I was sometimes put in mind of ‘The Turn of the Screw’ and also of ‘The Woman in Black.’ Not because there is anything derivative about this story, but through the power of description and the skilful building up of an atmosphere of a remorseless, impending doom closing in on the characters, struggle against it though they do.
Reminiscent of classical ghost stories though this is,the characters are depicted with a depth and realism that is only possible to a more sophisticated age than the Victorian one.
The story is told from the point of view of Lawrence Fairweather, amateur botanist, a determined atheist and believer in rationality, who together with his wife Julia and their daughter Hazel, is struggling to come to terms with the loss of their younger daughter, Emily.
The shared grief about which the couple find it impossible to communicate has driven them apart. They cannot comfort each other. Lawrence, a naturally passionate man, represses his emotions beneath a surface of icy calm and drinks steadily; the sensitive Julia has been overwhelmed by her grief, taking refuge in morphine and opium. Their daughter Hazel refuses to speak, and concern over this drives a further wedge between the unhappy couple.
And yet, passionate feeling still remains between Lawrence and Julia Fairweather; this story became so real to me that I found myself longing for them to find each other again.
The two adults’ different interpretations of what it is that is causing an atmosphere of increasing fear and despair in their family home in the lonely Fens is gradually tearing the family apart. Meanwhile Lawrence Fairweather’s friend the local Doctor tries to help keep things on an even keel, while his sister Sophie has brought up from London the medium Mrs Marchant, in whom Julia desperately wants to believe, and who embodies everything that Lawrence Fairweather despises.
The writing is sensitive and evocative. There are wonderful word portraits, of states of mind, of the stark Lincolnshire countryside.
I could quote many, but here are three of the best: –
‘I sensed that whatever lurked there in the passageway wished me ill …It’s anger and hostility seemed to seep through the wood of the door and to radiate across the bedroom.’
‘A scarlet sun slunk towards the horizon, and stained the water in the dikes and the drains…The reeds crackled and hissed in the strengthening wind. A crow gave a strange, wild cry at my approach, and soared into the ashen sky.’
‘She carried her secrets with her like a child; I imagined them curled up in the warm cradle of her body, awakening, quickening.’
Mari Biellia leaves it to the reader to judge whether or not there is anything supernatural in the sensations and visions that plague the Fairweather family.
An excellent, disturbing and absorbing read.