body horror

[Book Review] The Darkest Part of the Woods (Ramsey Campbell, 2002) ★★★★★

cover book The Darkest Part of the Woods by Ramsey Campbell 2002

The Darkest Part of the Woods creeps up with its overhead branches entangling in a twisted horror tale. 


The Darkest Part of the Woods is a supernatural folktale horror that feels like a dark fairytale. It’s highly visceral in nature and nature is the big element that causes wonder and horror at the same time. It’s a story about a family, about an old wood, about pagan rituals but all told in a very elusive and intuitive way. It’s magically eerie and speaks to primal fears of the dark, and of secrets that nature hides.


Plot

Heather Price lives with her grown up son Sam in a little village next to the ancient forest Goodmanswood. Her father Lennox lives nearby in The Arbour a mental hospital since she was just a little girl and her sister Sylvia was just born. Her mother Margo is an artist who paints and makes sculptures.

Asides from Lennox who is strangely drawn to a special place in the woods everything seems fine, until Sylvia who lived in America returns. And she has a surprise, she is pregnant. But when she and Sam are starting to resemble Lennox’ obsession with the woods and a strange Twig Man is seen on the common by children, their family fate is yet to be determined.


Why you should read it

It’s written in wonderful prose, albeit sometimes a bit difficult to read. The choice of words and sentences and structure isn’t straightforward and it takes some time to get used to. But then you are treated to a sublimely told tale of the oldest dark horror that strongly reminds of paganism folktales of the Green Man.

The writing style really creates an elusive atmosphere. It’s rather indirectly told, what is happening, but also the dialogue and the embodiment of the characters. This truly adds to an original reading experience. The characters are smartly fleshed out, and pop off the pages and really come to life. Subtle lines, or behavior, choices or in fact what is not said or done defines them in a most distinguished way. They are real life people with real emotions, and flaws and their interactions are very natural and believable and realistic. It’s a strong foundation on which the story with its strange and weird events are build. 

The writing style further distinguishes itself by using many words or phrasings reminiscent of nature and specifically of wood and trees. Like for example ‘the luminous twigs of the bedside clock’ instead of just using the common phrase the hands of the clock. Everything turns into wood, or the forest and trees and twigs and leaves. The wording and phrasing slowly turns this book into the smelly old book of Selcouth. It’s wonderfully done, to weave the forest into the text which comes to life and speaks even more to the imagination.

It’s not completely explained what really happened and its up to the reader to make out how it exactly ended. Even what becomes of Heather is written in a very indirect style that is shown not told and you’ll have to read between the lines to understand the devastating conclusion. 

The horror is very mysterious and elusive. The Twig Man is heard of but not seen directly by Heather and so the reader is also kept in the dark who or what it is, if it even does exist at all. It’s a fairytale that affects the Price family in a horrifying way, without them even knowing it before it’s too late. Campbell knows exactly how to make trees and a forest come to life, turning it into a nightmarish experience. You’ll never look at a forest the same again. 

The structure takes the reader slowly with Heather and her family on a decent into madness, or a devastating reality. It’s a very addictive read, almost mesmerizing, making it an enthralling and intriguing read, that will stick with you for a long time. 


My favorite part

The darkest part of the woods and the lightest part of the woods are equally scary. The first is only shown in a hallucinatory nightmarish trip into the woods, but the latter is the big story arc that is the center of it all. It’s there where the real horror takes place and the descent into the madness of a madman and his lair is very scary and what lies within is pure nightmare fuel, although it is left to the reader to fully imagine what that is exactly. 

It’s therefore a book that will be scarier as the reader has a more vivid imagination. Just like Heather who has the least imagination in the family and she’s the last one who figures out what is happening, but when she does, she succumbed to its horrifying nightmare. And so will you, and if you already have a vivid imagination, then this book is a horror gift from cover to cover. 


A favorite quote

‘The clearing was perhaps a hundred yards wide. Her father and five other people were posed on a ring of bricks far too low to be described as a wall. It took Heather a moment to recognize it from her childhood. The six appeared to be precisely equidistant on it, and staring the shallow mound it encircled. They looked transfixed by the convergence of lights that united their shadows like a huge six-legged insect on the mound.’ 


Ratings

Rating: ★★★★★

Scare factor: ★★★★☆

Surreal factor: ★★★★☆

Originality factor: ★★★★★


Info

The Darkest Part of the Woods is written by Ramsey Campbell and first published by Tor Books in 2002. It consists of 364 pages.


cover book The Darkest Part of the Woods by Ramsey Campbell 2002