September’s offering for “Tea and a Book” is Jacob Kerr’s The Green Man of Eshwood Hall (2022), a disquieting mystery steeped in folk horror. This novel features a child as the protagonist, but the story is for adult readers.
From the publisher:
Eshwood Hall is a great English house surrounded by sprawling woods. In 1962, Izzy is thirteen, lives in the servants’ quarters and doesn’t go to school. Neglected by her parents, she spends her moments of freedom exploring the forest and the village beyond. The more she comes to understand the history of the place and her own situation, the stranger are the things she hears and sees. The most tantalising of these is the Green Man who inhabits the woods, and seems to know all about her, even those desires she has buried deep inside.(Synopsis from Amazon.co.uk.)
An intriguing passage in which young Izzy explores the grounds of Eshwood Hall:
The path she’d been following had led her deep into the woods and – Izzy’s stomach gave a turn when she saw this – had now disappeared behind her. When she looked back the way she’d come, there was nothing like a path to be seen. How long had she been wandering among the trees? To be lost in the woods was to be lost in time, she thought, and wondered if she’d just thought it or if she’d heard it somewhere before. It was true anyway, because the time of trees was so much slower than the time of people; a moment in the real world might be a month in the forest. It was silent now as well, windless – and where had the sound of the river gone? She spun round looking for a landmark, and that’s when she first saw it, a small building, half-hidden, but waiting to be found, waiting for her swimming gaze to settle upon it.
This story engaged me from the start with its lively prose and Gothic/folk atmosphere. I’m always drawn to tales of great houses that have known better days, and it was very interesting to see an entire family go into service at the old and crumbling Eshwood Hall. There is much strife within young Izzy’s family, for though her father is kind he is also completely impractical, and her mother is self-absorbed and often unkind. The folk horror element of the story surprised me with its viciousness, revealing itself in escalating abuse toward Izzy by her mother and the violent treatment of animals at the May Day celebrations. While Izzy’s explorations in the forest are ethereal and lovely, the magical presence she finds there may have dark intentions.
This novel fascinated and unsettled me. If you’re intrigued by what I’ve shared so far, I highly recommend that you listen to this podcast from My Writing Life with Fran Harvey in which you’ll hear a fascinating discussion of writing influences and creative process from author Jacob Kerr.
The novel was published in England, where Amazon.co.uk offers a hardcover and e-book. In the U.S. the book is only available as a hardcover. Sadly, there is no audio version of the book available at this time. (At least not that I can find.) According to the author’s bio, The Green Man of Eshwood Hall is the first in a series of folk-horror novels set in a mythical version of Northumbria. (Read more at jacob-kerr.com) I certainly look forward to the next installment.
Now for tea:
This month I wanted to pair something sweet with my tea, and I chose an easy gluten-free cookie mix. I make no apologies, especially since these are from Williams Sonoma. However, I’ve just learned that this particular mix is no longer available; in fact, it has been replaced by the Gluten-free Vanilla Bean Sugar Cookie mix, which no doubt is even better.
My tea pairing with this cookie is Fireside Chai from Nashville Tea Company,“a complex flavor profile including warm, rich, Fall spices with notes of vanilla, honey and caramel.” It’s a delicious herbal tea, and I’m so happy to recommend this independent store in lovely/beloved Nashville.
I’m very excited for next month’s “Tea and a Book” because I’ll finally have read A Haunting on the Hill by Elizabeth Hand (author of Wylding Hall, reviewed on the blog this past April.) Can’t wait to share my thoughts. See you in October!