Tuesday, 27 August 2013

The Skull in the Wood, by Sandra Greaves

Have you ever been somewhere so empty and wild and desolate, it seems like you’re the only person in the whole world? Have you ever been somewhere so old and ancient, it feels like the trees and the rocks around you, the earth beneath your feet, are somehow alive? Breathing and listening and watching you? Welcome to Dartmoor. Welcome to the home of the Gabbleratchet, an ancient evil that sits and waits, biding time until the right people harbouring the right anger and resentment come along and awaken it from its slumber…

When Matt decides to escape the city and his unwanted step father and go to his uncle’s farm on Dartmoor for half term, he doesn’t realize what a simmering bird’s nest of family troubles he’ll be walking into and stirring up. Matt is selfish and bitter and wrapped up in his problems in much the same way that his cousin Tilda is. Everything precious to each of them is going pear-shaped. Tilda blames Matt for the many of the problems in her family, while Matt is incapable of seeing that Tilda’s problems are just as upsetting as his own. This is not a recipe for a happy household. And then they find the skull in the woods.

The skull – a curlew, with its elongated beak and hollow eye sockets – is simultaneously beautiful and creepy, simultaneously drawing the children in and repelling them. They both want possession of it, and it begins to exert a strange sort of power over each of them, pulling them even further in their different enmities. And to top it off, the old farmhand Gabe keeps talking about warning signs, portents, harbingers. But it’s just an old man’s silly tales – right?

The wild moor is the perfect place for this atmospheric tale. And atmospheric it certainly is. Told from the alternating viewpoints of Matt and Tilda, Sandra Greaves builds the tension masterfully, winding in the children’s anger with each other and with the world, hints at family enmity, hints at the old tales of the land on which they’re living, building the emotions – and the creep factor – into an edge-of-the-seat tale. Can the two children outrun this ancient hunt? Can they outrun their owns hurts? Can they step back into Old Scratch Woods, where the gabbleratchet resides, and bury the enmity for good?

The Skull in the Wood is an all-round excellent adventure-type story – though perhaps not for the faint of heart. And what an inspired idea to create a story around an old curse, tales of which amassed through the generations on dark and stormy nights.

No comments:

Post a Comment