Secular shelf life from Sarah Allen: Nightwoods (book review)

By Charles Frazier
Hodder and Stoughton. 336 pages. £7.99
ISBN 978 1 444 731 279

If you’re looking for a good autumn book to curl up with and get lost in, then Nightwoods is a good place to start.

Both a gripping thriller and a beautifully drawn picture of place and time, it will engage brain and imagination. Charles Frazier’s first book, Cold Mountain, won national awards and was made into an Oscar-winning film. This, his third, is heading in the same direction because of its detailed description and pace.

No forgiveness

Luce is the young housekeeper of a near-derelict lodge in the Appalachian Mountains. Her alcoholic mother abandoned the family while they were still young and her father is lost in his own addictions and memories. So, when Luce’s near-feral niece and nephew arrive after their mother’s murder, she is left on her own to care for and protect them. Does this sound bleak? It is, especially when the ironically named Bud appears. Yet Frazier’s thoughtful depiction of the woods and garden of this forgotten place lifts the book out of predictable gothic stereotypes. The plotting too is excellent as the author leads the reader to conclusions, only to subvert them and, in the end, through all the menace we are left with a cautious optimism (hope that’s not a spoiler!).

I guess what I like about this book, as well as its style, is its robust attitude. The evil that has hurt the central characters in the book is not psychologised away but it is kept at bay by courage and loyalty. There is an uneasy truce too between nature and man and between tradition and progress; the theme threading all together is survival. But in this book the great absence is forgiveness and real reconciliation. This is an unvarnished portrait of a fallen world.


Sarah Allen writes the ‘Secular shelf life’ column for EN, is a secondary school English teacher, and is currently involved in evangelism and women’s work at Hope Church, Huddersfield.

This article was first published in the October 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information. 0845 225 0057