Wild Fell: A strikingly unique Victorian ghost story
Book Review – Wild Fell by Michael Rowe
I stumbled upon Michael Rowe’s work earlier this year at the Word on the Street Festival and FanExpo in Toronto (both events I would highly recommend). I came across Wild Fell at FanExpo and the moment I saw the striking cover art by Erik Mohr and the quote from none other than Clive Barker—a seal of approval if there ever was one—I was instantly intrigued and picked it up.
Wild Fell begins with a prolog set in 1960 where two teenage lovers go for a forbidden late-night swim on a lake near Blackmore Island in Ontario, Canada. What can go wrong with that in a horror setting?
Then we meet Jameson Browning as a nine-year-old caught between his spiteful mother and loving father. He has two friends, Lucinda, who prefers being called Hank, and Amanda, who lives inside a mirror in his room. Amanda, at first a sympathetic and protective friend quickly becomes vengeful and deadly in order to protect Jameson from some bullying, and so he eradicates her from his mirror, his life, and his memory. I especially enjoyed this part of the book, because it plays like a coming of age story and I always have fun with those.
Further in the story, Wild Fell leaps to the adult life of Jameson who purchases an ancient house on Blackmore Island called—as the book itself—Wild Fell. It is here that many previous connections in his life start to emerge and the mystery of Amanda unfolds.
Wild Fell is as much a haunted house story as it is a ghost story. Not only do the people of the nearest town, Alvinia, look on the island and the house with dread, but while the story jumps through Jameson’s life from childhood to adulthood, the house looms over him exerting distress and a chilling sense of catastrophe.
A lot has been said about the change of perspective in the novel. The prolog is told from a third-person narrative but as soon as Jameson enters the narrative changes to first-person. Beyond simply shifting perspective, it also changes tone depending on the protagonist’s age, the writing changes to reflect childhood and adulthood. I found it quite impressive, Rowe must have done a considerable amount of planning for it to feel like that.
Rowe’s writing flows extremely well and he successfully provokes plenty of fear and tension. It is noticeable unique how he handles the complexity of Jameson’s character while putting him through a ton of psychological unrest and confusion. The story is also filled with layers of misdirection with which Rowe manages to keep the reader guessing, making Wild Fell an incredibly immersive book.
The aforementioned final act is both unnerving and unpredictable and I completely loved it and couldn’t stop reading. Long after I finished the book, the abrupt unexpected ending has stayed with me, and the more I think about it, the more I want to go back and read the whole thing again but with a different perspective. It’s that kind of story.
I normally don’t include spoilers in reviews, but I’m going to make an exception here—skip this paragraph if you haven’t read Wild Fell and intend to do so. Since the ending leaves room for speculation, I believe there are two possibilities: either Amanda is just perverting Jameson’s relationship with his father as a way to get him to do what she wants or she’s a flicker of Jameson’s imagination created as a way to deal with his father’s real life abuse. This last possibility is a hundred times more horrifying, especially considering how Rowe portrays Jameson’s father as such paragon of parental love, but it’s well known that forgotten or repressed feelings often manifest themselves as physiological reactions. I found hints—apparently, put there by Rowe intentionally—in favor of both possibilities throughout the book. Either way, it makes for a powerful ending.
Wild Fell turned out to be—more than anything—an old fashioned Victorian gothic ghost story with a unique twist, set in a rural Canadian setting where Rowe superbly creates a tense and terrifying atmosphere. Yet another reason to be happy about discovering ChiZine, Wild Fell is easy to recommend to anyone and a must for fans of the genre.
by Michael Rowe
Tags: book, book review, books, gothic, horror, review