Thursday 21 October 2021

#CBR13 Book 42: "Through the Woods" by Emily Carroll

Page count: 208 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars

CBR13 Bingo: Shelfie

In five creepy stories ranging from the historical to more recent times, writer and artist Emily Carroll gives us her take on proper spine-tingling fairy tales. Accompanied by her absolutely beautiful art, the tales are all the more chilling because of the illustrations. This absolutely qualifies as a graphic novel, or probably more accurately a graphic short story (or fairy tale) anthology. Some of the stories are short, some are longer, all managed to truly unnerve me, while also entertaining me greatly. 

In Our Neighbour's Place (this one is probably my favourite), three sisters of varying ages are left alone at home in their cabin in the woods while their father goes hunting. His final instructions are to take refuge in the neighbour's house if he is gone for more than three days and nights, which he is. As the food and water supplies dwindle, both the elder and younger sister disappear from the house, after talking dreamily about a man outside in a wide-brimmed hat. In the end, the middle sister, the tale's narrator, has no choice but to follow her sisters out into an unknown fate.

A Lady's Hands are Cold sees a young woman married off to a rich man and goes to live in his big house, where she wanders the beautiful rooms and the manicured grounds and every night hears a sad, plaintive and unnerving song. None of the staff seem to understand what she is asking about, although all are clearly upset by her questions. When her husband leaves for a hunt, the lady decides to go looking for the source of the mysterious singing. She quickly realises she should possibly have left matters as they were.

His Face All Red is a tale of brotherly jealousy and a hunting accident gone terribly wrong (the hunt seems to be a common motif in these stories). One brother is haunted by his actions, and try as he might, he cannot undo what he has wrought.

In My Friend Janna a young woman recounts the tale of her best friend from childhood, a woman she was so close to they might have been sisters. Janna worked as a spiritual medium and our narrator was the hidden figure in the walls that assisted her in making the crowd believe in the supernatural. One day, the young women find a dead hare at the side of the road. Janna touches it, her friend doesn't, and after that, Janna is never quite the same. She appears genuinely haunted, but there's no such things as ghosts and supernatural spirits, are there?

While all the previous stories have a much older historical setting, the final tale, The Nesting Place, appears to be set in the early 20th Century, where Bell, a teenage girl goes to stay with her adult brother and his new fiancee Rebecca while on holiday from boarding school. Rebecca is beautiful and gracious, but there seems to be something slightly odd about her. The elderly housekeeper tells Bell that when Rebecca was a girl, she disappeared in the woods and was missing for three days. She warns Bell to be careful when wandering alone in the forest. Since everyone tells her that Rebecca never goes into the woods anymore, Bell is surprised to see her soon-to-be sister-in-law wandering there one day. She follows, and discovers exactly why her brother's intended doesn't seem entirely like everyone else.

I was given this beautiful hardback as a Christmas present by my husband back in 2014, and it has graced my bookshelves entirely ignored and overlooked since. It's been packed up and moved from one flat to another, all without me giving it a chance because I wasn't sure I was up for a horror collection. Nevertheless, when this year's bingo came around, and there was a square for a shelfie, I figured this gorgeous hardback would finally have its day. More like a few hours (I could have finished it quicker, but I needed a break between each story to process the words and the art and savour the pleasant unease each story evoked in me).

Ms. Carroll's art style, especially some of the ways in which she depicted people as similar to that of Kate Beaton, although while Ms. Beaton does most of her work entirely in black and white, Ms. Carroll uses colours, if mostly a mix of muted browns and dramatic black, white and red. 

Now that I finally read the book, I tried to find out what else Ms. Carroll has published. She doesn't seem terribly prolific, although there is a horror comic from 2019 that I may have to try to track down. Through the Woods is well worth checking out, both for the scary stories and the wonderful art. 

Judging a book by its cover: A simple, yet effective image in stark black, white and red, with the moon front and centre makes the cover of the book very striking. 

Crossposted on Cannonball Read

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