Read: December 2023
I read and enjoyed The Lighthouse Witches by the same author in 2022, so I was immediately interested when I saw The Ghost Woods on a Kindle deal.
This is another spooky, gothic story set in Scotland dealing again with themes of motherhood and feminism. The Ghost Woods is set in the 1960s, with a parallel narratives for two different characters in 1959 and 1965 until they eventually convene. It takes place almost entirely within the grounds of Lichen Hall, a secluded old mansion which now operates as a private alternative to the “mother and baby homes.” These were the often cruel places where unmarried pregnant women were sent away in shame to give birth and have their baby adopted by a married couple.
There is a smattering of (so called) ghosts, potential monsters, premonitions, magical mushrooms and faeries but the horror is in the real world situations of the women. They go to Lichen Hall because they are rejected by society and have nowhere else. They give birth is a dingey basement, have no access to proper medical care, and they never have the choice to keep their babies. Only if they survive all of this do they get to leave, assuming they still somewhere to go.
While I think the novel is successful in exploring the vulnerability and liminal otherness of pregnancy, that isn’t why I bought this book. I wanted more supernatural weirdness, more magic and to meet the monsters in the woods! Instead those elements are sprinkled as stage dressing, and largely are unexplained and unresolved by the end. Everything gets rushed at the conclusion and blows past the why of everything. I want to know why!
Too many threads were left dangling. What were Necnevins motivations? What was going on with the fungi in the forest? What exactly happened with Wulfric plot? (If you have theories/answers please let me know in the comments!)
I ended up feeling much the same way about The Ghost Woods as I did The Lighthouse Witches – I’m left unsatisfied. The atmosphere is great, mystery and pacing is well structured, C.J. Cooke is a very talented writer but I’m ultimately not particularly interested in motherhood and I wanted more magic! Give me the witches and the faeries, and less babies!
– Spooky, gothic atmosphere.
– Fungus infested mansion makes for a creepy setting!
– Well paced, foreboding mystery that kept me interested.
– I like that it is thematically strong even if they are not subjects (motherhood) that resonates with me personally.
I didn’t like
– Not enough magic and supernatural action!
– Too much left unexplored and unresolved to be satisfying.