Haunted by his father’s suicide, Nathaniel Kerner walks away from the highly prestigious life of a consultant to become a mad-doctor. He takes up a position at Crakethorne Asylum, but the proprietor is more interested in phrenology and his growing collection of skulls than his patients’ minds. Nathaniel’s only interesting case is Mrs Victoria Adelina – Vita – Harleston: her husband accuses her of hysteria and delusions – but she accuses him of hiding secrets far more terrible.
Nathaniel is increasingly obsessed with Vita, but when he has her mesmerised, there are unexpected results. Vita starts hearing voices, the way she used to – her grandmother always claimed they came from beyond the grave – but it also unleashes her own powers of mesmerism… and a desperate need to escape.
Increasingly besotted, Nathaniel finds himself caught up in a world of séances and stage mesmerisms in his bid to find Vita and save her. But constantly hanging over him is this warning: that doctors are apt to catch the diseases with which they are surrounded – whether of the body or the mind…
I originally fell in love with Alison Littlewood’s writing back when I discovered and read The Hidden People, just last year. Littlewood’s dark and gothic style had me mesmerised from the very first page and I remember feeling overjoyed at having found an author who ticked all of the boxes for me when it came to the darker side of fiction. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy a good crime/psychological thriller, but there’s another part of me that yearns for something more fairy-tale-like and whimsical, but with a hint of danger and menace, leaning more towards the supernatural. I am drawn to these types of stories because they remind me that the possibilities are endless. There is no right or wrong, no limits, but infinite room for the author to play. It’s exciting and addictive, and since I finished Littlewood’s The Hidden People, I’ve been keeping my eyes peeled for news of her next novel. So, you can probably imagine my excitement when I happened to stumble upon The Crow Garden during a NetGalley perusal one fine afternoon. I was ecstatic. With the cold and dark Autumnal evenings now upon us, I felt that no other book would better accompany them.
As was the case with Littlewood’s The Hidden People, I was rather captivated by this novel pretty much from the off. The dark, dismal rural setting of Yorkshire truly lent itself to the tone of the book, evoking fear and suspicion and a curiosity of what awaited Nathaniel kerner behind the asylum doors. Littlewood is eloquent in her style, drawing me into Kerner’s world, all the while providing me with an incredible sense of time and place. The author’s turn of phrase propelled me backwards through the ages, giving the prose an authenticity that I admired throughout. It enchanted me, drew me in, captivated and ensured that I was unable to look away, despite the subtle sense of danger and the constant threat that lurked within the pages, unseen and unnamed, making it all the more chilling.
Nathaniel Kerner was a curious character in this novel. I admired his determination to make something of himself, his life, and to put the right the wrongdoings from his past that tormented him so, those to do with his late father. This remained a strong focus throughout the book. Littlewood’s characters always seem to have that special *something*, crafted so minutely it’s almost impossible to believe that they’re fictional. When Kerner is given charge of Victoria Harleston’s case, the pace really picked up to me, and again, this character was just as mystifying as Kerner himself. Getting to know the people of this story, figuring out their complexities, was a joy and, at times, deeply disturbing, particularly in Dr Chettle’s case.
I loved the exploration of the supernatural in The Crow Garden. It made for such a fascinating read, and I found the crows mentioned throughout to be suitably chilling too. It was a deeply compelling, fascinating novel, written in a way that had me, the reader, mesmerised also. With thanks to Jo Fletcher Books for approving me for this novel via NetGalley. My Alison Littlewood hunger has been satiated once again.
You can purchase your copy of The Crow Garden here.