Nightwoods by Charles Frazier

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Nightwoods by Charles Frazier

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Robin Leggett
Reviewed by Robin Leggett
Summary: Part love story, part thriller, this is a hugely atmospheric story set lovingly in the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina. It's impossible not to get a feeling for the landscape from this book.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 272 Date: September 2011
Publisher: Sceptre
ISBN: 978-1444731248

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If you have read Charles Frazier's 'Cold Mountain', or indeed seen the film, then you'll have a fair idea what to expect from his latest offering - 'Nightwoods'. As with 'Cold Mountain', the landscape of the Appalachians is the dominant character, this time set in the 1950s. He even manages to get his requisite bear into the story although thankfully it fares rather better than the unfortunate beast in his first book. The dark, oppressing majesty and beauty of the mountains and woods pervades the whole story.

The story centres around Luce, a loner who lives a reclusive life as the caretaker of an old hunting lodge in North Carolina. Why this young woman has sought the solitude of live on the edge of the lakeside town is explained. It's a sad tale of rural misunderstanding that means that even her father, the local police officer, has no contact with her despite living so close by. When Luce's sister, Lily is murdered, Lily's traumatised twins show up on Luce's doorstep bringing the real world into her life in dramatic ways. The two children don't speak, although initially it is unclear if this is just a result of their trauma. At around the same time, her benefactor for whom she has been looking after the lodge dies and his grandson comes to the town to check out his inheritance.

The darker element of the story arises when Lily's ex-husband is freed by the court of her murder and, convinced that there is a missing horde of cash which surely the children have, and he too arrives in the town.

The book is, then, something of both a romance and a thriller. Trust is hard won in Frazier's rural North Carolina. The development of the relationship between both Luce and the twins, who at first are hell bent on setting everything alight, and Luce and the grandson is slowly drawn out. Initially they are unaware of the threats that present themselves in the form of Lily's ex-husband Bud, but all that is about to change.

The story-telling is convincing but what is most evident is the love for the landscape. In Frazier's novels, often the characters have more communication with the landscape than with each other and this is again true here. Some of the descriptions are beautiful, but if you are looking for a fast paced story, as the basis of this book might lead you to expect, you will be disappointed. Things seldom happen fast in Frazier's books.

Rather, the story simmers along and the sense of drama slowly engulfs the reader like a mountain fog moving down a valley. It has heaps of atmosphere and texture.

It's also a fairly stylishly written book. Sentences are often short and may lack conventional rules of grammar, which didn't irritate me, but I know some don't like. My main gripe about the style, and Frazier is by no means alone in this, is the aversion to the perfectly functional use of inverted commas for speech. There isn't a great deal of dialogue in the book, which makes it less irritating, but the absence of indicators of speech is, to my mind, avoidably confusing and adds very little. Rant over. That's certainly no reason not to read this book though.

Our thanks to the kind people at Sceptre for inviting the Bookbag to review this rich and atmospheric story.

If you enjoyed this book, then I'd venture that you’d also very much enjoy The Marrowbone Marble Company by Glenn Taylor. From the same location, we have Serena by Ron Rash.

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