In the Night Wood by Dale Bailey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This book does everything I want a haunting story to do: echoes and parallels; allusions and mash-ups of ancient sinister figures; the blurring of lines between grief and madness; the uncovering of old family secrets; history recent and ancient repeating itself again and again; shadows and dread and a legacy of darkness.
This is one of the few stories meditating on stories I’ve enjoyed in quite a while, because it focuses on the stories and not the storyteller or the act of telling the story. This focus keeps the story from becoming another self-indulgent meditation on the act of writing, keeps it in the realm of horror as the character realizes he’s just another turn on an inexorable wheel. Such an effective use of the ouroboros motif.
I’ve been equally fascinated and unsettled by the horned king/erl-king/Cernunnos/Herne since I first read about them years ago. Bailey crafts a wonderfully sublime threat from what little we know of these mythic figures.
I didn’t want this book to end, I enjoyed reading it so much.