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