This is a stunning, haunting memoir blended with nature writing and literary criticism. One of the best elements is the inclusion of many photographs – at least one every few pages – some of them taken by the author. These really enhance the atmosphere of the book.
Each chapter explores a different location in the British Isles and has an intriguing, evocative title, such as ‘Dark Waters’, ‘Goblin City’ and ‘Lonelier Than Ruin’. The author travels to places which have resonance for him personally and which are also linked to his taste in literature (mainly traditional ghost stories and folk horror). Writers featured include M R James, L P Hartley, William Hope Hodgson, Alan Garner, Susan Cooper, W G Sebald and Arthur Machen. 1970s TV and film – particularly adaptations of books – is also an important theme. Woven into Parnell’s explorations is a meditation on grief. There are hints of family tragedies which he slowly introduces into the text. I almost didn’t want to read on, as I knew there was bereavement ahead. I think it’s a very sophisticated book and beautifully written. The only criticism I have is that the parts which are more like literary essays are not so gripping when you haven’t read the texts or seen the films. In any case, reading synopses is not interesting and I think these could have been reduced.
A unique book about haunted locations and literature, by an author who is himself haunted by the past.
First published in 2019.