Author: Lindsey Barraclough, 2011.
Genre: Horror. Gothic. Ghost Story. Period Fiction. 1950s England. YA.
Other Details: Paperback. 464 pages.
Says my lord to my lady as he mounted his horse, “Beware of Long Lankin that lives in the moss.”
The novel opens with the lyrics of the folk ballad Long Lankin setting the tone for this haunting tale set in post-war England.
In the summer of 1958 Cora and her little sister Mimi are sent to stay with their Great Aunt Ida in the isolated village of Bryers Guerdon in the Essex marshes. It is clear from the start that Ida does not want them there and the girls themselves are desperate to return to London. Ida's home is the crumbling Guerdon Hall, built on land that had been in the family since the Norman invasion. Ida commands the girls to keep all the doors locked and not attempt to open any windows despite the oppressive heat. She also forbids them to go anywhere near the nearby abandoned church, All Hallows.
Of course, this injunction only increases their curiosity and soon they are investigating the church in the company of Ralph and his younger brother Peter, two local boys they befriend. What the children don't realise is that Aunt Ida is all too aware of the local legend of an ancient evil that for centuries has preyed upon young children in the area. An evil that has already touched Ida's life and now begins to stir again.
I was immediately drawn to this title with its reference to this folk ballad when I spotted it on the library shelf and I've since bought my own copy. Barraclough uses three narrative voices to weave the story: Cora, Ralph and Aunt Ida; with the changes between narrators marked by little name plaques. Though marketed as Young Adult, it is a novel that appeals to all ages as it evokes both the delights and fears of childhood in a highly effective way.
From its opening pages I was drawn into this atmospheric tale. Lindsey Barraclough realises her setting perfectly, evoking a sense of timelessness once away from London into a countryside that embodies the past in its landscape and architecture as well as its lingering superstitions and legends. It is a novel filled with strong characterisations. Cora emerges as courageous, spirited and resourceful while Ralph comes across as a cheeky lad with a kind heart. His narrative also provides moments of humour. The friendship between Cora and Ralph is genuinely touching. Aunt Ida is also more than a cranky old woman as we learn more about her past. In addition, there are a range of supporting characters including some fairly eccentric ones.
I found it a superb novel that worked on a number of levels. The hairs on the back of my neck were certainly pricking during certain sequences. The creep factor grows quite slowly. I always find this kind of horror more compelling than the visceral kind. That sense of what might be lurking in the shadows. Yet this is more than just a chilling horror story; there are themes of coming-of-age, family, friendship and the way the past and present can intertwine as well as a compelling portrait of post-War England in the late 1950s.
The cover art, which I assume will also be used in the USA edition due in July, is very effective. One of those ones where the more you look, the more you see. Given that it is a début novel, Barraclough is certainly someone to watch.