This book had already ticked off so many boxes for me before I’d even opened it: Crumbling and isolated English manor, 1970s acid folk band, possible Wicker Man-like pagan horror. I was intrigued before I even started the book. This short novella by Elizabeth Hand slowly amps up the weirdness and dread and, though it leaves the reader with more questions than answers, it’s a deeply satisfying ending.
The book follows the the story of fictional band, Windhollow Faire, a small folk band who are sent to the titular country manor to record their next album. Though the album will be their greatest work as a group, the lead singer, Julian Blake, disappears in the course of recording it. The book is told in a documentary style as the former band members and associates gather together and recall the events at Wylding Hall that led to Blake’s disappearance. It is broken up into small vignettes as we see some incidents from varying perspectives. The elements that add to the feeling of unease are familiar but no less unsettling. The dimensions of the manor seem somewhat fluid (though it’s nowhere near House of Leaves territory). The townsfolk are standoffish and seem to cling to weird old pagan traditions. And Julian Blake himself has a fascination with the occult. These, and several other elements culminate in the vanishing of Mr. Blake.
I loved this book so much! I literally found myself sneaking off to read just a little bit more on the Kindle app on my phone. The feel of this book invoked the kind of general unease you get while watching old 70s occult movies. Things just seem a little skewed in a way you can’t always put your finger on. If you’re looking to dip your toe into the Folk Horror sub genre, this book is a great recommendation at less than 200 pages.