Tuesday, 2 October 2018

'Woodside Close'

Another story from Figurehead by Carly Holmes, one of the best collections by a new (to me) writer I've read in years.

'The young mother at number 32 was the first to notice.'

What she notices is that the wood is not longer alongside the close, but is rapidly reclaiming the land stolen from it. The story follows the responses of various residents as an apparently magical event takes place. Not only do regular living trees flourish at an unnatural pace. Even wooden objects supposedly dead begin to sprout thorns, leaves, roots. Soon the Close is cut off, and a kind of survivalist philosophy takes hold among some. Others form a coven and revive some of the old ways. Then a little girl called Gretel emerges from the forest. Shortly after comes a girl in a red hooded cloak...

The detached, ironic tone of this story reminded me a little of Margaret Atwood, as did the theme. Atwood's tutor, the Canadian critic Northrop Frye, stressed the transformative nature of the wild wood in Shakespeare, and elsewhere. People entering the 'green world', Frye called it, and there's an interesting variation on the idea in Atwood's first novel, The Edible Woman. Here the green world enters people's lives, unbidden, revealing truths about themselves. (In the case of a Goth who tries to befriend some wolves, it is a tragic naivety.)

This story is a clever variation on the old theme of nature reasserting itself in the face of human arrogance, or indifference. It's not quite post-apocalyptic, but very British in its idea of muddling through in the weirdest of circumstances.

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