The Crow Garden is set in the year 1856, and tells the story of Nathaniel Kerner, a ‘mad-doctor’ whose work takes him from his home in London to Crakethorne Manor, a foreboding asylum in Yorkshire. There, he meets the beautiful and enigmatic Mrs Harleston, a patient for whom he swiftly finds something more than a professional interest. As her case develops, so too are details of Nathaniel’s past revealed; he finds himself in danger of losing perspective, objectivity, and possibly his own mind…
Author Alison Littlewood fulfils all the criteria of Victorian gothic with this book, yet it never falls into cliché as it presents us with a flawed protagonist and a fascinating mystery. She creates atmosphere incredibly well, whether it be the wilds of Yorkshire or the fog-bound streets of London, and her descriptive style evokes the works of Dickens and the Bronte sisters. As such, it can feel like heavy going in the early pages, but it doesn’t take long to be caught up in Nathaniel’s concerns, and feel the same senses of shock and wonderment as layers are peeled away.
Mrs Harleston herself – thrown into Crakethorne by a husband who accuses her of hysteria and delusions - is far from a simpering Victorian lady in want of a man’s help; she’s as interesting as Nathaniel, if not more so, having a past riddled with strange occurrences. As the truth about her unfolds, Nathaniel finds himself confronted by several moments of doubt, but these never become annoying, cunningly serving their purpose to tangle the reader in intrigue. Perceptive readers will possibly become aware of the main twist before he does, but there’s a perverse delight in watching everything unravel as the protagonist realises what’s happening.
Eerie and unsettling, The Crow Garden is a book that delivers what is promised, perhaps even more so. As in her previous novel, The Little People, Alison Littlewood has crafted a sublime blend of the psychological and the supernatural that keeps the reader in suspense until the end, while never forgetting that some of the worst horrors are what people will do to each other in the name of progress.
THE CROW GARDEN / AUTHOR: ALISON LITTLEWOOD / PUBLISHER: JO FLETCHER BOOKS / RELEASE DATE: 5TH OCTOBER