The Magic Cottage by James Herbert (2017 Review)

The Magic CottageThe Magic Cottage by James Herbert

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Top Read 2017 * * * * *

Tired of the hustle and bustle of the city of London, young couple Mike and Midge are determined to find a home that offers them a brighter – and quieter – future. Much to their delight, that perfect home comes in the form of Gramarye; a breathtaking, isolated cottage that appears too good to be true. Eager to move right in and settle down, they soon experience the enchanting wonders Gramarye has to offer, along with the sinister ugliness that lurks just beneath its surface.

(WARNING: this review contains spoilers.)

I genuinely didn’t expect to discover such a hidden gem when I selected a book at random from my shelf. Having never picked up a Herbert novel before, I was soon stunned by the sheer beauty of the story, which included the subtle, yet increasingly unnerving horror element that primarily lingered in the background. I could be considered a nick-picky reader, or downright pessimistic; someone who doesn’t dish out top ratings all too often because even the tiniest things can impact my enjoyment, so it’s a surprise and a special occasion when I find something that ticks all the right boxes. And tick all the boxes it did, and then some. This one will stay with me for several reasons, the foremost being quite personal. I know very well the longing for the perfect home – somewhere that brings happiness and contentment. Gramarye in itself sounded like my dream cottage; it simply fascinated me with its extraordinarily close ties to nature, and the magic that enveloped its walls.

I quickly became attached to Mike and Midge, and rooted for their relationship throughout the entirety of the book. Both had their flaws; Mike could be selfish, whilst Midge infuriatingly stubborn, but I found them to be more relatable due to these faults. When they were on the verge of separation, I actually felt something; a sort of dread that perhaps a happy ending wasn’t in store. That’s the thing about this genre; happily-ever-afters aren’t a certainty, there’s just so much potential, and I couldn’t stop my mind from racing. Of course, there were the side characters, and each and every one had their part to play. Val, in particular stood out, especially when she displayed such bravery and loyalty to her friends in the end.

The plot itself wasn’t non-stop scares or gore, but rather a slow progression of laying down the foundations, and setting the tone, before the explosive finale. I can’t say this way of storytelling works for everyone, but I found myself completely immersed, and never did I believe it to be stale. Herbert truly struck me as a writer that favoured the development of his characters, and of making the reader truly care for what’s happening. I daresay it’s so much better than cheap thrills that ultimately mean very little.

I really do need to mention the descriptive writing, and how it truly conveyed what Herbert wanted it to. There’s a particular scene that takes place in the loft of Gramarye, involving Mike and a large number of bats. Don’t get me wrong, I adore bats and have no fear of them, but I don’t think I’ve ever been as disturbed when reading before – it almost made me feel a bit sick. Such in-depth detail that worked together extremely well, resulting in the magical moments positively feeling magical, and the eerie moments giving a clear sense of unease. This is what writing’s really about.

Lastly, I should probably include that I actually cried at a certain point in this book. I’m usually not such an emotional reader, where I shed tears often, but I really loved that squirrel.

I’ll never forget Rumbo.

In conclusion: I’d label this as “quiet horror”, with its intention to cause unease over a period of time, and not in-your-face gore and scares. One of my favourites, absolutely loved it.

Notable Scene:

The pink, hunched thing grew in size, frail shape glistening in the light of the torch. The tiny body oozed out, smoothly and wetly, taking form – an unsightly form – discharged from the womb like an oval blob of pink topping squeezed from an icing bag, to plop onto the mother bat’s stomach, caught there and suspended by its life-chord. The mother immediately wrapped wings and pouched tail around the newborn, its head striving upwards and tongue flickering out to cleanse the sticky flesh body.

© Red Lace 2017

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