June Tea and a Book: In the Night Wood, by Dale Bailey

Jun 28, 2023 |

June’s offering is a novel I devoured a couple of years ago and lately was tempted to reread, particularly because of its folk horror elements. (I didn’t know much about that genre when I first encountered the book.) I so enjoyed revisiting In the Night Wood and was pleased to find elements of mystery, gothic, and fairy tale along with the folk content. Check out the synopsis:

Charles Hayden has been fascinated by a strange Victorian fairy tale, In the Night Wood, since he was a child. When his wife, Erin – a descendant of the author – inherits her ancestor’s house, the couple decide to make it their home. Still mourning the recent death of their daughter, they leave America behind, seeking a new beginning in the English countryside.

But Hollow House, filled with secrets and surrounded by an ancient oak forest, is a place where the past seems very much alive. Isolated among the trees, Charles and Erin begin to feel themselves haunted – by echoes of the stories in the house’s library, by sightings of their daughter, and by something else, as old and dark as the forest around them.

An intriguing passage from later in the novel:

…in the weirdly otherworldly light, the wood became perilous and strange — a whispering wood, a dream wood, a nightmare wood where reality bled out and outer darkness flooded in.

The air grew colder. The trees loomed over him, sentient, malign, and the forest rustled, alive with laughter and uncanny mutterings. Grim, autumn-blooming blossoms, fleshy and pale, turned their face to look upon him as he passed. And once–Charles’s heart seized in his breast–something terrible, something huge, launched itself into flight from some nesting place high above him. The thunder of wings announced it, beating down a reek of damp earth and decay.

My thoughts about the novel (upon reading it a second time):

I well remember this story’s Gothic setting and sense of impending doom, but since reading it last I’d forgotten the depths of grief and guilt that weigh so heavily on the protagonists. While Erin Hayden escapes her sorrow through alcohol and prescription drugs, her husband Charles researches Caedmon Hollow — Erin’s ancestor and previous owner of the house. His choice leads to a new friendship with Silva North, who runs the local historical society and happens to have a daughter very similar to Charles’ dead daughter. (What could go wrong, eh?)

As Erin and Charles drift farther apart, Charles becomes obsessed with his bizarre encounters in the forest, including sightings of ghostly apparitions and primordial beings. These encounters both excite and terrify him, and he is determined to find answers to his many questions. Back in her bedroom, Erin sketches the very same beings without ever having left the house.

I want to tell you more, but I don’t wish to spoil any further. I will share this, however: Karen Joy Fowler gave the novel a very lovely blurb: Luminously written, literate, absorbing, transporting, and all-around excellent. I couldn’t put it down.

Now for tea:

I chose one of my favorites from Mariage Frères, but it’s one I’ve neglected for some time — the Pleine Lune blend, a black tea with almond and sweet spices. According to the English translation, it was “inspired by that heavenly body and the realm of dreams, this poetic composition combines fragrances evoking the feast of the full moon: fruits, rare spices, and the sweet taste of almonds.” It’s a wonderful treat for a quiet afternoon of reading.

Stay tuned for July’s Tea and a Book!

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