Thursday, 10 September 2009

‘Mythago Wood’ – Robert Holdstock (Gollancz)


It wasn’t so long ago that Mark Charan Newton wrote a post heaping shame on bloggers who hadn’t covered Robert Holdstock’s ‘Avilion’ and exhorting them to give the book a go post haste. I was one of those bloggers and while there’s nothing I like more than a challenge for the blog (which reminds me, I really need to find myself a copy of ‘Troll 2’ on DVD...) there was just one small problem. ‘Avilion’ is the sequel to ‘Mythago Wood’, another book by Robert Holdstock that I hadn’t read. It turned out that this wasn’t so much of a big problem, more of an excuse to get my hands on another book! I’ve been in and out of ‘Mythago Wood’ for about the last week and there were times when I really didn’t want to leave. I can fully understand why this book won the World Fantasy Award...

There’s something in Ryhope Wood; something that led Stephen Huxley’s father to an early grave and holds his brother Christian in thrall, soon the Wood will take Stephen as well...
Ryhope Wood is much more than just a three mile square area of woodland on the Ryhope Estate; penetrating the dense layer of forest will lead to a land outside time itself. Stephen will also find that he is not alone as mythic archetypes take on their own life here. There is love and beauty to be found in Ryhope Wood but also great terror, will Stephen make it out of the Wood once he steps inside...?

‘Mythago Wood’ is one of those deceptively slim books (a slender two hundred and ninety six pages) that have a habit of luring me in with the promise of a quick read. The next thing I know, it’s over a week later and I still haven’t finished. Robert Holdstock’s writing reminded me of the making of a sword, layer upon layer of story folded in on itself until what the reader is left with is something sharp enough to cut you right to the core. I can’t get this book out of my head; ‘Mythago Wood’ may even get me to try Holdstock’s ‘Celtika’ again, a book that didn't work for me...

‘Mythago Wood’ is part mystery and part ghost story. Ryhope Wood is a brooding entity that looms large over Oak Lodge and there is an obvious mystery at its heart which manifests in the haunting that Stephen suffers. Holdstock is happy to let things drag out for months at a time, skilfully racking up the tension so that you don’t even notice the passing of time. When the payoff comes it’s understated in such a way that you feel its force through Stephen’s inability to fully comprehend what is happening. Holdstock is also very good at supplying the reader with those moments where Stephen knows that someone has either been in the house... or is still there... There’s a creeping tension to be found here and Holdstock is happy either to hit you with something big or just let the tension drain away. It’s the intensity of the emotion that’s the important thing here and Holdstock certainly hits the mark.

‘Mythago Wood’ is a lot more than just a ghost story however; what we have here is a journey back into pre-history (via that reliable fantasy archetype, the forest) showing us how myths form and perpetuate throughout time. I found that having the book start in the present day (or close enough to it, the book is set just after World War Two), and work backwards, worked for me as I began with the finished concept (the myth of Guiwenneth) and was able to see how it came together rather than take the pieces and have to put them together. The constant reinforcement of the concept really drove it home for me and there were plenty of other things to think about at the same time (how Stephen’s actions in the ‘past’ shaped the myths of the ‘future’ for example).

If this wasn’t enough, the plot played out against some of the loveliest forest scenery that I have ever read. I’ve always been a fan of forests (both as a fantasy setting and in real life) and I could almost feel myself walking through Ryhope Wood. ‘Vivid’ is the word to use when looking to describe Holdstock’s vision; a fey setting where myths taking human form is not that unusual at all.

I’m glad I finally took the time to give ‘Mythago Wood’ a go, it’s a journey unlike any other. While I’m sad that it’s over (until the re-read) I know that I’ll be picking up ‘Avilion’ sooner rather than later.

Ten out of Ten

12 comments:

Mark said...

See! I was right. :)

Adam Whitehead said...

Ha. I should be starting this tonight :-)

The Fantasizer said...

Hey Graeme i too read Mythago Wood a few days ago and was impressed. Its truly original and unique, not one of the typical fantasy books one sees all around.
It was a great read and yes the forest landscape was described quite vividly but i felt that the end was a bit rushed, one moment Stephen is on a journey, the next Christian is dead and the book is at an end.
I usually find that the rating you give to books is quite similar to what i'd rate them myself.
That's why i feel, i would'nt really give it a ten, nine and a half seems a more suitable rating to me.
Just my opinion though...

JonCG said...

Great review. Mind you, great writer!

Graeme Flory said...

Mark - You were right! All being well, I'll be starting on Avilion over the weekend...

Adam - I hope you enjoy it as much as I did :o)

The Fantasizer - (Great name by the way!) The fight was a bit rushed but I thought that tied in well with the point of the book. I thought 'Mythago Wood' was more about telling stories rather than how they end; that's why it scored a top mark.

JonCG - It is a great book. Like I said, it might just be what gets me to give 'Celtika' another go.

sg4 said...

Interesting. I'll add it to my buy list. Won't be reading it for some time as there's far too many books on the to-read pile :(

Kat @ FanLit said...

Mythago Wood is one of my favorite fantasy novels. Lavondyss, its sequel is EVEN BETTER! It may be the finest fantasy novel ever written.

I have asked Gollancz twice to send me Avilion. Sometimes they respond to me immediately, sometimes not at all (I'm in the US). I guess I'll be buying that one soon.

Highlander said...

Strongly recommend "Merlins Wood" a collection of shorter stories but with the same feel.

Harry Markov: daydream said...

Oh, I am so hooked on thsi novel. I am a huge fan of forests as it is and I can imagine myself spending some breathless moments with sucha book.

staticgirl said...

This book had a massive influence on me in my imaginative development. It is fantastic. I loved the idea of penetrating to the heart of the worldforest to get to the heart of ancient myth. I loved the hints at what our most ancient ancestors believed in.

Michael said...

I totally agree with you. Mythago Wood has a totally unique feel to it. I've what I believe are the four indirect sequels (Lavondyss, The Hollowing, Gate of Ivory,The Bone Forest) and was quite frustrated...but I did not know there was a direct sequel out!!! This post made me happy.
PS: what I think is very interesting too is the analysis of myths, their origin and their meaning.

cedunkley said...

Mythago Wood is on my list of great overlooked fantasy. I'll have to second the mention about Lavondyss and that I also enjoyed it even more than Mythago Wood. Outstanding story.