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Just before Henry Aster's birth, his father, a frustrated novelist and lawyer, reluctantly returns to the remote North Carolina mountains in which he was improbably raised and installs his young family in a gothic mansion - nicknamed 'the vulture house' - worthy of his hero Edgar Allan Poe. There, Henry grows up under the desk of this fierce and brilliant man. But when a death in the family tips his father toward a fearsome unravelling, what was once a young son's reverence is poisoned, and Henry flees, not to return until years later when he, too, must go home again.
Phillip Lewis is a lawyer in North Carolina – ''The Barrowfields'' is his first book. For a debut, it's shockingly good – filled with deep characters and a plot that makes the reader desperate to keep the pages turning, and all conveyed in rich prose that, despite the page turning aspect, makes one also want to linger over some phrases – original, enchanting and transporting descriptive moments that sweep the reader off their feet. The elaborate language can be a bit of a stumbling block with debut novels – I've sometimes felt like first time authors had been saving up these little nuggets of description for decades, and throw them into their books willy nilly – no concern for appropriateness or pacing. No such problems here though – one can sense the
authors careful hand on this book, guiding the words and phrases into forms and shapes that, not only flow , but pull the reader along on little undercurrents of adjectives.
Characterwise, Henry is a compelling lead – it's impossible not to like him and I really found myself rooting for him as the book continued to progress in this coming of age story, even if I found later sections with him dragged a little. Other characters are all equally as strongly conjured up, if not all as likeable, and the author's framing really makes this feel like an epic tale. There is a certain sense of timelessness to ''The Barrowfields''– the blend of Southern Gothic and deep character study making it a refreshing read and very different read to much of what is being published today, with certain aspects – the leisurely, elaborate prose for one, taking the reader to a dreamy, evocative place that one can't help but enjoy your time in. I had a few issues with the pacing later on in the book, but nothing major, and something the book (and I) quickly recovered from. Phillip Lewis is truly some kind of wizard – casting a dark and powerful spell with ''The Barrowfields''
, and marking himself as one to keep a very close eye on in the future.
Many thanks to the publishers for the copy.
For further reading I recommend [[Rooms by Lauren Oliver]] – another tale that cradles captivating characters in a dark and spooky plot, held together with delicious prose and memorable turns of phrase.