Title: The Woman in the Wood
Author: Lesley Pearse
Publisher: Michael Joseph – Penguin
Fifteen-year-old Maisy Mitcham and her twin brother Duncan lose their mother to an asylum one night in 1960.
The twins are sent to their grandmother’s country house, Nightingales. Cold and distant, she leaves them to their own devices, to explore and to grow. That is until the day Duncan doesn’t come home from the woods.
With their grandmother seeming to have little interest in her grandson’s disappearance, and the police soon giving up hope, it is left to Maisy to discover the truth. And she will start with Grace Deville. A woman who lives alone in the wood, about whom rumours abound…
The Woman in the Wood is a well written family saga/ historical fiction. I purposefully didn’t read up much about this novel before starting it and I haven’t read anything else by Lesley Pearse before, so I was starting it without any context or previous judgement. Therefore in the first third of the book I thought it was a rather pleasant and fairly light read – something both my mum and grandma would quite enjoy (though my grandma does love her gritty but not too gritty crime novels, too!). The opening chapter is quite hard hitting, with the twins’ mother Lily getting taken away to an asylum, but the story seemed to carry on quite genially and the writing and dialogue seemed quite soft, even when depicting discussions about Lily.
Well, don’t get too comfy, because the story starts getting pretty dark!
I soon realised the ‘pleasant’ style of writing, with plenty of euphemisms to describe serious things, was more due to the time it’s set in – the 1960’s, in the years after WWII. The writing seems to reflect the way that people, especially perhaps the middle-upper classes, would have spoken during that time.
The story moves along at a fairly slow pace, but as it continues the reader is there’s plenty of disturbing occurrences in there – they’re just masked slightly by the writing style. This false sense of reassurance made me quite surprised when things started getting serious… there are some characters who aren’t what they seem, but not to the point where everyone seems like a completely pyscho/weirdo/traitor, like in some thrillers. It was realistic enough but with plenty of drama.
The book is as much about the family itself, and their relationships as the ‘incidents’ that occur, and I think Lesley Pearse has crafted a satisfying piece of historical fiction which makes me want to read her other novels too.
Many thanks to Michael Joseph (Penguin) for providing a copy of this novel, on which I chose to write an honest and unbiased review.