Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Starve Acre by Andrew Michael Hurley

Published 31st October 2019 this review is based on an e-ARC supplied by the publisher through NetGalley.

Starve Acre is an atmospheric, eerie story in the modern gothic tradition - just up my street. 

In an interesting exploration of grief and dissociation, we witness a couple, Richard and Juliette, grieving for their 5-year-old son, Ewan, searching for closure and spiritual meaning, respectively. The story marshals the key distinguishing components of English folk horror, landscape, isolation, skewed beliefs/perception and offers the obligatory happening/summoning. Traumatised, Juliette is unable to let go of the feeling that her son still inhabits her world. While the story appears to be grounded in rural realism, which distinguishes Richard’s viewpoint from Juliette’s, Richard’s casual acceptance of the regeneration of a skeleton seems a tad off-piste.

While the date of the story is not explicitly set, analogue clues lead us to a time frame redolent of 1970s Folk Horror; an Austin car, a typewriter, a Sony recorder. But this careful stylistic location of the story in the past as a believable setting, is fractured by occasional glaring errors; for example, a twinset does not have a blouse as a component. In any era, an academic historian would never speculate that a man might have been hanged for torching hay bales two hundred years before they were invented (unless it was a time slip plot point).

But there is atmosphere and tension and wonderfully observant lyrical passages,
“…but they’d started talking – in the King’s Head or after mass, where he pictured her altruism being broken and shared round like another round of communion bread.”

The tension mounts splendidly gruesomely to what is ultimately an unsatisfying denouement. I realise Starve Acre is in the folk horror short form or novella tradition, and as such, I was prepared for it to be short, but not for it to fall off a cliff at the end. It was as though an invigilator had said ‘pens down in 5 minutes’ and the story was brought to an all too hasty conclusion. I genuinely wanted more. But hey, wanting more from a story is A Good Thing.