Dale Bailey’s novel In the Night Wood exists in the nether region between dark fantasy and psychological horror. Charles and Erin Hayden have suffered a terrible loss, the accidental death of their six-year old daughter Lissa. Their marriage is also on the rocks due to Charles’ affair with a fellow professor, which in turn has caused Charles professional strife. Roughly a year after the tragic loss, Erin finds that she is the heir to the home of Caedmon Hollow, the author of an obscure British Victorian fantasy novel. The couple leave their North Carolina home, where Charles intends to research and possibilty write a book about the author in hopes of rekindling his academic career. The couple also hope that the change in scenery will help heal the rift in their relationship.
Located at the edge of a primeval woodland, Hollow House is the quintessential Gothic mansion, overlooking the ominously-named Eorl Wood. The nearby village, Yarrow, has suffered a loss of its own: a young girl has gone missing. In this atmosphere of grief and fear, both Charles and Erin begin seeing things in the wood, such as glimpses of a lost little girl and the shadow of an antler-crowned figure. Charles goes down the rabbit hole of research, making connections between the local folklore and Caedmon Hollow’s phastamorgic novel. Erin isolates further, drowning her sorrows in alcohol and pharmaceuticals.
In the Night Wood is a darkly lyrical tale, drenched in literary allusion, referencing Yeats, Pre-Raphaelite literature to older folk tales, such as the Erl King and changeling myths. The novel is filled with images of sylvan dread and imbued with the kind of Celtic Twilight aura that runs through the work of Alan Garner. The undercurrent of grief gives the story an emotional weight that grounds the dark ephemerality of the narrative. Recommended for fans of Elizabeth Hand, Sarah Waters and Alan Garner.