When Oliver and Rosie’s daughter is injured in a hit and run accident, she suffers brain damage and her personality is altered. Upon being granted a payout for the accident, Oliver decides to use the money to set up a bookshop, something he’s longed to do for many years. They purchase an old church in which to live, with the bookshop forming the lower level of the building. One day they come across a scabby-looking crow, who refuses to leave.
This is quite a difficult novel to read, not because the prose is poor – it certainly isn’t, quite the opposite – but because of the writing style. It begins simply enough, but as the story develops, so does the gradual spiral into madness and the inexorable mental descent of Oliver and his relationship to Rosie and Chloe. The descriptive passages are wonderful, creating a beautifully icy depiction of Nottingham. There’s a dreamlike quality to the prose, which mirrors the story and Oliver’s sense of dislocation and detachment. Gregory is superb at teasing out the sinister aspect of birds – this theme features in many of his books – and it’s brilliantly entangled into the story. The shadow of Edgar Allan Poe is also present in much of his writing, and here it acts as a perfect counterbalance to Oliver’s guilt. I would say it’s a novel that’s definitely not formulaic, despite the Poe influence, and one that works well against the backdrop of contemporary Britain.
But beneath all of the gothic madness and macabre detail, the novel hints at something even darker. This aspect only really reveals itself after the book is finished, once you’ve closed the pages and let the story settle on your mind. There are a couple of moments that hint at something horrific lurking in the darkest recesses of Oliver’s subconscious, something that’s subtle and delicately handled, and yet might be too strong for some readers.
I thought this was a great novel. Even if you know little about Edgar Allan Poe, you’ll still enjoy this, but if you’re a fan you’ll delight at the little references. Recommended.