and @ECWPress for this free e-ARC in exchange for an honest review
Wow. I just finished this book and knew immediately that it was going to be one of my top five favorite books of all time. Unfortunately I cannot say MUCH without spoiling this book, but it shows a character struggling through a traumatic past, her own rage, sexuality, and shame, and ultimately liberation. The book chronicles Ada Byrd’s travels to become a school teacher in a new town who have no idea of her past. This past is slowly revealed throughout the novel, and is alluded to from the very beginning. As Ada gets settled into this new life, she begins experiencing strange phenomena that others do not notice. As she learns more about the townspeople and THEIR pasts, she is forced to relive her own and find out who she can trust. A slow burn, the buildup is so tense and the climax absolutely worth the wait. I found myself devouring this book, desperate to learn more and more about Ada and her journey. That being said, I was HIGHLY disturbed, forced to confront some of my own trauma head-on, and will be thinking of this book nonstop for years to come. And none of those are bad things.
Finishing this book has left me feeling haunted, checking over my shoulder and feeling like someone's watching me. The way Gish was able to write such a compelling novel, and interlace horror into the story is admirable. I rarely, if ever, get scared reading books, but the unreliable narrator combined with the incredible writing, left me feeling truly haunted. The characters were so lively and well written and felt so real that I found myself torn between who to align myself with and who to believe. I thought the ending was superb, a brilliant way to end such an unsettling novel. The plot moved a little slow, but I think that was necessary, in order to fully experience the experience. I also love how questions are left unanswered, and the reader struggles to separate fact from fiction. Superb.