The Garden of Bewitchment, the latest novel from author Catherine Cavendish, is out on February 20, 2020 from Flame Tree Press, and is a must-read for fans of atmospheric tales of the supernatural that creep into the psyche.
The year is 1893. Identical twin sisters Evelyn and Claire, burgeoning authors obsessed with the writings of the storied Bronte sisters, leave their comfortable home in Yorkshire for a rural manor house on the English moors. Soon after their arrival, they happen upon a child’s game called The Garden of Bewitchment and, without realizing the dangers, unleash horrors they could never imagined plunging them both into circumstances that will make them question everything they have ever known.
One thing becomes very clear by the end of the first two or three chapters of this novel: Cavendish is a master storyteller, capable of building a world that is almost too real for the reader. This is especially important in a novel like this one, and it is an element that her literary ancestors Henry James, Shirley Jackson, Arthur Machen, and yes, the Bronte sisters understood all too well.
How can we understand just how off-kilter her characters feel when the supernatural happens if we can’t first smell the scents of their cooking, feel the stairs that lead to their bedrooms under our feet, hear the sound of their writing as they create new worlds themselves?
So Cavendish gives us those things.
First, she supplies those small details of home life, almost downplaying their importance, until they become second nature to the reader, something we absorb without thought.
Next, she grounds the novel in reality and history with the inclusion of Claire’s obsession with Branwell Bronte. Less well-known that his sisters, Branwell was predominantly a painter and poet who unfortunately seemed born with an addictive personality and would later succumb to alcohol and opiates without ever achieving real fame for his work.
Then, she takes us out onto the moors, themselves, allowing us to feel their impossibly lush green grasses beneath our feet and to become lost in their misty landscapes a time or two for good measure.
Then, when we know the world and are becoming quite comfortable, she not-too-gently slides the very practical rug right out from under us.
Thus, The Garden of Bewitchment becomes a novel that does not so much beg to be read as it commands the next page be turned.
The novel is not without one or two minor flaws which mostly come in the resolution of the final chapters. There are perhaps one or two coincidences that are just a little too convenient, but even those are forgivable when taken within the context of the genre in which the novel is firmly set.
Overall, The Garden of Bewitchment is not only successful but exceptional storytelling by an author who clearly knows what she is doing, and I cannot recommend it enough.
The novel is available for purchase online and fans of traditional ghost stories with their sinister spirits, almost claustrophobic settings, memorable characters, and chilling atmosphere will definitely want to add this book to their collection.
For more reading suggestions, check out our review of The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James.