The Barrowfields by Phillip Lewis

 Source: Free review copy received from the publisher

Five words from the blurb: gothic, family, saga, ghosts, home

The Barrowfields is a strange mix of two different books. It begins and ends as a deliciously spooky Gothic tale, but has an ordinary story about a boy attending college in the middle. The entire thing was beautifully written, but I thought it didn’t quite work as a whole.

The book begins in North Carolina, with a family moving into a mansion in which disturbing events happened to the previous occupants. I loved the creepy atmosphere and thought it was a fantastic start to an original story.

About a third of the way in, the story abruptly changed to one of a boy heading off to college for the first time. Again, the writing felt very accomplished. It reminded me of the greats in American literary fiction, like Jeffrey Eugenides or Michael Chabon. The characters were all beautifully developed and I felt a real connection to them. It perfectly captured the mixture of emotions felt by someone leaving home for the first time – the apprehension and loneliness were described more vividly than anything I’ve read before.

Unfortunately, the fantastic characterisation was then ruined by the reintroduction of weirdness. It jarred badly after so many chapters of realism. On its own, the ending would have been good; but after reading such a touching centre section about young love I found the ghostly horses ridiculous.

At last I began to resolve a shape, almost out of the corner of my eye. A lone horse, white with a white mane and rutilant eyes, skeletal and specterlike, was revealed inch by subtle inch from the parting gloom. It stood alone before us, lambent in the waking light of the nascent horned moon.

Phillip Lewis is clearly a talented writer and, if he sticks to just one genre, I’m sure his next novel will be outstanding. The bizarre nature of The Barrowfields will ensure I remember it for a long time to come. I just wish it was for all the right reasons.

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