I’m amazed at the brilliant books I’ve been reading lately! I seem to have stumbled on a whole hoard of wonderful writers – some known to me, some completely new, but all absolute masters/mistresses of their craft. Only one has been a book I’ve read before, The Secret History by Donna Tartt; it’s such a weighty book – in every sense, but so complex and intricate that reading it again brought a host of new aspects I’d missed before. I read ‘The Secret Pilgrim’ by John le Carré my all-time favourite author, and was stunned anew at his absolute command of the written word. Yesterday I reviewed a tremendous book a tour de force by Chris Speck, ‘Beast’, and having finished that I’ve just devoured another stunner, ‘Starve Acre’ by Andrew Michael Hurley.
I first heard of Starve Acre when completely buy chance I caught it on BBC Radio 4, last October, read by Bryan Dick. I only heard a few episodes but it was so intriguing, so unusual that I decided to buy the book and read it myself. It was about a couple whose little son had died, and who were coping with their bereavement in different ways; Juliette the wife spent all her time in their child’s room, thinking she could hear him and also se him, believing that he hadn’t really died. Richard, the father spent his time in their snow covered field opposite their house; they live miles from the nearest village in North Yorkshire. He is excavating the field in the search of a mighty oak tree which had once grown there, known as the hanging oak.
It took me a while to realise that this was a truly Gothic tale, absolutely fantastical, but within its own world, very believable. The things which happen are extraordinary, and the beautiful cover gives a hint as to one of the mysteries. Once again, I don’t want to give too many details because they might sound confusing and might spoil enjoyment of reading this beautifully written story. There are few characters, but gradually the reader understands their personalities, their history and their relationships. If I say you have to work at this book, I don’t mean it’s difficult to read, but to properly engage you have to focus on all the small details. It is so beautifully written, so descriptive of the countryside and the weather (something I’m not so good at!) I was drawn completely into Richard and Juliette’s world, into their house, Starve Acre, and the mysterious barren field across the road.
Here’s a very interesting blog about it: