Thursday, September 13, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Gnarled Hollow, Charlotte Greene

 ★★ 1/2

English professor Dr. Emily Murray recently lost her position due to university cutbacks. Depressed, she accepts a timely job offer to live in New England for the summer at a house called Gnarled Hollow, which was the home of the reclusive writer Margot Lewis, one of Emily's subjects of research. She shares the house with Jim, another English professor; Mark, an architect; June, an art historian; and Chris, a landscape historian (or something like that). But they soon realize not all is as it seems.

Unfortunately, I thought I would like this a lot more than I actually did. I'd seen good buzz and was excited for a creepy ghost story. I think my underwhelmed reaction comes down to not really connecting with the writing style and not getting a good sense of the characters. I found the writing to be relatively simple and unexciting.

I love literature, so I was excited to see an English professor protagonist who had to solve a mystery about a famous writer. But Emily kind of let me down. To a point, I understood her negative thoughts about herself because depression is a jerk. But so many of them revolve around June that I would've enjoyed it more had there been no relationship at all. I was also disappointed in the mystery. I wanted more from Emily and Jim's decoding of Margot's journals, and I definitely wasn't prepared for incest to pop up. I'm mentioning it so that other readers can be aware before they go in!

The relationship between Emily and June didn't have enough build-up. Emily latches onto June right away and gets weirdly possessive when it seems like June is flirting with some of the guys.I got the sense that Emily's attachment was because June is the only other woman in the house. They don't even talk that much before they get involved, and while their relationship is supposed to give readers a break from the darkness of the house mystery, it didn't really do that for me because it happened too fast. I would've liked to see a slower burn.

There was a moment in their relationship that made me uncomfortable, too, that wasn't resolved as well as I would've liked. One afternoon, Emily helps June photograph the paintings in the house. She has to hold up lights, and it's been established that she's short and thin. "June snapped at her a couple of times for moving the light, despite her visibly shaking arms." That seemed like an extreme reaction, especially since they're sort of in a relationship. June does apologize, but Emily brushes it off, and I got the sense the reader was supposed to, too.

This sounds pretty negative, but I just want to explain the reasons I didn't love it. Not every book is for every reader! It definitely kept me reading, though, because I wanted to figure out the mystery.

Thanks to NetGalley, Bold Strokes Books, and Charlotte Greene for the e-copy.

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