Edmund is a historian who is working on the writings of a 15th-century mystic, Alice Pyett. When he finds a painted medieval panel with a devil on it in the local church, he becomes convinced that there are links with Pyett. Edmund, who hates the damp and mysterious Fens, starts to believe that there is a supernatural, demonic presence lurking near by. As he descends into paranoia, his relationship with Maud warps and becomes abusive and sinister. The story is told primarily through Maud’s eyes — and her surreptitious reading of his diary. Paver made her reputation as a writer of children’s books, particularly the Wolf Brother series. She has also written two ghost stories for adults. Her storytelling is irresistible: we ache and fear for poor, brave Maud as the tension in the house is ratcheted up and Stearne becomes ever more erratic.
Paver masterfully blends together two narratives – that of Stearne’s daughter, Maud, a lonely child raised in the Suffolk fens, and entries from Stearne’s diary, which Maud discovers, in which he details finding a medieval painting in a churchyard, before descending into madness.
Paver is known for her bestselling Chronicles of Ancient Darkness children’s series, but she is also the author of gloriously chilling novels for adults: her Arctic winter-set ghost story Dark Matter is a work of wonder. Wakenhyrst is equally brilliant, spanning fen devils, mystics and the lot of women in Edwardian England as Paver carefully circles the question of Stearne’s madness: are the devils he sees real or imagined?
Edmund Stearn is well-respected in Wakenhyrst, but behind the closed doors of the manor house, he rules his family with a titanium fist... [A]ll manner of strange things begin to happen... A spine-chilling masterpiece.
As in Dark Matter, Paver manages the balance between outright supernaturalism and the suggestion that the horrors are psychological in origin with great skill. It is more difficult to pull this off at novel-length than in a short story, and harder now than it was 100 years ago, but she succeeds. Revisiting M R James territory with a modern feminist sensibility, Wakenhyrst is weirdly compelling.
I really enjoyed her ghost stories Dark Matter (2010) and Thin Air (2016) and this is great, but rather different—a gothic thriller. It opens in 1966 with a salacious newspaper article setting out the crime. In 1913, wealthy landowner Edmund Sterne left his remote manor house in the Suffolk fens, armed with an ice pick, and murdered the first person he came across, watched by his 16-year-old daughter Maud. Years later, she’s ready to tell her story and it involves a repressive, obsessive father and a medieval painting of hell known as a Doom. Paver is back on top form.