The Darkest Part of the Woods by Ramsey Campbell is an exquisite treatise on the human fascination with those dark shadows and glowing eyes that hide in the mysterious obscurity of the forest, or perhaps, on what it is that hides in the labyrinthine nightfall that lurks inside our skulls.
ONCE YOU SEE YOU GO ON SEEING. Lennox Price
The story takes place in Brichester, a small rural town in England. It could be any town except for the Goodmanswood, a small, ancient forest that haunts the surrounding landscape with legends of witchcraft and the evil necromancer Nathaniel Selcouth.
The Price family has been fascinated with Goodmanswood for many years beginning with the patriarch of the family, Lennox, who is institutionalized due to fluctuating mental issues. In the past, he had studied a hallucinogenic growth that only existed in this mysterious woodland. The mind-altering substance is long gone, but the forest refuses to release its hold on Price, and now, his family. Is the psychoactive element truly some sort of natural growth, or something much more, some supernatural force that procreates madness?
Lennox Price does not simply waste away in the Arbor. His psychosis sweeps through the institution and creates a cult-like following of inmates he leads on an ill-advised field trip to the Goodmanswood. When a long-gone family member returns to England from America revealing an enigmatic pregnancy, the family is reunited, and all become involuntarily entangled in Price’s obsession with the forest.
Except for Price, the human characters on the surface seem like ordinary people until the madness takes control and their complexities are exposed. Readers spend enough personal time with the family to become intimate, to care about them. In addition, it could be said that the main character of the novel is the Goodmanswood itself. The forest breaths, sighs, whispers, guides, and entraps as it lures the Price family into its malignant depths. Like a sleeping god, it engenders dreams and illusions.
The extremely complex, compelling and utterly original plot unravels at a leisured pace. Campbell drops hints like breadcrumbs as he leads mystified readers through the trembling forest. His masterful manipulation of language creates a beautiful mirage of visual images that may urge readers to wonder if they had themselves inhaled the fumes of the magical fungus.
As the plot evolves, it speeds up and the intensity will leave readers breathless as Campbell, a master manipulator, pulls the rug out from under them at the last moment with a shocking, inevitable, and elusive conclusion. Things commonly considered natural and innocent have deeper, larger, cosmic meanings.
As Campbell’s readers have come to expect, the literary quality of the prose is exceptional. Readers will witness the darkness between the trees, smell the rotten leaves, hear the whispering of the breeze as it passes between the trees. The words transmit meaning and mood with exceptional grace. The dialogue is real and often visceral.
The Darkest Part of the Woods is not a book one reads and quickly forgets. The mood lingers, festers, and will no doubt haunt a reader’s dreams with dread of the approach of an inexorable, inescapable presence. The relentless, disturbing mood of the prose will leave readers with germinating questions.
Since the beginning of man’s reign on this planet, legends have described the forest as the home of the gods. Some cultures believe that man’s original form was that of a tree and that souls of the dead perch in treetops awaiting rebirth. So, it could be said that the forest must by its nature be a place of awe, a place of rebirth, reflecting one of Price’s many prophetic statements: The grave shall be cradle.
The Darkest Part of the Forest will challenge, thrill, mesmerize and comes highly recommended.
Take Ramsey Campbell’s hand and follow him into the darkest part of the forest, “Because you were called.” Lennox Price