Horror October: Revisiting Wakening the Crow by Stephen Gregory #HorrorOctober

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I can’t quite believe how, but yes, Horror October is here already! Last year, I started a tradition of reblogging my favourite Horror October read from the previous year as a way of officially kicking off the proceedings.

Last year I reblogged the wonderful Coldest Girl in Cold Town and this year, I’ve chosen Wakening the Crow.

Wakening the Crow was certainly not my highest-rated read of last year’s Horror October, (and in fact it was the last book I reviewed and didn’t actually post it until November BUT THAT’S NOT THE POINT), however it’s the only one that has really stayed with me.

It was such a unique, haunting and uncomfortable read, I definitely feel like it was the most ‘Horror’ or all the books I read. I loved how classically gothic it was, amongst other things.

So without further ado, here is my original review….

A Vestry, Edgar Allan Poe, and a Mischievous Crow…

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Title: Wakening the Crow
Author: Stephen Gregory
Series: N/A
Edition: Paperback, 256 pages
Publication Details: November 11th 2014 by Solaris
Genre(s): Horror; Gothic
Disclosure? Yep! I received a copy from the author/publisher in exchange for an HONEST review.

Goodreads
Purchase

With the looming shadow of Edgar Allan Poe falling over one family, Gregory takes the reader into a world of uncertainty and fear.

Oliver Gooch comes across a tooth, in a velvet box, with a handwritten note from 1888 to say it’s a tooth from the boy Edgar Allan Poe. He displays it in his new bookshop, and names the store Poe’s Tooth Books.

Oliver took the money from his small daughter Chloe’s accident insurance and bought a converted church to live in with his altered child and wife. Rosie hopes Chloe will came back to herself but Oliver is secretly relieved to have this new easy-to-manage child, and holds at bay the guilt that the accident was a result of his negligence. On a freezing night he and Chloe come across the crow, a raggedy skeletal wretch of a bird, and it refuses to leave. It infiltrates their lives, it alters Oliver’s relationship with Rosie, it changes Chloe. It’s a dangerous presence in the firelit, shadowy old vestry, in Poe’s Tooth Books.

Inexorably the family, the tooth, the crow, the church and their story will draw to a terrifying climax.

 Review

Everything about this synopsis intrigued me; the bizarreness of basing a story – and indeed a horror bookshop – on the discovery of Poe’s tooth, the idea that a manky crow can have an impact on the characters’ relationships, and the gothic setting. Sounds good right?

Well, I’m pleased to say that it was…for the most part.

Oliver Gooch is a very strange protagonist and narrator. From the start it’s evident that he’s not altogether what you would call a loving father and husband, or even a good, decent person. Honest maybe, but loving, no.

He frequently refers to his daughter as fat, disgusting and petulant, and his wife as not much better, but all of this adds to a growing unease.

Previously a mobile library driver, Oliver is now about to open his own horror bookshop in the church they have recently bought to also live in. The money came out of a tragic accident when Chloe got stung by a wasp in the mobile library, ran out into the road and suffered a head injury which changed her completely.

Now mute and compliant, with a constant sweet smile upon her face, Chloe is a different daughter entirely, and Oliver is relieved. So much so that he fears the day that she might actually recover.

Stephen Gregory does a great job of creating suspense here. The more we are led through this story by Oliver, the more disturbing it gets. He sees himself as becoming the Poe-like character he dreams of; he stops washing;  he drinks constantly, and tries to ‘write’. He seems to think that the more dishevelled he becomes, and the more grim the bookshop appears, the better. But all of this is at the expense of his family.

The only problem I had with this book was that I couldn’t understand Oliver as a character. I almost felt sorry for him at times, but it’s hard to empathise with someone who laughed at their daughter when she got stung by a wasp, resulting in her being brain damaged. I always felt like there was a good person trying to get out of him, but it never came.

I also expected more of a climax to the story, but overall this was a great read for a dark and stormy night, filled with gothic imagery and a overriding sense of unease.

unicorn rating 3

Wakening the Crow is available from November 11th, or to pre-order now at Waterstones

UP NEXT ON #HORROROCTOBER: Arrows of Darkness Promo

A Vestry, Edgar Allan Poe, and a Mischievous Crow…

Wakening the Crow by Stephen Gregory

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Title: Wakening the Crow
Author: Stephen Gregory
Series: N/A
Edition: Paperback, 256 pages
Publication Details: November 11th 2014 by Solaris
Genre(s): Horror; Gothic
Disclosure? Yep! I received a copy from the author/publisher in exchange for an HONEST review.

Goodreads
Purchase

With the looming shadow of Edgar Allan Poe falling over one family, Gregory takes the reader into a world of uncertainty and fear.

Oliver Gooch comes across a tooth, in a velvet box, with a handwritten note from 1888 to say it’s a tooth from the boy Edgar Allan Poe. He displays it in his new bookshop, and names the store Poe’s Tooth Books.

Oliver took the money from his small daughter Chloe’s accident insurance and bought a converted church to live in with his altered child and wife. Rosie hopes Chloe will came back to herself but Oliver is secretly relieved to have this new easy-to-manage child, and holds at bay the guilt that the accident was a result of his negligence. On a freezing night he and Chloe come across the crow, a raggedy skeletal wretch of a bird, and it refuses to leave. It infiltrates their lives, it alters Oliver’s relationship with Rosie, it changes Chloe. It’s a dangerous presence in the firelit, shadowy old vestry, in Poe’s Tooth Books.

Inexorably the family, the tooth, the crow, the church and their story will draw to a terrifying climax.

 Review

Everything about this synopsis intrigued me; the bizarreness of basing a story – and indeed a horror bookshop – on the discovery of Poe’s tooth, the idea that a manky crow can have an impact on the character’s relationships, and the gothic setting. Sounds good right?

Well, I’m pleased to say that it was…for the most part.

Oliver Gooch is a very strange protagonist and narrator. From the start it’s evident that he’s not altogether what you would call a loving father and husband, or even a good, decent person. Honest maybe, but loving, no.

He frequently refers to his daughter as fat, disgusting and petulant, and his wife as not much better, but all of this adds to a growing unease.

Previously a mobile library driver, Oliver is now about to open his own horror bookshop in the church they have recently bought to also live in. The money came out of a tragic accident when Chloe got stung by a wasp in the mobile library, ran out into the road and suffered a head injury which changed her completely.

Now mute and compliant, with a constant sweet smile upon her face, Chloe is a different daughter entirely, and Oliver is relieved. So much so that he fears the day that she might actually recover.

Stephen Gregory does a great job of creating suspense here. The more we are led through this story by Oliver, the more disturbing it gets. He sees himself as becoming the Poe-like character he dreams of; he stops washing;  he drinks constantly, and tries to ‘write’. He seems to think that the more dishevelled he becomes, and the more grim the bookshop appears, the better. But all of this is at the expense of his family.

The only problem I had with this book was that I couldn’t understand Oliver as a character. I almost felt sorry for him at times, but it’s hard to empathise with someone who laughed at their daughter when she got stung by a wasp, resulting in her being brain damaged. I always felt like there was a good person trying to get out of him, but it never came.

I also expected more of a climax to the story, but overall this was a great read for a dark and stormy night, filled with gothic imagery and a overriding sense of unease.

unicorn rating 3

Wakening the Crow is available from November 11th, or to pre-order now at Waterstones

A Confused Werewolf in Pennsylvania: Hemlock Grove by Brian Mcgreevy

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An exhilarating reinvention of the gothic novel, inspired by the iconic characters of our greatest myths and nightmares.

The body of a young girl is found mangled and murdered in the woods of Hemlock Grove, Pennsylvania, in the shadow of the abandoned Godfrey Steel mill. A manhunt ensues—though the authorities aren’t sure if it’s a man they should be looking for.

Some suspect an escapee from the White Tower, a foreboding biotech facility owned by the Godfrey family—their personal fortune and the local economy having moved on from Pittsburgh steel—where, if rumors are true, biological experiments of the most unethical kind take place. Others turn to Peter Rumancek, a Gypsy trailer-trash kid who has told impressionable high school classmates that he’s a werewolf. Or perhaps it’s Roman, the son of the late JR Godfrey, who rules the adolescent social scene with the casual arrogance of a cold-blooded aristocrat, his superior status unquestioned despite his decidedly freakish sister, Shelley, whose monstrous medical conditions belie a sweet intelligence, and his otherworldly control freak of a mother, Olivia.

At once a riveting mystery and a fascinating revelation of the grotesque and the darkness in us all, Hemlock Grove has the architecture and energy to become a classic in its own right—and Brian McGreevy the talent and ambition to enthrall us for years to come.

I feel like Hemlock Grove desperately wants to be Dracula (but y’know with Werewolves) when in fact it’s just one big mess. I finished reading this over a week ago and this whole time I’ve just been thinking what the hell WAS that!?’ I honestly didn’t know whether to rate it 1 or 5, it was that baffling.

Initially I appreciated the style, Mcgreevy was clearly trying to mimic the old school gothic lit of the past and give it a fresh going over, but it just didn’t work….I don’t think. The more I read the more I realised that his writing is so over the top and so laden with unnecessary symbolism that I had no idea what was going on, but I couldn’t stop. It was like watching a car crash.

For some reason I was interested in the story. The murders were brutal and gory (to my liking) and I enjoyed the ‘whodunnit’ element. Peter goes around telling everyone he’s a werewolf so obviously he’s prime suspect number one, even though no one really seems that bothered that he’s a werewolf, and I don’t really understand why they believe him in the first place because we don’t actually see any Werewolf action for most of the book. Or did I miss that? I honestly have no idea.

The other suspect is Roman. who’s a bit of a dick. That’s pretty much all I have to say about him, but I did like the dynamic between the two who then team up to discover the real truth about what’s going on. They definitely had some kind of homoerotic bromance going on, which kept me reading, obviously.

Shelley is a character who provides some Gothic Horror GOLD. She’s practically a giant with blocks on her feet, who is mute, glows demonically and is clearly supposed to be the Frankenstein’s Monster of the story. I think Shelley did work in that she pertains to the gothic atmosphere and provokes the questions ‘what/when/how/who’ but I don’t really understand how she fits into the ‘normal’ small town without people batting an eyelid. Odd.

I did really enjoy the setting though. The mystery and creepiness of the Biotech facility -which you can’t help but suspect is behind Shelley and the deaths – created an industrial, gothic feel to it which is new. Industrial Gothic…now there’s a genre we’ve been waiting for, no? The White Tower at least made the story plausible in that you can pretty much explain everything on scientific experiments, right?

I think that if McGreevy wasn’t concentrating so hard on nailing the Gothic Horror genre, and concentrated on just telling a good story that Hemlock Grove could be 100% better. But as it is it just seems a bit pretentious. The terrible grammar and inconsistencies made each sentence a chore. A CHORE. And the dialogue was just laughable.

Some of my favourite baffling lines:

She pulled Peter into a hug and kissed his cheek and gave his ponytail an annoyed jerk and harangued him didn’t he have a girlfriend to cut his hair.

So many things wrong with that sentence. WTF?

He pronounced ‘this’ in the phonetically correct fashion, but somehow it still rhymed with ‘us’.

???

‘Her Heart was a flicked mold of gelatin’ – What the hell does that mean???

A quality of thereness was missing from his face, his green eyes were windows to nothing. He was mercurial.

“Of course, minute as its impact may be in our physical universe, the fact of quantum entanglement is this: If one logically inexplicable thing is known to exist, then this permits the existence of all logically inexplicable things. A thing may be of deeper impossibility than another, in the sense that you can be more deeply underwater–but whether you are five feet or five fathoms from the surface you are still all wet.” You what now?”

Not to mention chapter titles such as ‘God doesn’t want you to be happy, he wants you to be strong’, Peter’s hierarchy of shit he can live without’ and ‘The most fun a girl can have without taking her clothes off’. Brilliant.

So yeah, Hemlock Grove is entertaining in a way but so overwritten it’s hard to get to the actual story. I hope they did a better job with the TV series.

Details: Paperback, 319 pages. Published March 27th 2012 by FSG Originals. Thanks to Di for lending me this(I think)
My Rating: 3 out of 5 Unicorns (I think)
Is it a keeper? It’s not mine, but err no.
If you liked this try: Dracula