“Truly unputdownable” – The Green Man of Eshwood Hall by Jacob Kerr

IMG_2022-11-29-213518It is the dawn of the 60s and Eshwood Hall has remained barely touched by the passing of the decades. The Hall, with its “fluted columns; corbie-stepped gable; rusticated quoins and pilasters” is inhabited by Miss Claiborne, the last of a dynasty, aging in her bed. She likes things to remain as they always have. Assisted by her servants who live on the grounds, she and the Hall are the embodiment of a time past.

Into this comes the Whipper family. Handyman, chauffeur, and amateur inventor Ray with his perennially dissatisfied and dominant wife Gerry. As she holds on to the bairn, their two daughters are in the back seat as they roll into their new lives. Young Annie, self-absorbed and bouncy, and thirteen year old Izzy. Izzy is quieter and more observant than her sister. As the oldest she runs the household in her mother’s stead. Withdrawn from school due to her mother’s illness, she is isolated and unworldly.

Over time she learns of ghost stories and old folk tales from the gardener Hobbs. Large and taciturn, they develop a friendship of sorts. Largely ignored, she is free to wander as she pleases and it isn’t long until the forest calls to her. One day she stumbles upon a chapel made of nature itself.

“As she drew closer Izzy could see it was a chapel of some kind, though evidently long since abandoned. The trees grew so close to its outer walls, their trunks rising up like pillars, that it looked, she thought, like a church inside a church.”

A throne sits proudly at one end. Taking a seat, she is beset by visions and overwhelmed by knowledge that she is unable to understand. Not long after this, she has her first meeting with the Green Man.

It is after this that strange things start to happen. The house is terrorised by a creature that only Izzy can hear, even though it leaves behind a trail of destruction. The full moon brings with it happenings that cannot be explained, and she feels ever drawn to the forest. When she meets the Green Man, he emerges out of the trees

“Branches twirled and unfurled on the edge of visibility, berries black as beetles clumped and clustered, knot holes in tree trunks widened and grew more important until they were revealed to be eye sockets, nostrils, a yawning mouth”.

His voice low and words spare, he can grant her a favour, but one must be given in return. 

Izzy’s interactions with the forest, the chapel, the Green Man escalate. Increasing amounts of tension and fear are interwoven into the text and the family story infused with themes drawn from folk tales, evolves into one of horror.

Kerr, a rare talent, has created something unique with The Green Man of Eshwood Hall. A multi genre piece it draws on folk tales and stories of servants and masters, before infusing it with an almost coming of age style horror, to create something unlike anything the reader has read before. Each scene is perfectly plotted and every word is necessary and correctly placed. The book is short but each letter and space is used to maximum effect. Lyrical, descriptive, writing beautiful even in its horror, The Green Man of Eshwood Hall is truly unputdownable.

Any Cop?: Cleverly plotted, it is full of call backs and references. Days after reading, pieces of it were still colliding in my mind. There was always a new way to see something, or something new to see. In short, I adored this book and have lent my copy to another so they can explore the shifting world created in the forest of Eshwood Hall. It is also worth noting that the cover is very attractive and well designed, making this hardback a lovely addition to any shelf.

 

Laura Marriott

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