All of the fairy tales warn us to stay out of the woods. But, at the outset of Laird Hunt’s unsettling novel In the House in the Dark of the Woods, a young woman walks into the woods to collect berries for her man and young son. She is never the same again.
Things start to go wrong for our protagonist shortly after she starts picking, though she won’t know just how much trouble she’s in until later. The narrator has been in the woods for a few hours when she sees one of the “first-folk,” who tries to get her to go away. She hurts herself on the way out and falls unconscious. When she wakes, she wanders and gets even more lost. Our protagonist might have made it out but for the dangerously loaded offers of help she receives from the strange inhabitants of the woods.
Hunt’s novel has hints of traditional European folklore. In addition to the “stay out of the woods” trope, there are characters I see as the maiden, mother, and crone; a character who can’t stop playing and singing; characters that might represent the devil. But unlike European folklore, which staunchly supports following the rules, the protagonist’s memories of her home and family make us wonder which world she really fits in. Her home is Puritanical. The woods are anarchic. There are dangers to both, but it becomes clear over the course of the novel (one of the few clear things) that our protagonist fits much better in one world than the other.
I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for books that play around with traditional European folklore. Most of the ones I’ve found, however, hew closer to the original characters and tropes. Perhaps they spin things a little, but they feel familiar if you know your fairy tales. In In the House in the Dark of the Woods, Hunt creates an original folkloric world and characters. Even the slightly familiar characters get original makeovers. I had no idea what these characters were after or how it would all play out and I loved it.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration. It will be released 16 October 2018.