January Tea and a Book: Wakenhyrst, by Michelle Paver

Jan 31, 2023 |

It’s a brand new year for Tea and a Book!

This year I didn’t choose a particular genre or time period. As it turned out, every book I read this month was wonderfully GOTHIC. My favorite of the bunch was Wakenhyrst (2019) by Michelle Paver.

In Edwardian Suffolk, a manor house stands alone in a lost corner of the Fens: a glinting wilderness of water whose whispering reeds guard ancient secrets. Maud is a lonely child growing up without a mother, ruled by her repressive father.

When he finds a painted medieval devil in a graveyard, unhallowed forces are awakened.

Maud’s battle has begun. She must survive a world haunted by witchcraft, the age-old legends of her beloved fen – and the even more nightmarish demons of her father’s past.

What I loved about this book:
–the setting in the Fens. These low-lying marshy areas can be dangerous, but they also offer sanctuary to animals and humans alike.
–the selfish and obsessive patriarch (so GOTHIC) who goes to terrible lengths to prove himself a worthy scholar
–the fact that his daughter (our heroine) sets out to undermine him at every turn
–the inclusion of an enlightening and rather cosy postscript that balances the horror.

In many ways this novel reads like an epistolary because 1) we are introduced to the characters through a hack journalist’s “exposé” piece, and (2) our heroine involves herself in the mystery by covertly reading her father’s private journals. For me, these “passive” modes of storytelling enhanced rather than detracted from the immediacy of the narrative.

A favorite passage:
Maud closed the notebook and replaced it in Father’s desk. The house was silent, the servants not yet about. She went to stand at the window. A misty, overcast dawn. This part of the grounds was still sunk in shadow. To her left, dank willows overhung the Lode. She followed it to the dark corner where the stream met the black wall of the yew hedge. She pictured the Lode flowing beyond it into Harrow Dyke, then into the River Lark, then the Ouse, and on to the sea. Put not your faith in men, she thought. That out there is all you can trust: that hedge and that wet grass. Those dripping trees. As if it were happening to someone else, she observed the pieces of her past – Maman, Father, herself – rearranging to make a different pattern. She saw her childhood peel off and float away like a piece of waterweed in the Lode.

Also recommended from this month’s reading:
Hidden Pictures by Jason Rekulak — a modern Gothic featuring a nanny with a dark past and a child with a dangerous secret.
The Monsters We Deserve, by Marcus Sedgwick — an emotionally vulnerable author on retreat in the French Alps has an encounter with the ghost of Mary Shelley. I read this after learning of Sedgwick’s sudden death in November. A terrible loss.

What’s for tea?

While reading Wakenhyrst, I craved a warm and cosy drink — with no caffeine — and the Organic Chamomile Calm from Tea Palace fit the bill perfectly. From the website: “This delicious, caffeine-free cup boasts whole organic chamomile flowers, known for their calming and anti-inflammatory qualities; pure organic pink rose petals said to soothe stress and worry; and pure organic lavender, acknowledged for relaxing properties. This blend is also loaded with vitamin c, antioxidants and histamine reducing compounds to boost the body whilst calming the mind.” Learn more about this tea and many others at the Tea Palace website. The store is based in London, but they ship internationally!

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